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What I'm reading: Mark Polson, the Lang Cat

What I'm reading: Mark Polson, the Lang Cat
Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio

I hate business books. Loathe them.

With few exceptions they are unreadable, in full pursuit of something unintelligible.

Most are 70,000 word extensions of a piece of insight which is worth 200 words at best. Even if the insight is good, it is often buried beneath turgid prose.

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However, someone suggested I read a book called It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. These two are behind the Basecamp project management system – which we use at the Lang Cat – and have some form in the book-writing stakes with a bestseller called Rework. 

I gave It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work a bash and do you know what? It’s not at all bad. 

The premise of the book is that we have fetishised being busy. As the authors say: “Long hours, excessive busyness and lack of sleep have become a badge of honour for many people these days. Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honour; it’s a mark of stupidity.”

That was a good bit. But they really won me over with this: “If it’s constantly crazy at work, we have two words for you: **** that. And two more: Enough already.”

The book is about the culture that Mr Fried and Mr Hansson have built at Basecamp. It covers things they got right and wrong.

They divide it up into about 70 chapters; each one is similar to one of the pieces of insight I mention above, but only stretched out to 500 words or so. As such, it is mercifully light on self-aggrandising bloat.

Much of what Mr Fried and Mr Hansson do – their literary party trick – is a switcheroo subversion of a piece of accepted business wisdom.

Chapters like ‘we’re not family’, ‘low-hanging fruit can still be out of reach” and ‘nobody hits the ground running’ set out what every working stiff knows: that the expectations of most corporates are completely unrealistic, and most touchy-feely business language is simply a disguised attempt to extract more from the poor meatsack sitting at their desk.

That is fun in itself, but there are some genuinely interesting moments in It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. I liked the part where the authors ask you to imagine being on an eight-hour plane flight.

“It’s a long flight. You think it’s almost over, but you check the time and there’s still three hours left. Why does the flight feel longer than your time in the office? It’s because the flight is uninterrupted, continuous time... your time in the office feels shorter because it’s sliced up into a dozen smaller bits.”

Obvious perhaps, but nicely said. Mr Fried and Mr Hansson also have strategies to help. Some are unlikely to work in the UK. Others are cool, like ‘library time’ when everyone has to be quiet and get on with their work for a while; no emails, no calls.