on June 9, 2010
Delivering Happiness is a bold promise to make in any book, let alone a business book. But Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh makes it. The autobiographical story of Tony's childhood and career at times seems self indulgent and veers into frat boy territory, Harvard style. Hsieh is open about the fact that the writing is all his and that it's not literary genius. However, he's clearly an innovative man with a ton of brain power. It is a fun and entertaining read, especially for the genre. The book's stand-out quote:
"Without conscious and deliberate effort, inertia always wins"
I am not sure the book delivers happiness. But here's what it does do, and does very well. It provides an insight into the success of one of America's trendiest and high performing companies as well as the brain of the man behind it. From my work life lens, it also shows an interesting approach to corporate culture that so far is working well for Zappos.
I put my hand up to review the book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose because I'd read so much about Zappos' unique corporate environment. Innovative organizational psyches are right up my alley. Hsieh has a light and enticing story-teller's voice as he shares his youthful business adventures, Harvard stories (mostly about how little work he did and how well he performed doing that), mistakes and spiritual experiences in the rave/party years and climbing Kilimanjaro. Ultimately though, it's a book about relationships, and about how to create an environment where your best friends show up to work with you. You work hard and you play hard and you do it all together.
For all it's talk of a bold new paradigm of institutional culture, much of it revolves around getting drunk together, partying and playing golf. It is the way business has always been done. It might be really fun to work at Zappos. And clearly there must be more to it than that or it would not consistently generate the buzz about being such a great place to work that it does.
I'd love to know more about how career breaks, care-giving needs and flexible work options to handle work life issues are really handled. There is one beautiful story shared of a woman losing her husband and being given time off and much loving support from her team members. But the story stuck out as unusual compared to other employee experiences. For example, there were no insights into how parenting or elder care needs are handled either informally or through policy.
Rather, there were stories of walking away from your entire life with two hours notice and not getting home again for three months. It was, as always, the absolute dedication to the company kind of stories that came through loudest. There was a great deal of discussion about creating a family, creating a group of people who you want to be with every day. This is a wonderful thing in a work environment up to a point, but homogeneity, even the weird and wacky kind, can be stifling over the longer term.
As I read stories of bar room and golf course decisions, I did wonder if that self-selects the real Zappos stars as being single and childless, or with a partner at home full time who raises the children or at least has a much less demanding career? Certainly the book makes it evident that a non-drinker like myself would not be progressing very far! Zappos - can you help me understand more?
Things that most impressed me about Hsieh's story and the Zappos culture. The Pipeline - how most recruiting is done at entry level with incredible on-going training and continual internal promotion opportunities. He is very clear about the kind of person he wants to work with every day, knows how to find them and wants to make sure they have a trajectory. I also thoroughly enjoyed his cheekiness and regular rule breaking, his loving poke at Asian parental pressure stereotypes and his deep hunger for a community. Hsieh and his team have certainly created something unusual in corporate America. I take my hat off to what this daring 36 year old has built so far and will watch with interest as to what comes next.
My heretical closing thought. As his people get tired of partying and look for their higher purpose outside of the Zappos family, I do wonder how sustainable the culture will be over the longer term. I too have created a family of people I want to be with every day and it's called my husband and children. He talks a lot about work being a calling, not a job. I'm not sure free pizza and shaving your head days are gonna cut it in 20 years time. Then again, they might not need to.
"Delivering Happiness" has become the trade phrase for Zappos. In this hard-to-put-down book, Tony Hseieh (CEO of Zappos) tells the story of how his life became entangled with the life of Zappos. Starting with his childhood, Tony tells how he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit: he tried to raise earthworms when he was 9, he held garage sales and sold lemonade, he had a newspaper route (and decided it was just a way for newspapers to avoid child labor laws:), he wrote a newsletter of jokes he tried to sell to friends, he sold Christmas cards, he made custom photo buttons. Then in high school he discovered computers and began learning. He got a job testing video games, then became a programmer. The little jobs continued throughout college, where he tried to find the easiest path through his classwork. When he graduated college, he took a job at Oracle just because they offered the most money. And he found a way to do as little work as possible there too. Because he was bored, Tony and his roommate created LinkExchange which they eventually sold to Microsoft for $265 million. Bored again, this is where Zappos enters his life.
Much of the rest of the book is a fascinating history of how Zappos evolved and grew from nothing to $1 billion in gross sales in less than 10 years. Along the way, Tony explains how he learned business lessons from a summer fling with playing poker in Vegas. One of those lessons was to figure out what he really wanted to get out of life. He dabbled in investing and day-trading but found them unfulfilling. He dabbled in angel funding (Zappos being one of the companies he funded). He realized he was passionate about building a company, and the beneficiary of his passion happened to be Zappos. He poured a lot of his own money into keeping Zappos alive and learned lessons about inventory, warehousing, and outsourcing.
About half way through the book is where I started highlighting and folding down page corners. Tony talks about company culture and how he lead Zappos to invest their time, money and resources into 3 areas: customer services, culture, and employee training. Tony lists a great "Top 10 ways to instill customer services into your company" and explains (in great detail) the 10 core values of Zappos culture. He gives examples of interview questions that they ask to see how the person will fit into the company culture. He lists some of the course titles that are offered to employees that choose to learn new skills in order to advance their title. He lists the "Top 10 questions to ask when looking for investors and board members." And then Tony tells the story of how Zappos became a "marriage partner" to Amazon.
The final section of the book is about applying the science of happiness. This was an outstanding section and the entire book is worth the price just for this section alone. Tony mentions several books (The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom and Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment) that formed the foundation of his research into happiness along with books that taught him about company culture (Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap...and Others Don't and Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization). Tony also recommends Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow (J-B US non-Franchise Leadership) to learn how Maslow's Hierarchy of needs can be applied to business, customers, employees and investors.
Overall a highly enjoyable book, very nicely written in an informal style, with a great story and good pointers to further resources. Highly recommended.
This review was written based on an Advance Reading Copy of uncorrected page proofs.
on June 17, 2010
I can not believe it but after 12 years of buying my books on Amazon, I am compelled to write a review. I found this book extremely creepy.
First, I was disappointed in the flip tone of this book. The preface includes a blurb about not bothering to have the book edited by a professional editor because the author did not find it necessary and wanted to continue to poke at his past English teachers because obviously he "showed them" by being a best-selling author and not bothering to be a conscientious writer. I can not imagine having an ax to grind with a teacher I haven't seen in 20 years who may have corrected my work during my "formative years".
Second, I want to personally apologize to every [...] employee. How does one work for a fellow who prides himself on not hiring "talented people"? I am dead serious. Tony clearly states that bringing in talented people into the organization as it grew would cause the culture to change so would not be part of his strategy to build the company.
Third, I also fail to understand how drinking with your co-workers and spending nearly every waking moment with them brings profit, passion and purpose. Yes, team cohesion is obviously important. The military wouldn't function without it. Spending a happy hour with co-workers and eating lunch together for instance, makes sense. Failing to keep your job because Bob in accounting doesn't like socializing with you after work, doesn't make any sense. Failing to be promoted because you don't drink and (horror) actually go home to your kids at night, doesn't make sense.
To summarize, I would re-title this book "A Formula for Running a Successful Cult" by Tony Hsieh aka The Big Pumbah because he has mastered the most important features of a well run cult.
1. Alienation (Done! Replace real family with new family - aka other Zappos employees! Eat all meals together, work long hours, socialize with employees only.)
2. Us/Them Syndrome (Done! Emphasize the collective over the individual. Executed brilliantly by administering a culture test and immediately firing anyone who questions the company as arrogant and not a fit.)
3. Charismatic Leader (Done Well! Name another Zappos leader? Thinking, thinking. . .Can't? No because the cult(ure) is the cult(ure) of Tony! Let's go shave our head and paint it blue!)
4. Exclusivity (Done! Private company. Private goings on. No nasty prying by Wall Street and no grown-ups (remember the missing talented types that were going to destroy them?) to correct us. It's a Zappos' Thing, You Wouldn't Understand!)
This book traces Tony Hsieh's rapid progress in the business world, from callow party dweeb with a high IQ to his selling of Zappos to Amazon for north of a billion dollars. Along the way, we get some ups and downs in business startups, the hunt for money, the hunt for the secret to corporate long-term success, and some input from partners and employees along the way. Zappos' leadership eventually decided to emphasise sterling customer service as the key to their own corporate culture, and the last third of the book - the part worth reading - covers what this means to the customer, to the employees tasked with turning it into a reality, and to the bottom line. The idea was to infuse ten larger values (with numerous sub-meanings and applications) into every aspect of every department of the company. Since Hsieh is now a billionaire or very close to it, one can say that, certainly in this case, it worked.
In general the book is a very light read. It is destined to be given out to employees for free, and to serve as a sort of corporate diary and the documentation of the corporate mythology. That's not necessarily bad, just what it is. The last few pages are a little more thoughtful, where the author tries to relate his business experience to a philosophical discussion of life, the universe and everything. This stuff might be a bit of a stretch, but it is the kind of expansive view of things one can expect from a businessman in his position and there are few business books by hugely successful authors that can resist this kind of thing.
on July 16, 2010
This book has been widely acclaimed as the latest "Great Ideas in Business" books. Delivering Happiness is part brief autobiography, part "here are my brilliant ideas for how to conceive, start, and run a business". Tony has some interesting and different ideas on how to run a business. He is more strongly oriented towards creating a corporate culture than any other business guru. However, I've got a problem with Tony and the book. It's the same I have with most of the gurus - proof 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 1 billion dollars per year. But Zappos is always on the verge of failure and is completely dependent on an ongoing 100 million dollar line of credit with their banks (at least this was the case prior to their purchase by Amazon). This tells me that they have less than 100 million in profit. Not a rosy 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. 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 of other companies he helped start, most of which failed, none of which had impressive success. So like most of the other business gurus, he provides no proof of his ideas, and has not been able to replicate his one success. Not someone I would consider a viable role model, leader, or even teacher.
Marc Mintz ACSP, ACHDS, ACTC
on July 14, 2010
Just finished reading this book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose and was mildy entertained. It is a very light read, and written very plainly so that a large audience might gain some value from it. Honestly, I am still on the fence on whether Tony wrote this book in order to bring more publicity to Zappos.
However, this book is filled with the trials and tribulations that a driven entrapenauer (Tony) encounters in his many attempts at building companies and economic ventures. At center page, is Tony's morphing someone else's company (Zappos) into the billion dollar shoe empire that it is today.
Some of the stories are funny and crazy, especially all the raves Tony claims to have gone to, and his struggles can be interpreted as inspirational. However, about two-thirds of the way through the book, it morphs into a collection of excepts from the Zappos employee handbook, which is about as dry as sand. Terrible decision.
Also, for the last 40 pages or so, Tony starts babbling about the psychology of happiness and starts trying to take the reader down some road that I'm not even sure he fully understands. Let's be honest, Tony is driven, and the methods he used worked, but I think there was a lot more luck involved in his success than he let's off. It was an ok book, nothing that blew my mind away, but not too bad either. I guess I would say it was just "meh".
First the facts: Tony Hsieh is smarter than your average guy, and willing to work hard. He had an early dot com success, made some money, and squandered most of it partying. He gave Zappos its first funding, then later became the company's CEO, and led Zappos to tremendous success before it was purchased by Amazon for over one billion dollars. This book chronicles those events.
If you know anything about Zappos, you know they have an almost insane commitment to customer satisfaction. You may not know that they have an intense corporate culture around the theme of "Delivering Happiness." This book also explores both of these topics in some detail.
However, this is NOT an in-depth analysis of how to run an internet retailer. While IT, inventory, financing, drop shipping, vendor relationships, pricing, etc. are all discussed as the story unfolds, none are covered in any detail. This book is about Tony's experiences and growth in building Zappos. He does not attempt to instruct you how to do the same.
I enjoyed the book, and learned a number of useful lessons. Tony's analogies comparing poker and businesses were somewhat of an eye opener. What particularly shocked me was how little preparation or research went into some of their most important decisions. It seems that, at least in Zappo's case, smart people with the ability to quickly change direction after recognizing a mistake can do as well or better than most companies who do deep analysis and diligence in advance.
Highly recommended insider tale of how Zappos succeeded. Just don't expect any analysis, because there isn't any.
on December 30, 2010
This was a great book. I enjoyed reading it from cover to cover, but I feel that a lot of things were left out..... like the long days people put in to get the company up and running. The theme of the book is if you work hard, play fair, great things will happen. While I feel that is partially true, I think that a lot of the hard work that was put in was left out of the book.
on June 22, 2010
Delivering Happiness, the new book by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, goes immediately onto my list of must read books. I had already recommended it to several people before I even finished it. While the book wasn't exactly what I was expecting, that's just fine by me. I thought this might be a how to provide better customer service book. And while that might have been fine, what Tony created was something much better and much bigger. Just as Zappos is a superior customer service experience generator that happens to sell shoes, this is a happiness generator that happens to be a book.
Maybe it's the transparent way he treats both his personal and professional triumphs and failures (sorry about that worm farm dude) or the similar personality traits I share with him, but I felt a connection while reading the book. I believed I was part of one of Tony's tribes, or at least I'd really like to be. See I'm already on a first name basis with him, I hope he doesn't mind. ;) I like being around positive people who thrive on continually learning and questioning things and trying new things, new ways. Like Tony, I don't mind making mistakes as long as I learn from them.
The book is refreshingly humble, conversational, reflective and open. We get a glimpse into his early years and how he became the man he is today. From the beginning he was an unconventional thinker, willing to take calculated risks. He was thinking outside the box long before shoe boxes became his focus. He recounts a Shakespeare class in which he fulfilled a sonnet assignment (14 lines of iambic pentameter) with lines of Morse code. Luckily the teacher had a sense of humor. Tony was creating fun in a productive way, a trait that would carry through to his professional life. Fun is essential to building community. Laughing bonds people is a way that few other activities can. So don't mistake people having fun at work with a lack of focus, productivity or seriousness.
Similarly, don't discount the importance of play. Much can be learned from games, as Tony learned at the poker tables. While you'll have to read the entire list for yourself, there's a lot of solid advice including: "It's okay to switch tables if you discover it's too hard to win at your table." By staying flexible and being willing to adapt you will have much more success. He also uses poker as an excellent metaphor, distinguishing between short (tactical choices and events such as the loss of a single hand) and long term thinking (focusing on strategic choices).
Finally, this book lets us in on the core values of a great company. You many not be able to go to Las Vegas and go on a tour of Zappos but you'll feel like you did. Tony's success arises not from his desire to make money but to find projects that would keep him emotionally engaged and, even more importantly, to create a community and culture. A friend of mine told me years ago, "do what you love and the money will follow." If ever I doubted the validity of that statement, Tony is the poster child for following your passions and convictions. His desire to connect with people blurs the lines between business and pleasure. You can hear his excitement when he talks about fighting over the dinner check with vendors and it's 100% believable when he talks about the employees of Zappos being a family.
This book doesn't seek to tell anyone how to run their business but it does encourage people to ask questions about how and why they do this things they do. Tony is clear that he doesn't think every company should follow the same core values as Zappos but should stay true to the values that work for them. And he encourages each of us to make small changes personally and professionally on an ongoing basis to grow and improve.
Toward the end of the book Tony says that he wrote the book "to contribute to a happiness movement to help make the world a better place." I'd have to say, this is another thing he can check off of his to do list. He has proven that there is a different way to succeed in business and in life. Choose happiness.
(I previously posted this review on my personal blog at [...])
on January 29, 2011
After reading several articles on Zappos I had high hopes for 'Delivering Happiness,' and assumed that the 200+ pages would provide meaningful insights into the type of practices and organizational design strategies which have led to the creation of a unique and successful firm culture. Instead, I got a formulaic, and over all incredibly poorly written, book which if anything completely failed to deliver anything of value or meaning. For the most part the book's sub-chapters (each roughly 6 pages) stayed true to the same formula - present the problem, highlight the sacrifices tough decisions made by the author, and then celebrate the inevitable success which was only possible due to him. In-between there are even shorter 'guest appearances' by various Zappos employees to further praise the author. While I wasn't expecting the book to be deeply intellectual, I also failed to anticipate the author's ADD approach to writing. It was as if no detail of his life was too small to discuss (I especially loved the section on him throwing his own birthday party), but there was no turning point in his business experience, or lesson learned which was worth dedicating more than a page to.
Zappos is an incredibly exciting company to watch, and one that has truly built a reputation via its business practices. This book is a cheap attempt to cash out on that work. Save the $15 and go ahead and buy yourself a pair of flip flops instead. You'll be much better off.