[book report] It doesn’t have to be crazy at work

This the latest book from Basecamp founders DHH and Jason Fried. A few years ago they penned a pretty influential tome called ‘ReWork’ which effected a whole generation of start-up founders, small business owners and pretty much anybody involved in an internet related business.

This seems to be seeking a similar place in the hearts of people. It is making a powerful case for a new kind of business — a ‘calm company’.

First a word on the style/format of the book. It is basically short ‘essays’ (basically blogposts) themed around six-ish chapters. This makes for a pretty easy read that you can power through in a couple of sittings. It also feels pretty lightweight and more like a pamphlet than a book at times.

There is a lot to admire in there though — starting with the basic premise that ‘your company is your product’ and as such you should be constantly monitoring, iterating and improving it for the benefits of your users — your staff.

Some of their ideas I really agree with

  • the whole 24/7 hustle culture is unhelpful and mainly nonsense
  • we need to stop using all the military/conflict language when we are talking about work
  • the disruption delusion has to end. Nope — you are not changing the world. You are getting people their takeaways slightly quicker.
  • 40 hours is plenty of time to get things done — if you protect that time for the work that matters (see my upcoming Make Time review for more on this!)
  • Offices have become interruption factories and we need to make it possible to work at work — the idea of ‘office hours’ for certain experts, ‘library rules’ for behaviour in the office and shifting people to be OK with asynchronous communications — not everything needs an immediate response.
  • Companies aren’t families. They are work places and work mates. Be proud of the work but wary of anyone selling it as a work family — that is likely to be hiding a demand for more — the whole ‘whatever it takes’ mentality again.
  • Leaders need to lead by example. If you want a calm, healthy workplace it has to start at the top.
  • The idea that deadlines are set but the scope of what will be delivered on that date is really nice. This is a good way to think about deadlines in an agile world that is obvious but I hadn’t really thought about in quite as clear a way before.

Some of their ideas I totally call privileged bollocks →

  • the idea that you don’t need business goals or targets. I don’t think they should be the be all and end all but none? Bollocks.
  • no plans? No chance. Sorry again this smacks of privilege and very particular circumstances. As I’ve written elsewhere the plan is never goal. The goal is the goal. That said the process of planning is invaluable for anything even slightly complex. You just need to be willing to change plans according to circumstances. Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke knew his stuff.
  • their whole attitude towards calendars and allowing people to book meetings seems just impossible and in fact counter productive anywhere bigger and broader than their company.
  • actually I like their idea about recruiting — basically paying someone a week to work with them to see what they are capable of. The thing is it is totally unrealistic on both sides of the equation for the vast majority of people.
  • Their distrust of user research (and misunderstanding of it) is just bad advice for the vast majority of people.

Anyway it is a good, easy read. It peppers ideas and advice at you on every page and there is plenty to learn from, some stuff to argue about and a few things to suck your teeth at. I’d recommend it (in fact I’m going to do a give away of a couple of copies when my newsletter hits 100 editions in a couple of weeks.)