Book Review: "It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work", by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

I was on the livestream for "The State of Independent Saas" by Rob Walling and MicroConf, and Jason Fried of Basecamp (whose company helped sponsor the report) offered to send a free copy of his and David's new book to anybody who emailed him. So I sent an email and he graciously forwarded a copy of his new book!! It's definitely nice to read something short and sweet after my last book.

I've purchased, read, and reviewed two others books by the same authors: Rework and Remote. This book is very much in the same vein. Being calm and sane is both possible and not a bad thing to want. Once upon a time, I thought repeating yourself was a bad thing. In fact, don't repeat yourself is a software principle, one I like quite a bit. But when it comes to cultural or psychological shifts, I've found hammering the same message again and again helps it stick better -- especially when so many others espouse the exact opposite.

Jason and David pointed out three things I thought could use more mentioning:

  • Leadership is fraught. You'll never get your reports to completely trust you, because of the imbalanced power dynamics. Accept that. Your every word, even a recommendation, trickles down as a command. Accept that too. Leadership isn't about seeing eye to eye on everything, it's about how best to build alignment and move forward. I find these truths hard and cold, but they're truths nonetheless, and the faster one adapts to them, the better a leader they can be.

  • Mentally reframing certain challenges helps to build the culture you want. "Whatever it takes" becomes less so when you find you don't have a blank check to spend or unlimited time to execute, and asking that question "what is my resource allocation" makes the constraints come into view (which helps in linearizing priorities). Adding "do nothing" to the list of options puts the possibility that doing something might make things worse.

  • Change and stability are mindsets. Jason and David explicitly say that their practice of "calm" works for them because they've tried other ways to do things. That resonated with me, as a guy who always does things the hard way, and it makes me feel good that I'm not entirely alone in this way of thinking. Iterate until you feel good. Then rest.