Thursday, April 08, 2010

It's a book, not a religion

I got my copy of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson's new book "Rework" a few days ago. The two men are cofounders of 37signals, the Chicago-based company responsible for Basecamp and Ruby on Rails, among other things. There are many, many things in the book that make sense, but for some reason, "Rework" can also cause some people to undergo near-psychotic breaks, like a British reviewer who proclaimed the book not just wrong but dangerous, then put out a contract on the authors. (Or declared that he'd never serve them in his restaurants, although eating in one of his restaurants might be as effective as having a contract put out on you.)

There's a posting today on Silicon Valley Insider taking Fried and Heinemeier Hansson to task for a variety of opinions about venture capitalists, growth and avoiding failure. The post, and especially some of the comments, take the arguments against both the book and the writers to an absurd level. There are plenty of positive reviews as well (Advertising Age's reviewer called it the best business book he's read in years), but what I don't get is the intensity of arguments against both the book and the authors.

The first thing to remember is that this is a book, not a religion, and the second thing is that readers are intelligent enough to be able to decide what makes sense for them and what doesn't. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson have a strongly-held belief that companies often pursue growth for growth's sake, and that growth should be funded by internal cash flow whenever possible rather than through external investment. That being said, there are plenty of businesses where growth is good, and to obtain that growth (or to be in business at all) you need external capital. If you can't distinguish what situation your startup is in, your problems can't be solved by reading a book.

There are plenty of good ideas in "Rework", or in books by Jim Collins or Peter Drucker, but none of those books are 100% applicable to every business. Let's give readers credit for being able to separate the plums from the potatoes.
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