Book Reviews Operations

Book Review: Rework from 37Signals

[amazon-product text=”Rework” type=”text”]0307463745[/amazon-product], from, is a series of essays about their beliefs about work, workplace behavior, and personal success. 37Signals is the maker of a very popular set of project management, contact management, and group collaboration software apps (link to 37Signals products).

Rework is written by the founders of 37Signals, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. They share their strategies for building and managing a business based on the practices and principles that work for them. I share their opinion that simplicity and authenticity are a better route than complexity to achieve personal and financial success.

Requests, Complaints, and Suggestions

A three paragraph essay on page 164 really resonated with me. Titled “Don’t Write it Down” the authors answer the question – How should you keep track of what customers want? A request you hear over and over does not need to be written down. The concluding paragraph reads, “If there’s a request that you keep forgetting, that’s a sign that is isn’t very important. The really important stuff doesn’t go away.”

As I read this passage I was reminded of the employee annual review process which always includes the employer asking the employee for ideas and suggestions. Then the employer dutifully writes the request, complaint, or suggestion on to the employees annual review form. This has always struck me as odd in two ways – first the writing instead of listening and second filing the idea in the employee’s file instead of adding it to an ideas list.

If you insist on conducting annual reviews do them in large bunches and listen to employee suggestions. What ideas are offered by multiple people? Focus on those. As you manage by walking around ask questions like, “What could we do to make this better?” or “Where are the inefficiencies in this process?” The field personnel often have solutions that might be forgotten or irrelevant by the time the annual review arrives.

Policies React to Isolated Events

The authors dismiss many of the conventions of business like previous experience for job candidates and policy manuals to codify expected behavior. In the essay “Don’t Scar on the First Cut” they write “Policies are … codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual.”

In many cases the individual may not even be in your workplace, city, or state. For example, many employers fear employee use of Facebook or YouTube because of stories they have heard – misdeeds of individuals- at other organizations. Instead of trusting their actual employees or discussing guidelines for social media and networking sites are simply banned.

I worked for an organization that had a “no exercise” ¬†on duty policy because an individual tried to blame his rotator cuff injury from throwing a football in the parking lot between calls on a patient lifting incident. The group punishment persisted for years after the employee had been terminated. Look at your policy manual. How many pages before you find a policy that is a result of an event or misdeed that is likely to never happen again?

EverydayEMSTips Recommended

I am a long-time reader of the 37 Signals vs Noise blog and user of their products. [amazon-product text=”Rework” type=”text”]0307463745[/amazon-product]resonated with me just like their products and blog posts do. Not many new ideas in here for me but if you are new to 37 Signals I think you will find their approach to business and beliefs about work unique and healthy.

Have you read Rework? What did you think?

Are there other business books I should add to my reading list?


By Greg Friese

Greg Friese, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is an author, educator, paramedic, and marathon runner.

Greg was the co-host of the award winning EMSEduCast podcast, the only podcast by and for EMS educators. Greg has written for,, Wilderness Medical Associates, JEMS Magazine, and EMS World Magazine, and the NAEMSE Educator Newsletter.