Book Review: Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Title: Rework
Authors: Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
Publisher: Crown Business (2010)

We have a problem in the business world, one that is becoming increasingly apparent with each passing year. The “rules” of work haven’t really changed since the early 20th century. The last significant change was the advent of the 40-hour work week, which was intended to protect employees from being overworked by their employers.

Over the last 100 years, we’ve moved away from an industrial economy into an informational one, but the rules haven’t moved with it. Where we work, how we work and when we work… the status quo has gone unchallenged for far too long.

The rules need to change.

Authors (and founders of 37signals) Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson get this. They know things need to change, and they want to show you how in their new book, Rework.

Rework is a series of essays encouraging you to rethink how you work. Covering topics such as start-ups, marketing, meetings, planning, hiring and more, this book will be a breath of fresh air for some—and a slap in the face for others.

Provoking a Reaction—By Having an Opinion

Fried and Hansson don’t shy away from speaking their minds in this book. They’re out to provoke a reaction. And they succeed spectacularly. A few standout examples:

Staying late to put in extra hours—

Not only is this workaholism unnecessary, it’s stupid. Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more. . . Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done. [pp. 25, 26]

On mission statements—

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 writing it down. It’s about believing it and living it. [pp. 47, 48]

On standing up for something—

Strong opinions aren’t free. You’ll turn some people off. They’ll accuse you of being arrogant and aloof. That’s life. For everyone who loves you, there will be others who hate you. If no one’s upset by what you’re saying, you’re probably not pushing hard enough. (And you’re probably boring, too.) [p. 43]

These examples fly in the face of a “keep your head down and your mouth shut” work culture. We’re generally not encouraged to have opinions, but we are expected to stay late, even when there’s nothing to do.

That’s not to say the book is perfect. The essay “Four-letter words” has a great point—that words like “can’t,” “need,” “easy,” or “fast” discourage helpful conversation and getting real work done. However, I felt that it was hindered somewhat by the use of some of the other four-letter words that you might here just as frequently at your office. (Unless you work at mine. Usually.)

While I understand that they were using them as examples of what they weren’t talking about, their use didn’t quite fit. It reminded me of a teenager deciding to “sound” grown up by cussing.

There were also times when I felt Fried and Hansson didn’t go far enough in their assessments.

Their ideas are good—even great—but I would have been very interested in seeing the authors explore the idea of when work happens in greater detail. The most I saw in the book was an understanding that working stupidly long hours all the time might mean you’re bad at your job, and their acknowledgment that no one works a full eight hours in a day anyway, so we don’t need to freak out about people having diversions. On this subject in particular, it would have been great to read more of their opinions.

Sound Like You

Perhaps most meaningful to me in Rework is the encouragement to “sound like you.” The authors write:

There’s nothing wrong with sounding like your own size. Being honest about who you are is smart business, too. Language is often your first impression—why start it off with a lie? Don’t be afraid to be you. [p. 262]

As a writer, this is something I can’t hear enough, particularly when doing corporate work. People don’t care about a faceless corporation’s message, but they do care about what a person has to say.

Rework is one more voice in a growing chorus demanding change. Cali Ressler & Jody Thompson at GoROWE.com, Seth Godin, Timothy Ferriss and Daniel Pink are just a few business thinkers challenging the status quo. Fried and Hansson are in good company and Rework is a welcome addition to the conversation.

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