Delivering Happiness is part brief autobiography, part “here are my brilliant ideas for how to conceive, start, and run a business”. He is more strongly oriented towards creating a corporate culture than any other business guru, and presents interesting ideas for how to create that culture. However, I’ve got a problem with Tony and the book - proof (or at least viable evidence) and replication. Tony was at the right place at the right time once and pretty much by accident made millions in the process. Out of boredom he joined what was to become Zappos. 10 years later he has made Zappos the largest online store specializing in footwear, with sales over $1B per year. But Zappos has always been on the verge of failure and is completely dependent on an ongoing 100 million dollar line of credit with their banks. This tells me that they have less than $1M (less than 10%) in profit. This would not be considered a successful situation for any business. For all of the hype about how brilliant Tony is, he hasn’t proved that culture is the key to business success. I wish he had–I’m a huge believer in developing corporate culture, one based on integrity, contribution, and “doing what is right”. He as not demonstrated that if you build the right culture the profits will follow. He has not demonstrated anything except that he was successful at making money by accident one time in his life, and his Zappos isn’t it. More disappointing is he discusses the dozens, possibly over a hundred other companies he helped start, most of which failed, none of which had more than marginal success. So like most of the other business gurus, he provides no proof or evidence of his ideas, and has not been able to replicate his one (apparently accidental) success. Not someone I would consider a viable role model, leader, or even teacher.
Timothy Ferriss makes some startling claims in the book, not only about how to game your work life, but about his own accomplishments as well. He lays claim a couple times to being a champion martial artist. However, as I understand the researchable facts, there is no public record of him being a champion, or anything else. He claims to lecture at Princeton University. The reality is that he does a guest lecture for one class once a semester, and is not listed at Princeton as a lecturer. He also claims to have become wealthy by starting and running his own company that marketed a health drink that purports to improve brain function. Of course there is no scientific research to back up the claim, no FDA approval, nor any evidence that the product is anything but one of thousands of such “promise everything, do nothing” snake-oils that have made many unethical marketeers wealthy over the centuries.
With this as a backdrop, should I or you want to take business advice from this man? Surprisingly, the answer may be “yes”.
The reason is that Timothy is, if nothing else, a master gamer. He studies the rules of the game, finds its weaknesses, and like the very smart rat in a maze, he crawls over or tunnels under the barriers to get to the prize before anyone else. If one can utilize this strategy without a breach of ethics, I count that as working smarter, not harder!
This is my view of the heart of his work. Can you get away with only working 4 hours a week at your job? Not unless you are a master snake-oil salesperson. Can you get far more accomplished in far less time? Absolutely, and I’m convinced anyone reading this book will find at least a few treasures they can take back to the job to make themselves and the organization better, smarter, and more effective.
Marc Mintz, ACHDS, ACSP, ACTC
CIO and Senior IT Consultant
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