Jason Fried

May 17, 2023

Kill Overkill

Business is often seen as the art of acquisition. Acquiring talent, customers, revenue, profits, mindshare, marketshare. Building and growing requires consumption, addition, parlaying some of this into a lot of that.

But the smartest businesses — the ones that tend to stick around for the long haul — know that existence is also about avoidance.

Avoiding careening variable costs, avoiding getting involved with things that aren't core to your business, avoiding spending time on things that don't matter, avoiding bad investments, avoiding people who don't help you prosper, and even avoiding customers who aren't the right fit.

However, there's something even more fundamental to avoid. It would be easy to call it "complexity" but that's not quite it. Complexity can be necessary, and intricacy can be quite beautiful — just stare into a Moorish mosaic and you'll know it.

So complexity isn't the issue.

Overkill is the issue.

Avoiding overkill is the real cheat code. That's how you jump levels. It's how you make a lot more progress with a lot less effort.

Overkill is the dust that settles on the stuff that took a lot of energy to build or buy, but turned out not to be necessary. The over-engineered, over-designed, over-hired, over-litigated, the over-spent, over-promised, over-deliberated.

Overkill is the policy that was written but never enacted. The technology that was purchased that was never used. The seven steps that could be handled in two. The nine people in a meeting made for three. The business equivalent of the 12 bedroom house for a family of four. The cooks when you don't even have a kitchen.

Overkill is using five different products to run a single project. Overkill is an seven-stage interview process that exhausts everyone involved. Overkill is acting like a company 100x your size. Overkill is buying what they bought but that you don't need. Overkill is paying thousands for something worth hundreds. Overkill is hoping that losing more will turn into a win.

In our 24 years, there's nothing we've tried to avoid more at 37signals than overkill. In the things we do, in the way we work, in the things we buy, in the things we use. And, especially, in the products we make for our ourselves and our customers. Basecamp and HEY are built to do what they need to do, in the most straightforward, elegant, and enjoyable way, and nothing more. So you can avoid overkill too.

Every day is an opportunity to find just right. To toss that policy that's in the way. To slim down the stack. To sharpen things up. To eliminate the work that doesn't need to be done. To polish the scratched glass so you can see through again.

Amass what you need, but ignore even more. Kill overkill.


About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.