It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work – by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Date read: 5/7/19. Recommendation: 8/10.
The book outlines lessons from Basecamp and how to run a calm company. Refreshing resource, particularly for those who get caught up in the chaos of work. They discuss why calmness is a productive emotion and the work structure they use at Basecamp to help sustain that. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson also dig into work ethic, the danger of meetings, the importance of saying no, the myth of low-hanging fruit, why they ship before they test, and the rationale for why they only have a single product. It’s a great, short read that will help you challenge the status quo.
See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.
Calmness = productive emotion:
Goal at Basecamp is to be a calm company. Similar to Phil Jackson’s approach to pre-game speeches or halftime speeches. Remain calm and in control.
“Calm requires getting comfortable with enough.”
“Becoming a calm company is all about making decisions about who you are, who you want to serve, and who you want to say no to. It’s about knowing what to optimize for. It’s not that any particular choice is the right one, but not making one or dithering is definitely the wrong one.”
In victory, learn when to stop (Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power):
Basecamp currently generates tens of millions of dollars in profit and they’re happy with that. Not obsessed with doubling or tripling market share. Focused on serving existing customers well.
Example, they’ve kept fixed monthly fee instead of per-seat business model. Helps them avoid conflicts of interest where biggest customer holds power over the product and controls your time.
Also, why they only have a single product.
Projects are typically six weeks cycles, followed by two weeks to wander and decompress.
Monthly “heartbeats” written by the team lead to summarize progress that’s been made. Boils key learnings down to essential points. Automatically removes the noise of the day-to-day by taking a broader perspective.
Effectiveness > busyness.
Point of diminishing returns: “Creativity, progress, and impact do not yield to brute force.”
Make the best decision that you’re able to now and avoid indecision: “Accept that better ideas aren’t necessarily better if they arrive after the train has left the station. If they’re so good, they can catch the next one.”
Saying no and getting more done:
Say no, claw back time: “The only way to get more done is to have less to do.” (Similar to Nassim Taleb’s quote, “You want maximal free time, not maximal activity, and you can assess your own ‘success’ according to such a metric.”).
“No is no to one thing. Yes is no to a thousand things.”
“When you say no now, you can come back and say yes later.”
“No is calm but hard. Yes is easy but a flurry.”
Myth of low-hanging fruit:
The idea that you can instantly move needles because you’ve never tried before is delusional. Almost always requires difficult work.
Hiring and talent:
“Stop thinking of talent as something to be plundered and start thinking of it as something to be grown and nurtured.”
Simulated environments provide simulated answers. If you want to know the truth about your product, you have to ship it and see how real customers use it in their natural environment.
Basecamp doesn’t beta test. They don’t put things in front of users before they’re ready for production. Slow and timid response to feedback might help them catch a few things, but they value speed and conviction over safety.