During my last vacation, I have read REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (both founder of Basecamp). Here is what I think about this book.

tl;dr: Holy shit. THIS. THIS. And a thousand times THIS. I love the pragmatism and lets move attitude combined with a provoking writing style. It reminds you how to apply culture and kicks you out of the corporate hamster wheel full of processes and clutter. A book you should read every year. Go, buy, and read it!

REWORK at the beach of Mallorca, Spain

The problem with […] copying is it skips understanding - and understanding is how you grow. You have to understand why something works or why sometimes is the way it is.

- Jason and David in REWORK (from the chapter Don’t copy)

Why did I read this book?

Basecamp (former 37signals) is known for their unique work culture and their pragmatic thinking. I only heard good things about them. It looks like they have a high reputation in the engineering community (maybe also because David invented Ruby on Rails?). However, they have created a small, sustainable, and steady business. They don’t want to scale. They don’t want to grow. They seem not to have the goal of being the next unicorn. And this is what I like — this down to earth attitude.

I wanted to know how their pragmatic thinking applies to their work environment, their work culture, and how they use it to their daily business. I was curious.

What do I like about this book?

Straight and direct: The writing style and language is straight to the point and direct. When Jason and David want to express that this is shit, they write this is shit instead if this can be optimized. I love it because you don’t have to guess what they mean or what is written between the lines. They wrote it as they said it.

Great companies start in garages all the time. Yours can too.

- Jason and David in REWORK (from the chapter You need less than you think)

Small chapter: Every section is tiny, and rarely exceeds three pages. This makes it a quick read, and you can stop and start everywhere. Furthermore, it seems to be a good use for a reference book (even with 90 chapters). Do you want to know how they think about hiring? Look it up quickly.

Pragmatic and down to the earth: Basecamp is successful. No doubt. But it seems (from the outside) that they are still pragmatic and down to the earth. They ask the right questions like Why do we need to grow? Only because a startup blog said so? or sentence like Lets replace the fancy-sounding word entrepreneurs with starters (because of that’s what they do!).

So let’s replace the fancy-sounding word with something a bit more down-to-earth. Instead of entrepreneurs, let’s call them starters.

- Jason and David in REWORK (from the chapter Enough with “entrepreneurs”)

Opposite of your best practices: There are a thousand books about best practices on how to hire, how to avoid Public Relation disasters, how to observe your competitors or how to ensure productivity inside your company with >40 people. And most of them apply a “kind of” process around it. REWORK seems to be quite the opposite here. And they get it working: Hire the right people, trust them and lets move (together). To be fair: The context is essential, in a >1.000 (enterprise) people company this is a different story.

What can make this book better in the next edition?

Not so much, to be honest. Maybe something the reader should keep in mind instead of adjusting the book.

Sounds easy: All of their presented styles sounds easy and maybe too obvious (of course, that’s their provoking style). And I believe that many people say Yep, that’s the style we (need to) run!. I am all in for this. However, in the real world, you forget it quite often and need to remind yourself of it. Many of us are trapped in the hamster wheel, and it might be hard to focus on this with all the clutter and startup articles out there. And maybe to focus on this is already wrong and you need to establish this as an automatic habit.

Anyone who takes a “we’ll figure out how to profit in the future” attitude to business is being ridiculous. That’s like building a rocket ship but starting off by saying, “Let’s pretend gravity doesn’t exist.”. A business without a path to profit isn’t a business; it’s a hobby.

- Jason and David in REWORK (from the chapter Start a business, not a startup)

Would I recommend reading this book?

Clear yes.

THIS. THIS. And a thousand times THIS. The realistic style that is described by Jason and David is the style I believe in. With nearly every page they hit me. This is a book you should buy on paper, read it, put it in your shelf and one year later you reread it.

Many of us want to start a product, found a business, and be the next unicorn and get rich. Is this really necessary? Or are you mainly driven by the outer media? Two of my ground principles are Do awesome things with awesome people and Do what you love + have passion for, and the success will come automatic (whatever success means for you). And this book represents those principles by their pragmatic thinking.

When something becomes too polished, it loses its soul. It seems robotic. So talk like you really talk. Reveal things that others are unwilling to discuss. Be upfront about your shortcomings. Show the latest version of what you’re working on, even if you’re not done yet.

- Jason and David in REWORK (from the chapter Nobody likes plastic flowers)

I recommend this book to everyone who …

  • wants to be grounded again by a pragmatic work attitude
  • feels trapped in growth, process and we are not moving and needs a new perspective
  • is fascinated by small, sustainable businesses and want to know more about the culture at Basecamp

Is there more to read?

Yes, of course (PS: this list will never be complete):