Dean Clough

June 14, 2023

Portico Darwin: Signals


5 Minute Read
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Since I last wrote, we've enjoyed literally all there is of Belen, and had a great visit with Julie's family.  Indeed, an event that brings 3 of the 4 Fladgate siblings (Julie, Biff, and G. Robinson - with only the hockey groupie Rhoda missing) together at one table called for the best, and we almost found it in Los Lunas. 

But of course, I jest and in fact, I would like to ask for 10 Seconds of Seriousness.

I'm being a wiseguy because the start of the trip in Belen was kinda-sorta serious, in that Julie's mom's husband is 94 and is in hospice care at home, and Julie's mom herself in her early 80s.  He's a lot of work, and Julie's mom and brother are doing it.

So it was on Monday, with more than just a pang of guilt, that we jumped in to our nearly-new Chevy Malibu one-way rental and drove directly from Belen to San Antonio, home of the aforementioned Owl Bar, a Textbook roadhouse.  I will simply say it was as good, or better, than ever.  This was Monday, and yes, it's worthy of 2 consecutive blog mentions.
Now, we're here at the Fladgate compound on the southern New Mexican desert, hard by the nicely-full Rio Grande.  The vibe? 

Well, I made my first walk on the course on yesterday, with the expected outcome.  This was a little after sunrise.

On my walks, I've asked myself:  how can I add value to my readers, especially those that still are working in the employ of others or otherwise not retired?  Whilst still allowing plenty of time for poolside lounging, avec Weissβier, for your intrepid blogger? 

How?  Rely upon the hard work of others, of course. 

Here, I am sharing what I'll deem a complete business philosophy, and it is from 37Signals, the company behind Hey Email, Basecamp, and Ruby on Rails.  In fact, their name is in part derived from literally 37 bits of wisdom, 19 of which I'll present today, with the remaining 18 appearing Friday.  Of course along with some bragsnapshots from poolside.

Some background:  if you know me, you've heard my lecture based on a book by the founders/creators of 37Signals, Jason Fried and  David Heinemeier Hansson:  "It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work".  Despite what so many of my friends insist, I heartily agree:  it doesn't.  

My own professional and personal experience tells me one could do far worse than building a corporate culture or professional life around the tenets from these two very smart people.  Heck, there's even a methodology for developing software tucked in there as a bonus.  

1.  An Obligation to Independence
We have no investors, no board of directors, no eyes on an exit.  We feel a moral obligation to exercise our independence.  To do things no one would give us permission to do.  To try things other companies would be afraid to try.  To skip safe, and go for original.

2.  Work isn’t war
Corporate language is filled with metaphors of war.  Companies “conquer” the market, they “capture” mindshare, they “target” customers, they employ a sales “force”, they hire “head-hunters”, they “destroy” the competition, they pick their “battles”, and make a “killing”.  That’s an awful paradigm and we want nothing to do with it.  Work isn’t war.  We come in peace.

3.  Small teams
You can do big things with small teams, but it’s hard to do small things with big teams.  And small is often plenty.  That’s the power of small — you do what needs to be done rather than overdoing it.

4.  Profit motive
The tech industry is especially good at losing money.  Growth is electric, but profits are elusive.  We take an old school, economics 101 approach:  Make more than you spend.  That’s why we’ve been profitable every year we’ve been in business.  It’s the responsible way to be reliable and take care of customers over the long haul.

5.  Err on the side of do

The tendency to put off, push away, or otherwise delay is strong.  No.  Act and move on.  And act again if you have to — most decisions are temporary, anyway.

6.  Shape Up every six

Shape Up is a methodology we invented to help software teams design, develop, and ship excellent software every six weeks without burning out.  Why six?  It’s long enough to make meaningful progress, but short enough that you can see the end from the beginning.  Plus it gives you about eight chances a year to recalibrate and decide what to work on next.

7.  We don’t sell you
They say that if you don’t pay for what you use, then you’re the one that’s for sale.  Not here.  We don’t sell customer data to anyone, and we don’t use personal information to place targeted advertising either.  We make a product, people pay for that product, end of transaction.  Our business model is selling products, not selling you.

8.  8/8/8

8 hours for work, 8 hours for life, 8 hours of sleep.  That’s a fair formula.  It’s not work/life balance — it’s work/life/sleep balance.  A lack of sleep isn’t a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity — literally.  Go read Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep.

The expectation of immediate response is everywhere.  Real-time everything isn’t human-scale, yet that’s how so many work and communicate these days.  Not us.  We think urgency is overrated, and ASAP is poison.  Real-time is the wrong time most of the time.

10. The Fortune 5,000,000
Companies are obsessed with battling for huge Fortune 500 customers.  That’s boring.  We’re more interested in the Fortune 5,000,000 — small and mid-sized companies just like us.  They’re underserved, they’re ignored, and they don’t get the respect they deserve.  We’re here for them.

11. Don’t emulate the office

Work remotely, not locally apart.  Don’t just have the same meetings on Zoom, have fewer meetings.  Rather than discussing everything in real-time, communicate asynchronously instead.  Rather than feel the need to know where everyone is, let go and trust more.  Don’t try to emulate the office and everything for which it stands.

12. Hours aren’t equal

An hour isn’t an hour. It’s a collection of minutes that add up to an hour.  And 60 uninterrupted minutes is a higher-quality hour than an hour chopped into four 15-minute sessions.  Uninterrupted hours lead to quality time, quality work.  Days chunked into tiny blocks of time are a terrible way to work.

13. On repeat
If you’re talking about something new or novel, you’ll have to repeat yourself for years before you’re heard.

14. Meetings aren’t free
Meetings are the last resort, not the first option.  Five people in a room for an hour isn’t a one hour meeting, it’s a five hour meeting.  How often was it worth that?  Could you have just written it up instead?  Be mindful of the costs and tradeoffs.

15. Bury the hustle

Hustle mania, hustle porn, the grind, call it what you will.  We call it insidious.  There’s nothing glamorous about being totally rundown after weeks, months, or years of non-stop whatever-it-takes work.  And pumping your mind full of anxiety about whether you’re getting enough, doing enough, or chasing enough is no way to live.  Put in a good day’s work, close the damn laptop, and get on with life.

16. The trap of marginal thinking
If you need a machine and don’t buy it, then you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don’t have it.

17. Politicking
We respect everyone’s right to participate in political expression and activism, but avoid having political debates on our internal communication systems at work.  37signals as a company does not weigh in on politics publicly, outside of topics directly related to our business.

18. Two tokens of customer service
When a customer brings a complaint, there are always two tokens on the table: “It’s no big deal” and “It’s the end of the world”.  Both tokens are always played, so whoever chooses first forces the other to grab the token that’s left.  Don’t force your customer into taking the “It’s the end of the world” one.

19. Pay people, not addresses

Why do most companies cut your pay if you choose to move from San Francisco to Nashville?  Companies hire people, they don’t hire mailing addresses.  The same person produces the same work, no matter where they hang their hat.  That’s why at 37signals, everyone in the same position gets paid the same, no matter  where they live or who they are — anywhere in the world.

I have a number of close friends, some readers, others not, that I sure wish would pay heed to #s 2, 8, 9, 12, and 14.  

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must get out to the golf course.


Mr. J, do know I'm not the only one that finds your political opinions a bit . . . off.  Indeed, Kevin Monza thinks Trump may have his own Hunter Biden situation.  Do ya think?

Wait until they find out how much money Trump's daughter made while he was in office.  Whoops:  facts don't matter LOL.

And out of propriety, Mr. J, I won't even publish Hunter Deuce's comments.  After all, I am trying to unite us as Americans.


Yes, I'm taking the easy way out.  By their monumental standards, this ranks as only an OK album from my heroes.  But it does have some great songs, and well, there's the name.  Here is Rush and Signals.

About Dean Clough