Rework: the best of a business book from the founders of 37signals

With 100 simple rules they attribute to their success organized in a dozen chapters spread across fewer than 300 short pages, the founders of web firm 37signals aim to affect any organization or business culture with Rework, their management style book that was released in March.

It has gotten quite a bit of attention — and high praise from some noteworthy authors — so my reading it comes a bit late, so instead I wanted to share what I most took away from it.

Because of its comprehensible and digestible format, I tore through the fast and compelling book. While much of the book was either reinforcing or contained perspective I hope to take away, I thought enough of their rules were valuable enough that sharing my favorites here would be served well.

See my favorite items below as just a primer, go pick up the book. I can’t highlight enough that what I share below are but a small percentage of the insight offered in the book and even those I do share are just the skeletons of ideas.

CHAPTER: TAKEDOWNS

  • Why grow? (hardcover page 22): We’re caught up in bigger numbers, more employees, but why. Focus on doing what you do better before taking it elsewhere.
  • Workaholism (page 25) — Guilt-ing co-workers, creating unsustainable solutions and offering no balance or fresh perspective.

CHAPTER: GO

  • Make a dent in the universe (p. 31) — Do great work by feeling like you’re doing some good. That keeps me going in my role at Back on My Feet.
  • Outside money is Plan Z (p. 50) — How do you build your business on your own? Startup capital and outside investment can be used strategically, but shouldn’t be a necessity.
  • Building to flip is building to flop (p. 59) — This reminded me of buying a home, not a house. If you’re looking to make a buck, it’s much easier to cut corners or find another way to fail. If you believe in what you’re doing, you’ll do it as well as you can — and yes, maybe you can make a dollar along the way.

CHAPTER: PROGRESS

  • Ignore the details early on (p. 74) — It’s so easy to quibble over specifics, which slows progress to beginning at the start. Get movement, get excitement and find the details as you go.
  • Sell your by-products (p. 90) — When I was freelancing full-time, I shared extra perspective, quotations and passages that didn’t make it into the final piece. The extras of what you do are probably worth something, depending on how they’re packaged — whether they’re physical goods or content to share. Get something out of every piece of the buffalo.
  • Launch now (p. 93) — This reminded me of the lesson I’ve learned to just move forward. Get the project started, launched. Begin small, find the details and the pitfalls and develop. Pick a brand name that works and develop what that means.

CHAPTER: PRODUCTIVITY

  • Meetings are toxic (p. 108) — Most of them are wastes of time. We at Technically Philly have developed a great meeting structure that tries to avoid a lot of these pitfalls, but be careful how and why and where you schedule meetings. They waste time, create needless distraction and fail in most ways they’re meant to succeed.
  • Good enough is fine (p. 112) — Get the project done. Move. Develop and improve. Don’t fight for perfection when it’s not necessary.
  • Go to sleep (p. 121) — It’s a related theme to workaholism, but mostly, sleep is good. It keeps you healthy, wealthy and wise. If you or your employees go long stretches having sleep affected, it’s bad news.

CHAPTER: COMPETITORS

  • Underdo your competition (p. 144) — Don’t get into a Cold War-style pissing match. Do what you do best simply, efficiently and assertively. Sell you and allow you to be part of a stripped down, focused mission. Let others move on and learn to say no.

CHAPTER: EVOLUTION

  • Say no by default (p. 153) — Yes, say no. Not in the negative, ‘that can’t happen’ way, but in trying to remain focused and on-task. This is surely something I need to work on.

CHAPTER: PROMOTION

This was easily my favorite chapter and while each entry reflected a single general concept of content-focused audience building, I would strongly suggest internalizing each item. Below, the best of the best.

  • Press releases are spam (p. 185) — I think they can be a valuable format to hold all the necessary information for a pitch, an event or a concept, but the thought here is don’t ping hundreds of people who don’t care. Be focused on what you want and develop relationships.
  • Forget about the Wall Street Journal (p. 188) — Niche media is more relevant. So get over the buzz of the big media and see the value of the small, focused hit.
  • Everything is Marketing (p. 193) — Here’s the most important piece in the book, I’d say. Don’t relegate the idea of ‘marketing’ your company to a few chosen souls. Every staff member’s interaction is marketing. What’s more, everything is content to help build an audience to help handle marketing.

CHAPTER: HIRING

  • Do it yourself first (p. 201) — It’s easy to criticize and fail to understand what a good project is if you haven’t done the work or did them under different circumstances.
  • Test-drive employees (p. 227) — Give someone a freelance or part-time project before hiring full-time. Make sure they fit right.

CHAPTER: CULTURE

My second favorite chapter, and, again, I could list nearly every item here, but I’ll stick to best themes.

  • They’re not thirteen (p. 235) — “When you treat people like children, you get children’s work.”
  • Send people home at five (p. 258) — “The dream employee for a lot of companies is a twenty-something with as little of a life as possible outside of work — someone who’ll be fine working 14 hour days and sleeping under his desk… You shouldn’t expect the job to be someone’s entire life — at least not if you want to keep them around for a long time.”
  • ASAP is poison (p. 268) — “And when everything is a high priority, then nothing is.”

Thanks for an inspiring and lucid account. None of the filler that comes with many business books. This was short and to the point. I strongly recommend anyone give it a read.

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