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Ernst F. Schumacher served as Chief Economic Advisor to the UK National Coal Board for more than twenty years. He also published a seminal work on Economics in the year 1973. Imaginatively titled Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, the book had as its basic premise the philosophy that the study of economics should serve humanity, as opposed to the other way around. The slim publication was on many levels, way ahead its time, holding forth inventively on topics ranging from politics to environmentalism. The founders of Basecamp, a Project management software and online collaboration, and the authors of the book ‘Rework’, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, seem to have not just adopted the thinking of Schumacher, but taken the thought process to an incredulously different and successful level. Terming their business to be “intentionally small”, Fried and Heinemeier care two hoots about servicing the Fortune 500. Their objective is broader and astoundingly straightforward – sell to the Fortune 5,000,000!
Rework seems to hammer away at the quintessential Mantra that small is appealing. The diminution alluded to is not just in terms of the usual qualitative metrics such as revenues and employee strength, but also, and more importantly in terms of qualitative parameters such as the necessity and futility of meetings, unshackling the power of remote working, learning from successes (and not failures as conventional wisdom will have us believe), etc. Frowning upon the creed that deems workaholism to be a badge of honour, the authors argue that throwing an unnatural number of hours at an obstinate problem would only lead to a solution that is inelegant.
Fried and Heinemeier also express their anathema towards the unending and entrenched ritual of meetings in an unabashed and strong manner. Terming meetings toxic and the worst interruptions of them all, the authors provide some rational and common sense reason behind their conclusion. “They’re usually about words and abstract concepts, not real things; they usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute; they drift off-subject easier than a Chicago cab in a snowstorm (my favourite); they require thorough preparation that most people don’t have time for; they frequently have agendas so vague that nobody is really sure of the goal; they often include at least one moron who inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense (tell me about it) Meetings procreate. One meeting leads to another meeting leads to another….”
The authors also urge entrepreneurs and professionals alike to “scratch their own itch”. According to them the most accessible way to create a great product or service is to make something the creator herself would want to use. For example, track coach Bill Bowerman intending to give his team lighter running shoes, employed a waffle iron to make soles out of rubber and created Nike’s signature “waffle soles.”
Yet another sphere where boatloads of improvements can see the light of the day is in the process of transitioning from ideas to execution. Warning against spending an inordinate amount of time just contemplating endlessly on a plethora of ideas, the authors urge their readers to begin executing. Acclaimed movie director Stanley Kubrick championed this notion. As he used to exhort, “Get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all.”
Another piece of advise that resonates with me personally is the one that demolishes what has to be the most universally acclaimed excuse of all time – “no time.” For Fried and Heinemeier there is always enough time if one can spend it right. “Instead of watching TV or playing World of Warcraft, work on your idea. Instead of going to bed at ten, go to bed at eleven. We’re not talking about all-nighters or sixteen-hour days—we’re talking about squeezing out a few extra hours a week. or something else. If you constantly fret about timing things perfectly, they’ll never happen….”
Another excellent piece of advise is “starting at the epicentre”. When commencing a new venture, the concentration might always be at the core and not at the periphery. “There’s the stuff you could do, the stuff you want to do, and the stuff you have to do. The stuff you have to do is where you should begin. Start at the epicenter. For example, if you’re opening a hot dog stand, you could worry about the condiments, the cart, the name, the decoration. But the first thing you should worry about is the hot dog. The hot dogs are the epicenter. Everything else is secondary”.
“Rework” is a refreshingly new manner to take a novel relook at the way we go about plying our wares, both as owners of business and professionals.