Mini Book Review: The Year without Pants

The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun

I stopped reading the book somewhere in Chapter 17 (of 24). The outset seemed promising: Former project lead, who wrote a book about project management, goes back into the field and joins a young company with a very different approach to work.

Automattic, the company behind the popular WordPress blogging platform, works completely remotely and distributed, i.e. you'll hardly find any two of its employees in the same spot at the same time. They work from home or other places they feel comfortable in or happen to be, so all work is done, discussed, and coordinated online. That's a very different environment for someone who used to work at Microsoft.

It took me a while to figure out that the book had a problem. Most of the time, it just describes work at Automattic and how the author, as a newcomer, saw it and what he did to become familiar with his new colleagues and their approach to work. To be honest, this gets boring after a while. Chapter 10, How to start a Fire, seemed to finally provide some insights, but then the book lapsed back into the previous pace. So a few chapters later I decided that I just don't care enough to continue reading.

This isn't the first book that Scott Berkun has written; it's his fifth one, actually, and I've read them all (up until this one). I like Confessions of a Public Speaker, mainly because it provides an open and honest view from someone who does give a lot of presentations. Other books on the topic are often just too polite whereas Scott Berkun is not afraid to use stronger words where necessary. I also like The Myths of Innovation a lot, as it does a good job at deconstructing that romantic view of the innovation process that we still have.

Scott's other books? Well ... I didn't really get anything out of Making Things happen. I supported the Kickstarter campaign for Mindfire, but found the result a bit "meh". As was to be expected, I guess, from a book that recycles popular (and mostly unrelated) blog posts (which only confirmed my suspicion regarding this type of books - even though it's something that's often recommended as a starting point for new authors).

Despite not having finished it, of Scott's five books, I'd place The Year without Pants firmly in the middle: It does contain a few nuggets of insight (many of which are conveniently just the right size for a Tweet). But mostly, he's just observing how work is being done at this specific company. It works for them, but it's clear from the beginning that it won't work for the majority of other companies. Which makes the book somewhat interesting to read as a case study while at the same time failing to provide anything of real value for whatever company you're currently working at.

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