ReWork is the second book written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, two tech dudes who created and run what appears to be a wildly successful company called 37signals that does a bunch of tech things that you probably know about if you care about that stuff, which I don’t. What I do care about is that I saw on my Instagram (I did a tech thing!) that someone I like read this book and thought it was helpful. I also care about the fact that this is a business book written by people who did not start out as business people. They started out as people who were knowledgeable and passionate about a Thing, which in their case was web design, and along the way they became people who learned a lot about what it is like to run a small business.
This story is so key to the lives of many of my clients. Most of you are not people who set out to be a ‘business person’. You’re people who wanted to work for yourself, or with a small group of collaborators, doing whatever your Thing is, and to make a living or build a future out of doing it. And then you realize that when you work for yourself, you actually have two jobs: one job doing your Thing, and one job as a business owner. And then you realize that you might not know HOW to be a business owner, and that ‘being a business owner’ is actually a hundred little jobs including but not limited to marketing, web design, bookkeeping, office cleaning, industry networking, social media, tax preparation, hiring, paying, and firing employees, scheduling clients, research, meeting facilitation, etc. And you realize that some of these little jobs are cool and fun and you’re good at them, and some are horrible, or you hate them, or they’re hard for you to manage. And some days are so satisfying and you feel like a total boss, and some days are so bad, like whyyyyy didn’t I just get a j.o.b.
The thing that will build you up in your stride of being a business owner is amassing a toolbelt full of knowledge about the tasks required in your new role. As per usual, you can get these tools by taking classes, by reading, by studying with a mentor, by observing, or by simply doing the damn thing over and over until you figure out the best way to do it. And that’s what these two bros did. Then they got excited about the tools they had and decided to write a book about it. In their words, “We have something new to say about building, running, and growing (or not growing) a business”. Hence the title ReWork, a book about small business in what the authors are terming ‘the new reality’.
I am 100% with them on this idea. Every day the world shifts. ‘Reality’ shifts. Every day, billions of decisions are made that change the course of the human story and the physical environment it is playing out in, billions of ideas emerge that forever change the way we perceive the world around us. We are all, every second, living in a new reality. We are all trying to make a living, to run a business, to survive somehow in this new reality.
Often we have already been hindered in some way by the education we received that taught us how to live and thrive in the world our parents and teachers were raised in or are living in. I think about this often when clients ask me about retirement, about planning for the future for ourselves, our families, and our communities. Everything we think we know about what we ‘should’ be doing is based on what was/is successful decision making for our parents and grandparents generations. More on radical reconsideration of retirement in a future post, for now the idea is that we often approach business, work, and entrepreneurship in the same way- with the eyes of our parents and teachers’ generations.
We need to shift our focus into how to create on the cutting edge and how to survive into the future. Most people that we historically think of as ‘successful’ are people who were making cutting edge decisions, taking a risk with their instinct, and planting seeds of intention to unfold into the future. In our modelling, we often want to be like these people. However, we miss the mark when we base our work on what they did instead of how they did. The authors of ReWork are on point in that this book shifts the focus of business advice from what to do (write a business plan, get investors, do market research) towards giving advice about how to do (be bold, be respectful and respect-worthy, make decisions quickly, build your business around things that people actually need, be more substance than trend). In this shift, they have written a book that is more widely applicable, and most importantly, more relevant to the current moment.
As promised in the Business Book Club introduction post, my intention here is to pull a few tidbits to ruminate on, in hopes that one of these ideas will assist you in some life task the way it has inspired or assisted me. ReWork provided me plenty to think on, so feel free to read through and grab onto whatever feels resonant to what you are struggling with.
And so I give to you the $Money Witch$ Takeaway Gems:
“Decisions are Progress” and “Decisions are Temporary”. Make tiny decisions quickly to keep momentum, don’t allow them to pile up, don’t wait for perfection. Make decisions that optimize for your now. And when your circumstances change (which they will), make new decisions that optimize for your new reality. Be agile.
“You don’t need more hours; you need better hours.” Stop making excuses. Handle your shit efficiently and move on. If you can’t or you won’t, figure out why and try to remedy it.
“Don’t scar on the first cut….Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual. This is how bureaucracies are born… So don’t scar on the first cut. Don’t create a policy because one person did something wrong once. Policies are only meant for situations that come up over and over again”. Ummm, that’s deep. I spent several years working in and consulting for worker-owned cooperatives, and this one struck me. I’m going to leave this without much elaboration, but if it feels relevant to you it’s something to chew on.
The words need, must, can’t, easy, just, only, fast, everyone, no one, always, and never make it hard to find a solution. They get in the way of communication and creativity. They upset people and set the stage for tension, conflict, and problems to ensue. There are SO many applications for this gem. Anywhere I am communicating or collaborating with other human beings- work, relationships, family, organizations- I am potentially creating road blocks to success by using these words and emphasizing these ideas. I also like that the word easy made this list. Often when we use the word easy in a workplace, organizational, or business setting we are devaluing someone’s labor or effort.
“Be a Curator”. Say no to some things. Edit your shit. Let go of needing to manifest every little part of your original idea. Even if they all feel meaningful to you. Having good ideas does not distinguish you. Even having great ideas does not distinguish you. Being tightly edited and on point is what will make people take notice.
When I was about 22 years old, I had a stupidly underpaid job as part time personal assistant to a pretty high powered intellectual property lawyer babe. My ADD loved this job because I would bounce around from unpacking from her ski trip to ghost-cooking a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for her new boyfriend to stealing office supplies to running errands around the Financial District. While I would do this I liked to imagine myself in parallel realities, living out short versions of what I considered to be the freaky lifestyles of the business people surrounding me. On these jaunts I went several times to the Franklin Covey store, which is like a shop of all different planners and organizational tools, based on the ideas of Stephen Covey, who wrote that pretty popular book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’.
I like inspirational tidbits as much as the next pseudo professional person, so I would always take one of the little cards they had at the counter and ruminate on the idea. This was my gateway drug to actually reading Covey’s book, my first self-help book, from which I took away one idea, an idea I still use when I’m trying to be effective till this day: the idea of First Things First. It’s an awesome idea, so simple and smart, right? Like, look at your to-do list and the things you should handle first, while you have the most time and energy are the things that absolutely essentially must be handled that day. Or the things that will set in motion other things you need to follow up on later, things that you desire to unfold effectively throughout the day.
When setting priorities, I still try to stick with that advice. First Things First. Or, if I’m feeling intimidated or stuck with whatever task should be at the top of my list, I will pick a warm up task that is easy or fun to knock out, one that won’t take too much time and will help build momentum by giving me that satisfying ‘check it off!’ feeling.
My relationship to business and financial self-help books (exactly similar to parenting books) has remained the same: I kind of love them, I kind of feel freaky reading them, and I generally find myself with one real gem of an idea that I take away. It’s usually an idea that is deeply useful, and makes the time spent reading the book worthwhile, but it also makes most of the actual experience of reading the book feeling like ‘yeah yeah yeah get to the point…’.
I bring these gems into my own life, weaving them into my web of personal philosophy, and I often bring them into the lives of my clients through my coaching. I know many of my clients are not going to make the time to read a book about business or finance or effectiveness, and surely not a stack of them. It’s hard enough to find time to read a bit for pleasure, and probably more personally inspiring to do so. I’m kind of a nerd about this stuff, so amassing more tools for organization gets me pumped! I hope to bring some of these tools into your lives, and give you more time to nerd out about what truly gets you pumped: being an herbalist, or a chef, or a teacher, or a bike mechanic, or a jewelry designer, or a porn star, or a documentary maker, or an acupuncturist. Instead of having to add ‘read business books’ to your be a successful person to-do list, you can spend a much shorter amount of time reading my blog post going ‘yeah yeah get to the point’ and most satisfyingly, it will arrive sooner. I hope the things that inspire me will resonate with you as well, as you traverse this road to getting your professional on.