37 Signals essentially evolved out of a web design company that was not satisfied with the tools for project management on the internet and so set out to build their own. Part of their central ethos seems to be that they build stuff that fixes their own problems and then if that works they see if it fixes other people's problems as well. The other key part is that simplicity is the key, so they try to keep things as simple as possible rather than adding lots of functionality. Which is often superfluous.
This book is written in a similar vein and is essentially the description of a number of principles that they use to run their business. Given that they have 16 people located in six different places the opportunity to read about how they do things was one that I could not pass up because we have similar issues in the way that our business runs. That does not mean that if your business or organisation is only located in one place that you cannot get value out of the book because at its core the book is about how they have challenged the orthodoxy. However this means that reviewing the book is a little difficult because it is written in very short (1-3 pages) sections and covers a lot of different issues. Therefore I have decided to highlight a few issues and quotes that resonated with me because I think the value from the book is likely to be very personal.
- P19 – Planning is Guessing – "Now this isn't to say you shouldn't think about the future or contemplate how you might attack upcoming obstacles.... If you write a big plan, you'll most likely never look at it anyway"
- P67 – Embrace Constraints – "Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you have got. There's no room for waste and that forces you to be creative".
- P67 – Be "at home" Good – "when you get the product home you are actually more impressed with it than you were at the store. You live with it and grow to like it more and more. And you tell your friends too". This is the opposite of the flashily packaged and promoted product that does not live up to expectations.
- P231 – Own you own Bad News
I think about this book like attending a conference. You have to weigh up the cost of attending versus the chances you will get something good out of going, and the cost is far more than the charge for the conference, or the travel and accommodation costs. If you get one or two ideas that make a big difference to how you work or your business works then you are well ahead. In the case of a book the cost of the time spent reading the book is far higher than the cover price. This book is very easy to read, can be picked up and read in very short sections, and is written from the perspective of people who have done what they are talking about and built a successful company. I am confident that most people can find more than enough ideas and thinking in the book to justify the time and recommend it strongly to you.