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Signal vs. Noise in Book Form
on March 11, 2010
One of my biggest gripes about the early reviews to come out about Rework is that they had no substance. Words like "inspirational", "brilliant", and "rethink" generally trigger my BS alarm, so I really didn't know what to expect with Rework. I've been reading Signal vs. Noise, the design and usability blog by 37signals, for a few years now, and I've had plenty of time to become acquainted with Jason and David's style. That I even refer to them by their first names should clue you in to their style. They come across in writing as they do in their live webcasts and presentations: familiar. Point is, I've been irked by the longest by those vapid early reviews to come out. They meant nothing to me. Hopefully you'll find this review more much helpful for determining whether or not Rework is worth your time.
TL;DR Version: Buy the book if you have no idea what 37signals stands for. If you do, expect SvN on paper.
Long Version: If you've never heard of 37signals or read Signal vs. Noise and you're a business owner or someone who needs to buy a book for an "entrepreneur" (Jason and David prefer the term "starter"), then this is a pretty good book to purchase. It's 273 pages, but most of that is filled with white space and somewhat relevant artwork (almost too much artwork, really), so it's an easy read. From start to finish I spent just over a few hours reading Rework, and I'm no speed reader by any stretch of the imagination. Don't expect to be blown away by any revolutionary ideas, either. One of the early reviews to come out said, "The clarity, even genius, of this book actually brought me to near-tears on several occasions" (Tom Peters, New York Times bestselling author). I don't want to bad mouth the guy, because I don't know him, but that's some wicked crazy rad hyperbole. This is a simple book that's just a by-product of the blog. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you are someone who is very familiar with 37signals and has spent a considerable amount of time reading the blog, then don't feel like you need to pick up this book immediately. Don't get me wrong, $12 (or however much it costs when you buy Rework) is entirely worth it, if even just to have some good night time reading material. But if you think that Rework will bring you any additional insight into 37signals beyond what is available online, then you are thinking incorrectly. Rework felt like a package of SvN blog posts from 2007 to 2009. I'll explain why in a bit.
The Major Takeaways:
If you're strapped for cash and still want to take away lessons from this book, just read the table of contents and then cross-reference those words with the 37signals blog. Jason and David do a heck of a job being straightforward about what they are writing about. For example, "Ignore the real world" (page 13) can be found on their website. In fact, a whole bunch of their content from Rework can be found on their website. To wit:
"Learning from mistakes is overrated" (Rework, page 16): "Learning from failure is overrated" (Feb. 3rd, 2009)(SvN)
"Planning is Guessing" (Rework, page 19): "The Planning Falacy" (Jun. 12th, 2009) (SvN)
"Workaholism" (Rework, page 25): "Fire the workaholics" (Mar. 7th, 2008) (SvN)
"Enough with 'Entrepreneurs'" (Rework, page 28): "The word entrepreneur and its baggage" (Apr. 22nd, 2009) (SvN)
"Scratch your own itch" (Rework, page 34): "What's your problem?" (Getting Real)
"No time is no excuse" (Rework, page 40): "There's always time to launch your dream" (Mar. 10, 2009) (SvN)
"Outside Money is Plan Z" (Rework, page 50): "Fund yourself" (Getting Real)
And that's just the first 50 pages! You see where I'm going with this. If you are an avid reader of 37signals and have kept up with them for 6-12 months, then most of what you read in Rework will simply be a regurgitation of what's already been written online. That's why the early reviews really irked me. Is this book insightful? Clearly. Is it legendary or tear-worthy? Give me a break! The grand language is really making me distrust books, and if I didn't already know the great work that 37signals does or if I were not already a long time customer with 37signals, I wouldn't have bought this book. The flowery language of the early reviews just made me expect the world from Rework, and all I really got was the hardcover form of Signal v. Noise, with better edits and word choice.
I wouldn't write this long, rambling review if I wasn't passionate about the line of work that 37signals is in. I owe much of my organization and peace of mind to 37signals products, so count me as one of the 37signals "audience" members. I think Rework is an exceptional book in that it serves as a reminder of many of the lessons and "recipes" that Jason and David have given us through the years. It is definitely worth the money if you have not already internalized much of the lessons contained in the Rework table of contents. If you have, and you are an avid fan of Jason and David already, then there's really no need to read Rework unless you have some extra time on your hands.
And to Jason and David, if either of you actually read this review, then I hope in your next book you'll ditch the early BS reviews. That's my main gripe. If you want to recycle SvN from 2009-2011 and turn it into a book called ENHANCE! in 2012, that's fine by me. I'll be the first one in line to read it; but know that I, and many other readers, will expect to see the same stuff that we've already read on the blog. I love the work you two do; I mean I REALLY love the work that you two do. But come on. Don't set me up for the stars and then throw glitter in my face.
All in all I give Rework a 7/10. It's worth a read if you have no clue what 37signals stands for. Even if you do, buy the book for a friend or out-of-touch boss.