It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work - Part 2with David Heinemeier Hansson
This is the second of a two-part interview with David Heinemeier Hansson about his and Jason Fried’s new book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. In this episode, David talks about taking a calm approach to writing and marketing the book. Also, Wailin gets him to say #blessed (kind of) and has some anxiety about late-stage capitalism. We all get through it together!
We’re taking your questions for David and Jason to answer in an upcoming mailbag episode! Leave us a voicemail at (708) 628-7850 and you’ll be entered into a drawing for an autographed copy of It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work.
- Listen to the first part of this interview - 0:23
- Jason and David's previous books are Rework and Remote - 3:37
- Jason and David will be speaking at the Wall Street Journal's one-day Future of Work conference in New York on October 17 (check out their official WSJ stipple portraits!) - 6:50
The Full Transcript:
[00:00:00] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:00:02] Welcome to rework a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Wailin Wong
Shaun: [00:00:08] And I’m Shaun Hildner. And this is part two of Wailin’s interview with David Heinemeier Hansson about the new book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work.
Wailin: [00:00:16] David wrote the book with Basecamp CEO, Jason Fried. If you didn’t listen to last week’s episode, you should check it out. David gives a nice overview of the book and why the time was right to push back against the notion that work has to be stressful and all-consuming. This week we look at how David and Jason applied their ideas of calm work to the actual process of writing and marketing the book.
Shaun: [00:00:38] If you’d like a shot at your very own signed copy of the new book, we are collecting questions for David and Jason to answer on a future mailbag episode. Leave us a voicemail with your question and your contact info and you’ll be entered into the giveaway. That number is (708) 628-7850.
Wailin: [00:00:55] And here is the second part of my interview with David.
[00:01:05] What was your calm approach to writing the book? And by that I mean fitting in the writing and editing of the book with your other responsibilities at work and still only doing, you know, eight hours a day and taking off summer Fridays and that kind of thing.
David: [00:01:24] I’d say it was pretty calm because Jason and I are both blessed with the… Well, blessed is not the right word.
Wailin: [00:01:31] Hashtag blessed?
David: [00:01:33] Well, maybe but I want to go even more intentional. Both Jason and I have chosen to design the company in such a way that we are not full-time managers. That the entirety of our day is not filled with managerial tasks that have to be done. We’re part-time managers. The majority of most of our days are filled with doing the work. Either doing design, doing programming, doing writing and we can swap those things out at leisure. So, while we were in the thick of writing the book, Jason didn’t do that much design and I didn’t do that much programming and we still kept our part time managerial jobs because that was easy enough to do. We simply swapped out the long stretches of uninterrupted times we would usually dedicate to either design or programming, and said, for a while, until this book is done, we will dedicate that work to writing. And that was really all there was to it.
[00:02:31] It was not about fitting writing on top of everything else we were doing at the same time and then… then what? Working 10 hours a day or 12 hours a day. No, it was clearing the plate and saying, here we have something we want to do. What are we going to push off? What are we going to say, this can wait until we’re done? Because writing the book too, is finite process. That’s important. You’re done and you hand over the manuscript, and then you can go back to the work you were doing before. Which both Jason and I have. We’re doing a ton more programming and design now than we were in the, in the spring when we were really in the thick of getting the book done.
Wailin: [00:03:10] And then, are you taking a calm approach to now this next phase, which is the marketing and the press tour and even your own expectations around sales and talking to your publisher about, you know, how you want the book to perform. Is there kind of a calm approach to that?
David: [00:03:26] That’s a great question because I think we’ve put a lot more thought into that this time around than we did in the past. With Rework, it was a bit of just a surprise. We had pitched a book, our advance was relatively modest compared to everything and it just did really well. It made the New York Times Bestseller lists right away and boom, we ended up selling more than half a million copies around the world. Great success. But there weren’t really expectations for that success to happen. So that felt calm in a good way. With Remote, I think we did make some mistakes where we thought like, hey, our last book became an international bestseller and made all these prestigious lists. Of course the next book is going to do that. And then, when it didn’t, because this is maybe just post-rationalization, but that the topic was a little more narrow. It wasn’t applying to everyone and it wasn’t immediately approachable. And it didn’t beat Rework.
[00:04:26] There was a tinge of disappointment that took some time to process and the final process was why are you disappointed? That book did still very well. It set a new tone for how people think about remote work and we keep hearing from companies who’ve used the techniques in that book and the arguments in that book to turn their culture around, allow remote work. And lots of that. All sorts of good things came from it. All the bad things that came from it was in the comparison that Oh, it didn’t do as well as Rework. Therefore it’s what? Some kind of failure? No. And I think now with this new book, we’ve gone into that with a lot more intention that this book will do as well as it does and there’s only downsides in comparison. If you would compare it to either Remote or Rework or anything else or someone else’s book or… That’s not a path that’s very satisfying to go down. What is satisfying is to write a great book that that I would want to read, that Jason would want to read, that we would find value from. And that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have tried to then pass that onto the publisher, but obviously that that’s a little, I don’t know, harder in some regard, that they’re in the business of selling books.
Wailin: [00:05:42] Yeah, that’s not the game they play over there and big world publishing.
David: [00:05:44] No, not really. Right? But the thing is? I don’t really care. Right. We’ve structured a contract in such a way that we’re happy with how things look, that there’s no real pressure for us to do this, that or the other thing. And we’ve set pretty clear expectations about the work we’re willing to do around the promotion. I remember for Rework, for example, we did a fair press tour that included a good amount of traveling and the conclusion after that was what an utter waste of time.
[00:06:14] Not in the sense that we didn’t get to meet nice people and have some good conversations. Sure, we did. It just wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth me traveling to London and going to these social business clubs to have conversations with 50 people around the book in terms of impact on sales compared to effort put in. So, our expectation this time was pretty clear. We’re not going to travel for any book-related publicity unless it meets a very high level of interest or audience reach.
[00:06:45] So, for example, one thing we are traveling for is I think in two, three weeks maybe? Both Jason and I are going to New York because the Wall Street Journal is putting on this conference and we have a long one-hour session that reaches a bunch of people. That felt like, okay, fair, that’s worth it. But even that is, we’ve just had this thread in Basecamp. We have a publishing Basecamp where we were talking with the publisher and the publicists and all the PR people and they’re like, oh, can we line up all this other stuff around? And I’m like, yeah, I have my day for going from LA to New York in one day. I’m going to leave in the morning, I’m going return in the evening. And the main focus is to make this event with the Wall Street Journal. And if you can put something else right around that, okay fine, but I’m not turning this into a three day or ordeal or presser or whatever you want to call it.
[00:07:35] So, we’re being quite targeted in that sense and focusing the majority of our efforts around publicity on things we can do from the comfort of our home, like talking on podcasts. All of this has come together as a conscious effort, as thinking explicitly. We do not want to be gripped by unrealistic expectations about how well the book is going to do or not do. We’re not going to turn our lives upside down to make this mad push.
[00:08:04] If you think of the trajectory of Rework. So, yeah, okay. We sold a fair number of copies the first week and then it kinda went down from there, but then it kept on selling. And here we are eight years later and this… Rework is still selling very well and we’re still getting a bunch of feedback from people who read it and that’s the staying power we’ve targeted or the aspirations we’ve had for the new book as well. That whatever it does in the first week. Okay. That’s nice for your ego. If we make one of the nice bestseller lists, I mean we’ll get a jolt of dopamine and that will feel good for half an hour and you’ll be happy. But it won’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of the next 10 years.
Wailin: [00:08:46] Yeah. Yeah. When you look back at Rework, Remote and now, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work, do you feel like you’re going to feel like you just this like escape manual from our capitalist dystopia? Maybe that reflects more my mindset than yours, you know what I mean?
David: [00:09:04] No, it’s funny. I’ve been on this binge of philosophy and economic theory lately and a lot of it is tinged on the escape from late-stage capitalism. And, in fact, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work is probably the most explicit we’ve been in our rejection of late-stage capitalist ideals in terms of the ever—eternal growth that you’re supposed to be worshiping. All these goals that you’re supposed to be constantly chasing that we make a very dedicated point. In fact, I’d say half of the intellectual heft of It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work is dedicated to a rejection of those ideals and those values. Now, that’s not the same as saying we’re rejecting capitalism and not at all. I mean, Basecamp—
Wailin: [00:10:01] Oh no, I’m a willing participant as well.
David: [00:10:02] It’s just you have to have a critical engagement with capitalism. Basecamp has reached enough a long time ago that Jason and I are not on this conquest mission. We’re not trying to supercharge the growth of the company. We’re not trying to, expand the company as much as we can. In fact, we’ve taken very specific steps to limit that and basically say, this is a good place. We’re in a really good spot where we can do and fulfill all the ambitions that we have without getting drawn away from the work e truly enjoy doing. Writing, designing, programming, and still living very calm lives that afford time to do other things. Not just for us but for everyone who works at Basecamp. But this is a hashtag blessing we can distribute wider, then it doesn’t just have to reach Jason and I.
[00:11:20] Because that’s some of the cynicism I also pick up on in general Silicon Valley tech culture, is that there’s this mad sprint from the founder team in the beginning perhaps where they’re sending the tone that this is how we do it. And then once you get to some sort of level, well there’s this elite that can take a step back and they don’t really have to work anymore yet everyone else is still being pushed to the max to meet the next quarterly targets and that feels icky.
[00:11:36] Jason and I both put in the same amount of effort as does anyone else at Basecamp and even though it’s not an egalitarian set up in the economic sense. Clearly, Jason and I as owners of the company benefit more economically from success of the company. We can distribute other parts of this good place we’ve reached to everyone who works at Basecamp, and at least try to offer an environment where people work at Basecamp legitimately can say, um, here’s a possibility for me to have calm work. Now let’s also not blow things out of proportions.
[00:12:19] Basecamp is not always calm. When we say it doesn’t have to be crazy at work, part of that statement is aspirational because there’s never going to be any utopian company where every single hour of every single day is just this perfectly calm state. We have our issues and troubles as does anyone else. And that is part of the reason we’ve written this book, not just for others to read, but for ourselves to be reminded. These are our values, this is what we’re trying to achieve. These are the techniques that worked well in the past. We would do well to remember them. We would do well to adhere to them. One of the revelations I’ve personally had is just because I’ve learned something doesn’t mean that I know something. Or that I know it in the time that I need to know it. I’ve learned a lot of things over the years that I’ve failed to recall at the moment I needed to recall it. So, simply the repetition and the sort of cementation of certain values and putting them into writing, putting them into a format where we can remember that, and at least have reminders about that I think would serve us well.
[00:13:38] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:13:39] Rework is produced by Shaun Hildner, and me, Wailin Wong. Our theme music is Broken By Design by Clip Art.
Shaun: [00:13:46] Remember, we’re collecting your questions for Jason and David about how to make work more calm. That number again is (708) 628-7850.
Wailin: [00:13:55] Leave us a voicemail and you could win a signed copy of the new book, not autographed by me and Shaun. We know no one wants that. Autographed by David and Jason.