The year without pants

August 28, 2016

Distributed work - that is, working from anywhere rather than a specific location - captures my imagination. The year without pants is a book about work at Automattic, the company behind, and their way of doing things. Automattic is completely distributed, making their physical address mainly a place to point visiting executives and press at. Scott Berkun, the author, took a job there for a year(+) in 2011 as the first team lead.

The year without pants is a nice and short book, mixing stories of the work Scott and his team did with chapters discussing what might be learned and more general thoughts about work, business and development.

The book did not take me by storm, but somewhere in the second half Scott actually brought that up and explained why. I wanted a book describing what it was like working at Automattic, stories about people and the things they did. Scott, on the other hand, was trying to create something much more business-like, in a genre completely unfamiliar to me. Stories about people were actually not expected in that context, but he put them in because he felt them so integral do describing the company. All the parts I found kind of dry and wandering away from the good stuff were the good stuff to other people. Quite simply: I was not in any way the intended audience.

With that in mind, I had a remarkably good time with the book. It did not contain any magical revelations, but I saw a lot of similarities to companies I have worked at. That made it all the more interesting to read the thoughts and actions of a team lead with plenty of experience from completely different companies.

From my point of view, the book should of course have focused even more on telling stories. Stories about what actually happened are so much more interesting than chapters trying to speculate what the "future of work" might look like. One has to start processing things somewhere to move forward. Perhaps starting the process right in the book is a good place. But I can not stop thinking that more food for future thought would have been at least as valid a use of the given pages.

I am curious what the book would have been like had it adhered more to the expectations of the genre. I am also thankful it did not.