This is, perhaps, another unconventional business book, taking the passionate elements like ‘Crush it!’ but more tech business based, coming from the founders of 37signals.com. These chaps make web based project management tools, and have built a fairly decent business on it, as well as being we respected in the coding community.
I listened to the book unabridged via Audible and at 2hr 50mins., it’s almost a long podcast. You can also download PDF samples from their website, but the book itself is only 288 pages – it’s a quick read. So how did I hear about it, and why did I read it. Well, I’ve followed their products for a few years, but never been able to use them, and have heard a few speeches of theirs, and seem interviews, so I thought it’d be an interesting book from people who have actually done it. I really don’t find Harvard Business Review type books very interesting at all, and a lot of guru books just seem to be angling for consultancy or speaking gig deals. So how was this raw book?
It comes out from chapter one aggressively, citing it’s from real business people, not from academics and that it flies against conventional wisdom – a point it returns to several times.
They rail against long term planning. ‘Planning is guessing’ so why not called it that – ‘financial guessing’? They go on that planning is inflexible and does not allow for improvisation as you know most when you’re actually doing it.
‘Why do people assume a bigger company is better? If that was true, why doesn’t Harvard and other business schools grow like that? Maybe a company does have a right size.’ It’s a fair point, and it does make you wonder; of course, 37Signals is a private company – they can chose their growth, whereas traded companies can’t. So, following their points – isn’t that their fault for going public?
‘Workaholism is bad…it’s stupid. They [workaholics] make more problems, they miss opportunities and create poor solutions. It also creates the ‘ass in seat’ mentality.’
This is something I see more and more tech startups and such coming back to – not that the goal doesn’t get hit, but the mentality behind it. Ironically, I’ve seen this in Japan for years – yet the ‘West’ lauded Japan for long work hours. But that was it, no awesome results, just attendee-ism, so yes, I think they nail this point in that section.
One section -a mini rant – I quite like is their discussion on support, and when you call a support line you are on hold whilst a pre-recorded voice tells you that you call is important to them – just not important enough to hire more support people right?
It’s an interesting read, and indeed it isn’t an academic approach and whilst it does come from a small company (16 people) and at first my reaction was along the lines of ,”Well, that works in a small web company, but in a big, real company, it would never work…” but actually that’s wrong – headed. The truth is many of the points are true anyway, and you can implement them in any business – perhaps the “we’re too big” is just a default excuse for the rest of us.
Case in point are meetings – they can be useful when focussed but think of them as man hours taken for everyone to see the real cost of a meeting – it’s not one hour, it’s a six man hour meeting. The section ‘meetings are toxic’ kind of sums it up. I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot when I schedule meetings, and think – how can I keep the man-hours for this meeting to a bare minimum.
There’s a good section on interruptions and that they destroy productivity and potentially having ‘alone zones’. Again, why wouldn’t it work? Why not even try it?
All in all then, it’s a quick, worthy read for anyone in any business. For the small business it might remind you a bit on really, what are the growth goals for your company? For those of us in larger companies, it’s really a challenge backed up by the benefits of results and the fact that deep down you get this feeling that quite a few of these points are simply right.