Books

Book Review: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work was written already two years ago by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the two minds behind Basecamp. I have already reviewed their book ReWork, and have in the past also read Remote. The book had been sitting on my reading list for some time now. But I thought the time was ripe to go through it at this moment.

The book is a quick read, yet dense with concepts that might not be easy to grasp immediately. To explain what I mean, I’ll start with a quote which is one of the last sentences of the book.

A calm company is a choice. Make it yours.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, page 222

What is a Calm Company? It almost seems an oxymoron. We are so used to describe companies in terms fo warfare, of speed, of neurotic disorders, of engineering terms. But we very rarely associate the concept of calmness to a firm. Yet, the success story of Basecamp, and its calm philosophy, should make us concentrate on the suggestions that the two authors give, without shrugging them off as new-age nonsense.

What I really appreciate about the two authors, is that once more they question the role and meaning of work as a key element in the success of an organisation. This fact is truly uncommon and has led them to take some courageous choice in terms of distributed structure, remote locations, but also a way of working.

Their focus on effectiveness is paramount in understanding how a team can really be developing well. Their focus on concrete actions for Time Management, for fostering executing instead of the useless hierarchies of too many office meetings, is a reminder that most of what we do every day is a choice.

Yet, this book can only be understood by the words in the second last chapter, titled the good old days. The authors explain that what they discovered by analysing other companies, is that most entrepreneurs were reminiscing about the good old days when things where their business was simpler and smaller. Also, complexity is a choice.

Companies are culturally and structurally encouraged to get bigger and bigger.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, page 214

But does it have to be like that? Their argument is that, no it shouldn’t. As a privately-owned company, it’s entirely in their decision making power to do so. And they have been able to demonstrate solid profitability over two decades now.

we’ve decided to stay as small as we can for as long as we can.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, page 214

This choice is what makes all the rest of the suggestions in the book feasible and consistent. Basecamp makes it for an excellent candidate for another Case Study of Intentional Organisation because every aspect is congruent. And the intentional seed here is definitely that of not wanting to grow at all costs.

Read now, in the middle of the pandemic crisis, this book is almost prophetic. Basecamp is a company that is built to be resilient and adaptable. It experimented through the normal SOPs of traditional management, yet it chose to throw them away once they did not apply anymore. They really put their customers at the core of the action, not imposing technology changes rhythms that they don’t want to undertake. They truly interpret the concept of Agile as a learning experience, not an acceleration one. Their journey has been made of a lot of Nos.

Knowing what you’ll say no to is better than knowing what you’ll say yes to.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, page 176

Which makes me really reflect on the power of no. We are so used to valuate optimism as a virtue, to say yes to challenges and strive to reach them, that we don’t really realise how much impact a No can really do.

No is a precision instrument, a surgeon’s scalpel, a laser beam focused on one point. Yes is a blunt object, a club, a fisherman’s net that catches everything indiscriminately. This sentence alone is worth the entire book.

What’s astonishing as you read through it is the simplicity of all the suggestions. They are easy to understand and would be truly easy to be put in practice. The greatest difficulty is that they challenge rooted assumptions about our self and the meaning of work. Appearing busy makes us feel important. Being copied in all emails is a sign that we are essential. Being invited to a meeting while we’re on holiday is often a gratification to our ego, worried that we might be not necessary anymore. Micromanaging others gives us self-confidence.

By making it a question of choices, this book finally declares it: the king is naked. The way we live our work is our own choice, and the way we make meaning of our life and work together (not by balancing two opposites, but by integrating a whole) is the core of what I see as The New Discourse of Work.

Applying lessons that are essentially derived from the experience of one company alone is always difficult. But this is not a world where best practices truly exist. All what is presented makes such good sense that it is difficult to contradict. The only caveat, which doesn’t make me give it a full 5 star rating, is that there are not many suggestions about the journeys they have endeavoured to reach certain results.

The only way to get more done is to have less to do.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, page 170

Did you read this book? Feel free to add a comment below.

It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy At Work
Genre: Management | Rating: 4/5
By Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Hardcover | 240 pp. | Harper Business | 02/10/2018 | 1st Edition
ISBN: 9780062874788
Buy on Amazon

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work Reviews on GoodReads

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Sergio Caredda

Digital Knowmad | Multipotentialite | HR Leader | Transformation Agent | Future of Work thinker | On a mission to re-embed Human into HR.

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