Jason Fried at Tech Meetup Chicago

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Jason Fried at Tech Meetup Chicago

Jason Fried is founder of 37Signals, the company responsible for the acclaimed project management and collaboration application, Basecamp. I had the opportunity to see Jason Fried speak at a Tech Meetup event last week (co-sponsored by Canright Communications), and found myself agreeing with him for the most part, yet occasionally disagreeing. Though his speech was geared towards entrepreneurs and start-ups building web-based applications, many of these ideas can be applied past software development

Let’s start with something I agree with: “It’s unavoidable you’re going to make mistakes; when you do, acknowledge it’s your fault and do so with sincerity.”

I completely agree with Fried’s view here. He compared the apology of someone spilling a cup of coffee on someone to a more formal apology. One that’s full of loop holes: “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.” Inconvenience? Why not just state what the problem was directly? May have? It did cause a problem; that’s why you’re apologizing, right? It’s important for your customers to know you care.

For Fried, it’s more important to have useful features than innovative ones. Although this idea downplays innovation— something crucial to society and culture—it’s not something I disagree with. I would rather having something work well and do what I need it to than having something that kind of works but is really cool. He states that Post-it notes will still be used in 20 years and then asks, “Will Facebook?”

He used a common bottle of water as an example to support his view on keeping features to a minimum. Everyone in the room could pretty much agree on it being a good design. You can see how much water is in the bottle from afar, it’s light so you can tell if there’s water in it by picking it up, there’s a cap that screws on. If it had been made out of lead, the design would be bad because you couldn’t see how much water was in the bottle from afar and, since lead is heavier than water, you wouldn’t be able to tell how much was in the container just from lifting. It’s important to say no to feature requests. Sure, you could put a spray nozzle on the water bottle, but it doesn’t make sense.

I also agree with Fried when he says you don’t have to fail just because you’re new. Failure is not a rite of passage. He argued that it makes more sense to learn from your success than your failures. Learning from your failures is only going to teach you what not to do. When you realize you have something successful, you should try to figure out how to replicate it.

One of the things I disagreed with was when he said, “I think everyone in school should drop out.” Now, his explanation that you learn more from real-world experience than you do from taking classes isn’t exactly wrong. You probably would learn more about your job by doing it. What I disagree with is how he wrote off education, basically saying it’s not worth your time, ever. My college experience involves not only education, but exploration. It’s a time when I—and I think many others—got to experiment and develop connections, not to mention social skills.

Jason Fried has good ideas, but, as he said, these are ideas that worked for him. You should do what works for you. Try them. If they work, keep at it. If not, move on. For more on Jason Fried, check out the 37signals blog and their book Getting Real.

-Michael