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Tag: management

Rework by 37signals: Setting Conventional Wisdom Ablaze

16 employees in 8 different cities on 2 different continents serving more than 5 million customers, including some of the world’s biggest brands.  How do 37signals do it?  They’re really eager to tell you.

Before I take on their book, I’ll give you a sense of the company, which exists almost completely online.  They design web-based software to that helps you run your small group or business.  The table below, including the names and images of each offering, is as stylish and clear as the book.  This product/service line was developed for their own use; they run their company on their own applications.

37 signals, basecamp, campfire, highrise, backpack, software, online, SaaS

The software offerings of 37signals.

Back to “really eager to tell you” … from the 37signals perspective, teaching is marketing.  That’s a perspective about which I want to learn more.  Of course, they’re really eager to teach me.

In addition to countless interviews, speeches and presentations – many of which are available online (here or here) – founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, along with several other members of the crew, put together a couple books.  I’ve read only one of them; this is my review.

Rework is their go at a “general business” book.  In it, 37signals explain how they do what they do – how they built and how they run their business.  I won’t belabor it in detail, since there’s already several tons of love and press about this publication.

In short, they set ablaze conventional wisdom about how business “needs to” or “should” be done.  Instead, common sense is put on its proper pedestal.  Meetings waste time.  Interruptions slay productivity.  Resumes are ridiculous.  Press releases are spam.  More features do not a better product make.  And on …

Though the hardcover contains 270+ pages, the layout and style make for a very quick read and begs for a re-read.  There are loads of wonderful illustrations accompanying each “verse,” which vary in length from three or four paragraphs to a page or two.  Each verse is one of maybe a half dozen pieces that make up a chapter.

It makes sense that Seth Godin’s endorsement stripes the top of the cover.  Rework is a collection of short essays as efficient as Godin’s blog posts.  An idea is introduced, supported by an example or two, then wrapped up.  The lessons are communicated so cleanly that they seem overwhelmingly obvious.  The writing is so straightforward and clear that these essays read in sequence as a series of punches.

As a sample, here’s the lead from the “Speed Changes Everything” verse from the “Damage Control” chapter:

‘Your call is very important to us.  We appreciate your patience.  The average hold time right now is sixteen minutes.’  Give me a fucking break.

As you might expect of a book that torches conventional wisdom about hiring, PR and marketing, growth, culture, management, venture capital and so much more, Rework is irreverent and refreshing.

Needless to say, I recommend the book highly – especially for those with an entrepreneurial bent.  Really, though, it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the structure and running of an organization.  For no other reason, you should read it for the gentle, but meaningful open-hand slap to the face it’ll give you about what’s happening in your day-to-day worklife.

I may write a couple follow-up posts about how the book functions as marketing and manifesto for the 37signals community and about the other companies 37signals name checks as illustrations of their points.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this interview of Jason Fried from O’Reilly Media:

Also, here’s a link to the 37signals “about us” page with company history, executive team profiles, statement of beliefs and more.

BP’s Photoshopped Command Center: Why It Matters

So, BP gets called out for Photoshopping an image of their Command Center for use on their website.

Here’s a straight take from CBS News.

Here’s a more colorful approach from Treehugger.

Here are the before and after images (actually arranged as after and before):

British Petroleum, oil, Gulf, spill, disaster, PR, public relations, Photoshop, Adobe, manipulate, alter, image, photo

Before and After Photoshop: BP Command Center

I’ve seen two primary, polar reactions to this story:

  1. “It’s no surprise coming from those no-good, lying, reckless, corner-cutting, profit-hoarding goons!”
  2. “What’s the big deal?  They’ve obviously got bigger fish to fry!” (or fish to slick and suffocate, as it were)

I’ll take a minute to stand more toward the middle, but clearly on one side.

Altering an image is directly opposed to fundamental principles of management and public relations.  For the past 5 years, you couldn’t spend 5 minutes with any Harvard Business Review publication without feeling the movement toward transparency and authenticity.

Social media, in particular, has really brought these concepts in practice to the fore.  Fold in some Seth Godin-style storytelling-as-marketing and the picture is even more clear:  every individual and organization has the opportunity to tell the world who they are, what they’re about, where they’re from, why they’re here.  Beyond that, they can always share what they know, when they know it, directly with people who care.

If, however, these efforts are not received as honest and forthright from a good corporate citizen, this may be done for you (witness: BPGlobalPR on Twitter).  Regardless, companies of all sizes have embraced this opportunity and grown as a result.

As small an infraction as filling in a few Command Center monitors with some action shots may seem, it’s not honest.  When your every move is under the most extreme scrutiny you’ll ever enjoy, why doctor the images that are helping tell your story of response and recovery?  Apparently, trucking in workers for a Presidential photo op isn’t enough.

The BP spokesperson’s response to this story wasn’t awful: “Normally, we only use Photoshop for the typical purposes of color correction and cropping.”  Transparency, authenticity and honesty should be employed constantly, not “normally.”  Yes, it’s asking a lot, but truth is ultimately easier and best.

Among many the issues:

  • BP’s recent safety record is horrific compared to industry peers, so the talking point that the company has been “laser focused” on safety under Hayward is absolutely hollow.
  • Original estimates on the amount of oil pouring into the Gulf (5,000 revised to 50-100,000) now seem as ridiculous as the original cost estimates of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ($50-60,000,000,000 revised to $2-3,000,000,000,000).
  • BP has actively restricted access to images and information.
  • BP continues to buy pay-per-click campaigns (Google, Bing, Yahoo, YouTube) to try to steer searches to BP-produced information (to be fair, it’s a fine idea – I mention it because they took some heat for it).
  • BP withheld video of the leak for weeks, only released it through government mandate and continued to withhold HD video from scientists working on the problem.
  • Though off-point with regard to honesty, Hayward’s “I want my life back” and weekend of yachting earned charges of being aloof, insensitive and out of touch (um, 11 people lost their lives permanently in the initial explosion).  He even described the spill as “relatively tiny.”

The list goes on and the point remains: the PR response to the worst oil spill in U.S. history has been neither excellent nor honest.  The scope of this disaster is unprecedented.  It could have happened to any oil company working off shore.  Some PR blunders and gaffes can be reasonably expected.  Active obfuscation, however, is beyond “blunder.”

Bottom line: I find the Photoshopped image to be a micro-representation of an attitude, philosophy and practice completely opposed to the best path forward: transparency and authenticity.

Related Video

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has been very aggressive in covering this story.  A couple videos are linked in the body of this post and here’s a link to another specifically about transparency.  Plus, one embed:

BP CEO Tony Hayward fronts a friendly message with clean birds, clean beaches and colorfully suited workers (kin to the Intel Inside Pentium MMX dancers):

Thoughts?   Feel free to share them.

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