It can be hard to evaluate a book like this. Fried and Hansson make bold claims about what has worked at Basecamp, often presented as truisms. For example:
At Basecamp, we see it as our top responsibility to protect our employees’ time and attention. You can’t expect people to do great work if they don’t have a full day’s attention to devote to it. Partial attention is barely attention at all.
Statements like this sound great, but they also raise many questions in my mind, particularly: who is this book for? I imagine it’s for executives and other people who have some amount of power over the way their companies are run. Someone who doesn’t have a lot of power can certainly read the book as an aspirational text, but it might not necessarily help them create better working conditions for themselves1.
I wish that Fried and Hansson spent a bit more time looking at which decisions ended up being the toughest to make. Even the stories that didn’t turn out well have a breezy air to them, like, we tried this and it was terrible, so we stopped.
My favorite thing about the book is how Basecamp’s leadership talks about what constitutes enough2—enough profit, enough work—and the tradeoffs that they’re willing to make once they’ve reached that point:
Becoming a calm company is all about making decisions about who you are, who you want to serve, and who you want to say no to. It’s about knowing what to optimize for. It’s not that any particular choice is the right one, but not making one or dithering is definitely the wrong one.