"You don't need an MBA, a certificate, a fancy suit, a briefcase, or an above-average tolerance for risk. You just need an idea, a touch of confidence, and a push to get started."

- Rework, page 28

What if everything you thought about creating a business was outdated?

That’s the premise behind the book Rework, written by 37Signals’s Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. 37Signals is responsible for the profitable web applications Basecamp, Backpack, Highrise, and Campfire. The company also created Ruby on Rails, a web application framework which is the backbone for most of the web 2.0 world.

But they’re not like any other business. They say plenty of things which both inspire and anger, especially when it comes to starting a business. They say things like: You don’t need to obsess about planning. You need less than you think. Workaholics aren’t heroes. Meetings can poison. Emulate chefs and drug dealers. Forget estimates. Forget the competition. Avoid seed money. Avoid traditional marketing. Forgo the reliance on resumes and formal education. Make something that truly matters and don’t be another carbon copy.

Rework is fearless. It’s conversational without any mundane “biz-speak,” and it’s backed by Fried and Heinemeier Hansson’s own successes during their 10+ years in business.

This book reaches out to both starting entrepreneurs and seasoned ones. It also reaches out to those who are “thinking about it,” and to those still haunted by the myths of what it really takes to succeed in business… any business. This isn’t limited to tech companies. Rework is an alternative take to starting anything in the business world.

Using 37Signals and other successful companies as case studies, Rework examines what happens when you rethink and rework the way a business is born and built.  The authors’ opinion is strong:  Anyone can start. First, get rid of the myths and excuses.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Ignore the Real World

"The real world isn't a place, it's an excuse. It's a justification for not trying."
- Rework, page 14

There’s a new business paradigm, admits 37Signals. They thrive because they did what many people were afraid to do: Ignore the real world. This sole conviction is the most powerful takedown from which the rest of book springs forth.

What is the “real world?” It’s the common ailment that many business starters hear from business dinosaurs, or even friends and family. It’s the realm of automatic doubt against any new idea. Yours included. 37Signals wastes no time in defining “the real world” as a place where “new ideas, unfamiliar approaches, and foreign concepts always lose.”

How do you start a business today? You first start by not believing this place called the real world.

“The real world may be real for them, but it doesn’t mean you have to live in it.”

37Signals have defied the real world by doing many things that can scare traditional businesses: They’ve intentionally stayed lean and small. They’ve attracted millions of customers without salespeople or advertising. They’ve forgone long-term planning and estimates. They’ve preferred to out-teach competitors, rather than outsell or outspend. They’ve lived by their own anti-real world advice and still remain profitable today.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Enough with the Excuses

"What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan."
- Rework, page 38

When you can bravely ignore the real world, you can ditch the assumptions:

  • Do you really need a long-term plan?
  • Do you really need outside money?
  • Do you really need people with a formal education?
  • Do you really need to “find the time?”
  • Do you really need to wait for inspiration?

If this is really your life’s work, what’s wrong with starting, creating, and co-creating with what you have, right now? Can’t you start small and grow along the way?

What 37Signals advocates is casting away excuses: What’s good enough so that you can simply get started, or even launch?

When you estimate and plan down to every detail, you’re really guessing. When you seek outside money, you’re likely to give up control. When you limit talent only to resumes and formal education, you miss the discovery of talent everywhere else. When you wait for inspiration, or the “right time,” neither seem to stick around for long.

Ideas are plentiful. Inspiration is extinguishable. Anyone can have an idea, but what matters is what you do and how well you execute.

“Until you start making something, your brilliant idea is just that, an idea. And everyone’s got one of those.”

There’s also the idea of aiming for less mass and avoiding growth for the sake of growth. Some big companies wish to be leaner and more flexible, but can’t, since they’ve sealed their fate with tech lock-ins, excess staff, long-term contracts and unforeseeable road maps. If they try to make critical changes, it can take years. They wind up talking, meeting, but not doing.

How much do you really need? Start out lean, keep mass low. Good enough is just fine. That way, you have room to improvise. It’s easier to execute decisions regarding your product line and feature sets, when you come to work expecting to adapt and change. You can make mistakes, fix them quickly, and simply get on with it.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

How NOT to Grow Your Business

"Standing for something isn't about just about writing it down. It's about believing it and living it."
- Rework, page 48

The world is populated by some truly inspiring companies; companies we can learn from and emulate. But, (sadly) the world is also loaded with some uninspiring, Jurassic era, legacy companies that may appear healthy, but are actually rotting from the inside.  You might’ve worked for one of them.

37Signals points out the common flaws from these doomed companies:

  • They stand for something, but their words are disconnected from the reality of the experience.
  • They apologize or talk to you like robots.
  • Their cultures and bureaucracies treat their employees like children.
  • They are more governed by rule books than human beings.
  • They talk and meet, instead of do
  • They are full of “dead-weight” delegators, processes, and other unneeded mass.

The Rework guys demonstrate that a lot of these negative effects can actually hinder good intentions.  One of those intentions – the ideas of hiring “Rockstars” to build reputation and credibility – can completely backfire. “Instant culture” isn’t possible.  Not in a lasting way, at any rate.  Real cultures develop through time and consistent behavior.  There’s nothing wrong with Rockstars… but grow them, don’t necessarily hire for them. Start with your environment. A talented team can’t thrive if the work environment is poisonous to begin with.

“Rockstar environments develop out of trust, autonomy, and responsibility. They’re a result of giving people the privacy, workspace, and tools they deserve.”

Everyone’s capable of great work, not just rockstars, ninjas, or jedis. Rockstar environments emerge when you detox the work environment and give employees what they deserve. Get rid of mere order delegators and phony policies that create nothing meaningful but illusions of control and agreement.

“Culture is action, not words.”

And communicate for real.

There’s more in the book about growing, nurturing, and thriving as a business: Better ways to handle competitors. Better ways to hire. Better ways to make progress. Better ways to evolve your product, service, and even your team. But ignoring excuses and fearful justifications always come first. Rework is a potent reminder that, to build a great business today, you have to take down the past.

You can rework and redefine the real world. Just get going and start creating. You need less than you think.

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Bryann Alexandros

ABOUT Bryann Alexandros

I help nonprofits and changemaking organizations become adaptive problem-solvers in the 21st century. My approach includes design thinking, applied creativity, process design, and helping senior leaders apply it to strategy and large-scale social challenges...
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