I used to be a fairly prolific reader of books, regularly devouring entire texts in a single sitting. More recently though my reading has suffered as the forces of work, family and health (and Netflix) have all vied for my attention.
Last week my wife and I took a long-overdue trip to Bali to recharge our batteries, and since we were sans-kids I was determined to get some solid reading under my belt (well, the waistband of my board-shorts).
I had a number of non-fiction books on my hit-list and I’m glad to say between bottles of Bintang by the pool I managed to absorb them all.
REMOTE - Office Not Required
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Since starting my new remote role I have been particularly interested in improving the way in which we work. Whilst the company is completely distributed across Australia, the culture and processes to support this are still not optimal. I had previously read Getting Real and REWORK by the guys at 37signals and was really interested by their take on remote working.
The short essay-based format made for an accessible read, and whilst I think a few of the scenarios were a little half-baked, overall it was a great primer for creating a remote culture within an organisation. I know that Fried and his colleagues have continued to write a lot about the remote culture over at 37signals on their blog, and in many ways I feel that REMOTE is a great gateway into that.
What I found most interesting was how relevant many of the essays in the book applied to my previous role at iSeekplant. I had seen and heard all of the common arguments against remote work cited in the book and wish I had had some of Fried and Hansson’s arguments available to me at the time - so much so that I since sent a copy of REMOTE to my previous COO!
One recurring theme that I found running through the book when it came to anecdotal examples from 37signals is just how much money they spend on keeping this way of working going - from above market-value salaries to family vacations as holiday gifts. In many ways I’m not surprised that the remote lifestyle works so well for them! Overall though, I came away with a couple of ideas that we can introduce into our company (and a secret yearning to work at 37signals!)
Business for Punks
by James Watt
My wife bought me the first edition hardback of this book a couple of Christmas’ ago - largely because BrewDog was my favourite brewer and bar whilst living in Edinburgh, rather than any particular desire to run a business.
It was a great gift - even though I wasn’t setting out in business, I was particularly interested in how BrewDog had built their success (spoiler: it’s unconventional, but fantastic). Unfortunately due to my lack of free time to dedicate to reading, this book was condemned to the drawer in my bed-side table - until this holiday came along.
Similar to REMOTE, this book was set out across a number of short essays on subjects ranging from finance and marketing, to building and managing your team. However in keeping with the company’s punk attitude the tone is so much more irreverent and, for me, full of evocative energy.
So much of the unadulterated passion that the author and his co-founder have for their business is encapsulated in these pages, with much of their advice flying in the face of conventional business wisdom (“Be a selfish bastard and ignore advice”, “Don’t waste your time on bullshit business plans” and “Get people to hate you” to name but a few from just the first chapter!). That being said, when framed in the context of their business and how it has developed, it all makes perfect sense.
I’ve said before that I am not an entrepreneur - but the advice, stories and general call to arms in this book has gotten me genuinely excited about the prospect of running a business. Also, the title of the first essay - and probably the defining theme of the entire book (and the BrewDog business) - is extremely evocative:
Don’t start a business, start a crusade.
Over the years I have had many ideas that I couldn’t necessary classify as businesses because the core driver behind them wasn’t to monetise - instead they have always been aimed at disrupting the status quo or providing tools for small businesses that otherwise couldn’t afford them. Business for Punks has stirred up a passion for all of these ideas again which will no doubt provide plenty of material for me to write about here.
Do Fly - Find your way. Make a living. Be your best self.
by Gavin Strange
I’ve been an avid follower of the work and career of designer Gavin Strange for over a decade, since the days of PillBoy and Xynthetic, and have always been inspired by the level of passion and excitement that he brings to his work. Also the sheer volume of side-/passion-projects that he constantly seems to have on the go, whilst juggling a full-time job, married life and parenthood, is humbling.
I think that his book Do Fly is the perfect embodiment of the attitude that he brings to everything that he does. One of the reviews on the Do Books website describes the essence of this book better than I ever could.
A light-hearted and hilarious guide packed full of lessons on how to discover your passion, turn it into something that supports you and dedicate 100% of your time to doing what you love. A frank, hip hop lyric-peppered self help book for people who don’t read self help books.
With the same genuine passion as James Watt in Business for Punks (albeit, less sweary!) this book had me actively looking for ideas for side-projects and gave me the extra little push I needed to make some exciting decisions about my work.