[Book Review] ReWork

by Thomas MORADPOUR on January 19, 2011 · 4 comments

2011 Reading List #002

Re Work
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37signals

For my full 2011 reading list, click here.

Outstanding book, ReWork achieved a rare combination: so thoroughly enjoyable I couldn’t put it down; yet making me completely unconfortable about how its content relates to my life, my job and my role as a leader. ReWork reads like a great blog – each chapter, no longer than 2 pages, is packed with provocative insights and practical advice, yet leads you to challenge the way you think about work, and what drives success.  It is hard to read it and not think “I’ll drop whatever I’m doing and start my own business, only to run it exactly like that”.


ReWork was one of four books recommended to me by Scott Stratten, the awesome author of Un-Marketing.
To tell the truth, my plan was to read it later in the year, but so many people tweeted to me about how good it was, I had to drop my plan and pick it up. Good choice, turns out.


Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson are the founders of 37signals – 10 year before Oprah sent her first tweet, they set up shop as a web design firm, then went on to create the wildly succesful blog Signal vs Noise, and the equally succesful collaboration web apps BaseCamp, CampFire, BackPack etc.

ReWork is their take on building great businesses, rooted in 10 years of experience at 37signal. As they say in the book, learning from their success… because there isn’t much to learn from failure. And as per this example, so goes the whole book – deconstructing conventional wisdom about management and leadership, building a consistent set of guiding principles, based on strong beliefs, albeit somehow counter-intuitive at first.

In a nutshell, ReWork is about DOING versus over-thinking and planning, it’s about PROFITABLE BUSINESS from the get-go versus fantasy-land entrepreneurial start-ups, it’s about STAYING SMALL and nimble as opposed to growing at all cost and it’s about FOCUS. Most important of all, it’s about doing MORE with LESS – less resources, less people, less features, less time, less meetings (the last one my favorite).


  • Planning is guessing: “Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses. Start referring to your business plans as business guesses (…) now you can stop worrying about them as much. They just aren’t worth the stress (…) the problem: Plans are inconsistent with improvisation.
  • Making a dent in the universe: “To do great work, you need to feel that you’re making a difference. that you’re putting a dent in the universe. that you’re part of something important.
  • Start making something: “We all have that one friend who says, ‘I had the idea foreBay. If only I had acted on it, I’d be a billionaire!’. That logic is pathetic and delusional. Having the idea for eBay has nothing to do with actually creating eBay. What you do is what matters.”
  • Draw a line in the sand: “A strong stand is how you attract superfans (…) if no one’s upset by what you’re saying, you’re probably not pushing hard enough (…) we’re willing to lose customers if that means that others wil love our products intensely.”
  • Start a business, not a start-up: “A business without a path to profit isn’t a business, it’s a hobby.”
  • Build half product: “Cut your ambition in half. You’re beter off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.” (personal favorite)
  • DIY: “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.
  • Pass on great people: “Problems start when you have more people than you need. You start inventing work to keep everyone busy. Artificial work leads to artificial projects.
  • Hire managers of one: “Managers of one are people who come up with their own goals and execute them. They don’t need heavy direction. 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.”


Boy, I wish I could adopt almost all of it straight away.
Hard to do within a large organisation – 37signals is, by design, small, decentralized and nimble. I don’t have that luxury; yes, I’m often stuck in meetings that go over for too long and have too many people. But there still a lot in this book that I can put to practice in my daily job at a larger company – at the end of the day, it’s about leadership, having a vision of where to take your brand, business and teams, and a clear compass to stay on course.

And even with more resources (don’t assume that much though!), I can still make my dent in the universe, can’t I? ;-)


Delivering Happiness, by Zappos.com founder and CEO Tony Hsieh.
[update] Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal (sorry @Zappos, I’ll read you later, promise)

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  • Olivier

    “10 year before Oprah sent her first tweet, they set up shop as a web design firm”

  • http://zachcole.com Zach Cole

    I love your book reviews, Tom. I just watched Jason Fried’s TED talk on why we don’t get work done at work. Very inspiring and enlightening. Definitely going to pick up this book now to see what else I can learn. Thanks for the review and recommendation. Keep ‘em coming!

    • Anonymous

      Will do!

      Sent from my iPad

      Le 21 janv. 2011 à 20:25, Disqus a écrit :

  • Pingback: 37 Business and Strategy Books For 2011 [updated]

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