Oct 3, 2011


My takeaways from Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is one of the best business books I’ve ever read. The authors take every single piece of business conventional wisdom and shatters them to pieces.

As the books back cover says: ASAP is poison, underdo the competition, meetings are toxic, fire the workaholics, pick a fight, planning is guessing. All counterintuitive advice, but the authors will show you with facts that following their advise can lead to success.

Some critics say that this book applies only to small businesses and start-ups, but I’ve worked in large companies almost all my life, and I find it’s tennets applicable no matter the size of the company.

My Highlights and Notes:

“The real world isn’t a place, it’s an excuse. It’s a justification for not trying. It has nothing to do with you.”

“Failure is not a prerequisite for success. Evolution doesn’t linger on past failures, it’s always building upon what worked. So should you.”

“Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.”

“Working without a plan may seem scary. But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier.”

“What’s wrong with finding the right size and staying there? Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination. Anyone who runs a business that’s sustainable and profitable, whether it’s big or small, should be proud.”

“[Workaholics] try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force.”

“If all you do is work, you’re unlikely to have sound judgments.”

“Your efforts need to feel valuable. You want your customers to say, “This makes my life better.” You want to feel that if you stopped doing what you do, people would notice. You should feel an urgency about this too. You don’t have forever. This is your life’s work.”

“If you’re going to do something, do something that matters.”

“The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use.”

“Best of all, this “solve your own problem” approach lets you fall in love with what you’re making.”

“What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan.”

“When you’re new at something, you need to start creating. The most important thing is to begin.”

“When you want something bad enough, you make the time regardless of your other obligations. The truth is most people just don’t want it bad enough.”

“The perfect time never arrives. You’re always too young or old or busy or broke or something else. If you constantly fret about timing things perfectly, they’ll never happen.”

“Keep in mind why you’re doing what you’re doing. Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or service.”

“When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes an argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.”

“There’s a world of difference between truly standing for something and having a mission statement that says you stand for something. Standing for something isn’t just about writing it down. It’s about believing it and living it.”

“No matter what kind of business you’re starting, take on as little outside cash as you can.”

“Maybe eventually you’ll need to go the bigger, more expensive route, but not right now. Great companies start in garages all the time. Yours can too.”

“The truth is every business, new or old, is governed by the same set of market forces and economic rules. Revenue in, expenses out. Turn a profit or wind up gone.”

“A business without a path to profit isn’t a business, it’s a hobby.”

You need a commitment strategy, not an exit strategy. You should be thinking about how to make your project grow and succeed, not how you’re going to jump ship.

Embrace the idea of having less mass. Right now, you’re the smallest, the leanest, and the fastest you’ll ever be.

”“I don’t have enough time/money/people/experience.” Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.”

“You’re better off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole. Lots of things get better as they get shorter.”

“Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that’s merely good.”

“So figure out your epicenter. Which part of your equation can’t be removed? If you can continue to get by without this thing or that thing, then those things aren’t the epicenter. When you find it, you’ll know. Then focus all your energy on making it the best it can be. Everything else you do depends on that foundation.”

“Ignore the details for a while. Nail the basics first and worry about the specifics later.”

“henever you can, swap “Let’s think about it” for “Let’s decide on it.” Commit to making decisions. Don’t wait for the perfect solution. Decide and move forward.”

“Decisions are progress. Each one you make is a brick in your foundation. You can’t build on top of “We’ll decide later,” but you can build on top of “Done.””

“Long projects zap morale. The longer it takes to develop, the less likely it is to launch.”

“It’s the stuff you leave out that matters. So constantly look for things to remove, simplify, and streamline. Be a curator. Stick to what’s truly essential. Pare things down until you’re left with only the most important stuff. Then do it again.”

“When things aren’t working, the natural inclination is to throw more at the problem. More people, time, and money. All that ends up doing is making the problem bigger. The right way to go is the opposite direction: Cut back.”

“If you start pushing back deadlines and increasing your budget, you’ll never stop.”

“The core of your business should be built around things that won’t change. Things that people are going to want today and ten years from now. Those are the things you should invest in.”

“You just don’t need the best gear in the world to be good. And you definitely don’t need it to get started. In business, too many people obsess over tools, software tricks, scaling issues, fancy office space, lavish furniture, and other frivolities instead of what really matters. And what really matters is how to actually get customers and make money.”

“When you make something, you always make something else. You can’t make just one thing. Everything has a by-product. Observant and creative business minds spot these by-products and see opportunities.”

“Think about it this way: If you had to launch your business in two weeks, what would you cut out? Funny how a question like that forces you to focus. You suddenly realize there’s a lot of stuff you don’t need. And what you do need seems obvious. Build the necessities now, worry about the luxuries later.”

“Do everything you can to remove layers of abstraction.”

“Sometimes abandoning what you’re working on is the right move, even if you’ve already put in a lot of effort. Don’t throw good time after bad work.”

“Interruption is not collaboration, it’s just interruption. And when you’re interrupted, you’re not getting work done.”

“Find a judo solution, one that delivers maximum efficiency with minimum effort.”

“Problems can usually be solved with simple, mundane solutions. That means there’s no glamorous work. You don’t get to show off your amazing skills. You just build something that gets the job done and then move on.”

“No one likes to be stuck on an endless project with no finish line in sight. To keep your momentum and motivation up, get in the habit of accomplishing small victories along the way.”

“The longer something takes, the less likely it is that you’re going to finish it.”

“Try to dedicate one day a week (or every two weeks) to small victories that generate enthusiasm. Small victories let you celebrate and release good news. And you want a steady stream of good news.”

“If you already spent too much time on something that wasn’t worth it, walk away. You can’t get that time back. The worst thing you can do now is waste even more time.”

“What distinguishes people who are ten times more effective than the norm is not that they work ten times as hard; it’s that they use their creativity to come up with solutions that require one-tenth of the effort.”

“Reality never sticks to best-case scenarios. Note: Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.”

“Estimates that stretch weeks, months, and years into the future are fantasies.”

“The solution: Break the big thing into smaller things. The smaller it is, the easier it is to estimate. You’re probably still going to get it wrong, but you’ll be a lot less wrong than if you estimated a big project.”

“Long lists are guilt trips. The longer the list of unfinished items, the worse you feel about it.”

“You have to understand why something works or why something is the way it is. When you just copy and paste, you miss that.”

“How do you know if you’re copying someone? If someone else is doing the bulk of the work, you’re copying. Be influenced, but don’t steal.”

“Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product too: how you sell it, how you support it, how you explain it, and how you deliver it. Competitors can never copy the you in your product.”

“If you think a competitor sucks, say so. When you do that, you’ll find that others who agree with you will rally to your side. Being the anti-______ is a great way to differentiate yourself and attract followers.”

“Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition. Instead of one-upping, try one-downing. Instead of outdoing, try underdoing.”

“Don’t shy away from the fact that your product or service does less. Highlight it. Be proud of it. Sell it as aggressively as competitors sell their extensive feature lists.”

“If you’re planning to build “the iPod killer” or “the next Pokemon,” you’re already dead. You’re allowing the competition to set the parameters.”

“Start getting into the habit of saying no, even to many of your best ideas. Use the power of no to get your priorities straight. You rarely regret saying no. But you often wind up regretting saying yes.”

“Making a few vocal customers happy isn’t worth it if it ruins the product for everyone else.”

“Don’t be a jerk about saying no, though. Just be honest. If you’re not willing to yield to a customer request, be polite and explain why. People are surprisingly understanding when you take the time to explain your point of view.”

“Your goal is to make sure your product stays right for you. You’re the one who has to believe in it most. That way, you can say, “I think you’ll love it because I love it.””

“Scaring away new customers is worse than losing old customers.”

“Companies need to be true to a type of customer more than a specific individual customer with changing needs.”

“Have as many great ideas as you can. Get excited about them. Just don’t act in the heat of the moment. Write them down and park them for a few days. Then, evaluate their actual priority with a calm mind.”

“Once you do get bigger and more popular, you’re inevitably going to take fewer risks. When you’re a success, the pressure to maintain predictability and consistency builds.”

“Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or outsponsor competitors, try to out-teach them. Teaching probably isn’t something your competitors are even thinking about.”

“Buying people’s attention with a magazine or online banner ad is one thing. Earning their loyalty by teaching them forms a whole different connection.” “People are curious about how things are made. It’s why they like factory tours or behind-the-scenes footage on DVDs.”

“Imperfections are real and people respond to real. It’s why we like real flowers that wilt, not perfect plastic ones that never change. Don’t worry about how you’re supposed to sound and how you’re supposed to act. Show the world what you’re really like, warts and all.”

“Call someone. Write a personal note. If you read a story about a similar company or product, contact the journalist who wrote it. Pitch her with some passion, some interest, some life. Do something meaningful. Be remarkable. Stand out. Be unforgettable. That’s how you’ll get the best coverage.”

“Accounting is a department. Marketing isn’t. Marketing is something everyone in your company is doing 24/7/365.”

“Marketing isn’t just a few individual events. It’s the sum total of everything you do.”

“Never hire anyone to do a job until you’ve tried to do it yourself first. That way, you’ll understand the nature of the work. You’ll know what a job well done looks like. You’ll know how to write a realistic job description and which questions to ask in an interview.”

“Don’t hire for pleasure; hire to kill pain.”

“The right time to hire is when there’s more work than you can handle for a sustained period of time.”

“You want a specific candidate who cares specifically about your company, your products, your customers, and your job.”

“So how do you find these candidates? First step: Check the cover letter. In a cover letter, you get actual communication instead of a list of skills, verbs, and years of irrelevance.”

“Managers of one are people who come up with their own goals and execute them. They don’t need heavy direction. They don’t need daily check-ins. They do what a manager would do: set the tone, assign items, determine what needs to get done, etc., but they do it by themselves and for themselves.”

“If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer.”

“Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate.”

“Writing is today’s currency for good ideas.”

“When something goes wrong, someone is going to tell the story. You’ll be better off if it’s you. Own the story.”

“Getting back to people quickly is probably the most important thing you can do when it comes to customer service.”

“There’s never really a great way to say you’re sorry, but there are plenty of terrible ways. One of the worst ways is the non-apology apology, which sounds like an apology but doesn’t really accept any blame.”

“Keep in mind that you can’t apologize your way out of being an ass. Even the best apology won’t rescue you if you haven’t earned people’s trust.”

“You don’t create a culture. It happens. This is why new companies don’t have a culture. Culture is the byproduct of consistent behavior.”

“Cut the crap and you’ll find that people are waiting to do great work. They just need to be given the chance.”

“Rockstar environments develop out of trust, autonomy, and responsibility.”

“When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers. You create a boss-versus-worker relationship that screams, “I don’t trust you.””

“Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual. This is how bureaucracies are born.”

“Who said writing needs to be formal? Who said you have to strip away your personality when putting words on paper? Forget rules. Communicate!”

“When you’re writing, don’t think about all the people who may read your words. Think of one person. Then write for that one person.”

“ASAP is inflationary. It devalues any request that doesn’t say ASAP. Before you know it, the only way to get anything done is by putting the ASAP sticker on it.”

“Reserve your use of emergency language for true emergencies.”

“We all have ideas. Ideas are immortal. They last forever. What doesn’t last forever is inspiration. Inspiration is like fresh fruit or milk: It has an expiration date. If you want to do something, you’ve got to do it now.”

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