Last year the "science of happiness" turned ten. While my post-depression era parents would have been perplexed at the thought of studying happiness, the quickly growing field of positive psychology has since initiated hundreds of studies, titles and headlines about what makes our hearts and souls thrive.
During the very same time eleven-year period a Harvard graduate, entrepreneur and venture fund manager by the name of Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”) established and grew an innovative on-line shoe retail company to $1.2 billion in gross merchandise sales. The company is ZAPPOS and the rest isn’t history -- but yet to come.
Let's stop right now and think for a minute. We are so accustomed to sentences packed with hyperventilating numbers that it's easy to lose track of what they mean. Even if you do a simple equation, say, shoes at an average cost of $30.00 per pair -- that is 10 million boxes of shoes a year, just a million shy of all the cancer survivors in the United States. In a year. The shoes don’t fit? No problem. Shipping is free in both directions.
Now ZAPPOS CEO founder Tony Hseih tells us the story of Zappos and its "culture-driven" path to success in his first book, Delivering Happiness, an immensely readable, often funny account of the best example of “failing forward” that the business world has seen in a very long time. This is a guy everyone thinks is cool. Because he is. He writes clearly and makes all his accomplishments seem effortless, just as right as rain, perhaps a clue about his particular genius.
The book is easily divided in three sections – ‘Profits,’ ‘Profits and Passion’ and ‘Profits, Passion and Purpose’ and starts with Hseih’s entrepreneurial beginnings at age nine selling earthworms. During his first year in high school he found the computer lab, where the rest may have indeed become history. Within two years he was teaching PASCAL to summer school students. At Harvard he ran a pizza business in lieu of attending class. After a short stint at Oracle as a software engineer, he went on to establish LinkExchange, which he sold to Microsoft for $265. He was 24.
In fact, everything about Tony Hsieh's accomplishments, his values and ideas about customer service are so superlative -- kindness, FUN, honesty, meaningful relationships, clear communication -- that I found myself searching for dark spots. I don't know if that's the albatross of middle-age or because I grew up in the Midwest where you always wore clean underwear (not because you wanted to) but because you might-get-hit-by-a-car-and-end-up-in-the-hospital.
What finally dawned on me after I finished Delivering Happiness was the gift of facing life with confidence, and what can happen when you stay on track. Because another thing that Delivering Happiness illustrates from both the personal and business perspective: making your customer incredibly, delightfully, and “WOWfully” happy takes laser focus -- from hiring, to empowering your employees, to not just defining core values but putting them in action. It ain’t at all about the shoes, Willis.
Delivering Happiness is about creating meaning and value by turning traditional business models sideways. It isn’t about all the things you can’t do, but how you can apply your own talents and derive the greatest possible experience from what you undertake as long as it is something you are passionate about. When he makes mistakes, Hseih says so. He passes on the invaluable lessons he has learned. Just a few:
Never outsource your core competencies.
Without effort, inertia wins.
Make your core values your life values.
Enjoy this book. Tony Hsieh absolutely fills the pages with all he knows and gives it all away many times more. That is leadership, an incredible story that puts the word "why" and "wonder" back into our vocabulary.
NOTE: Stay tuned for info on how to get a free copy of Delivering Happiness. If you'd like to purchase a book from Amazon go to: http://www.amazon.com/deliveringhappiness . I was provided with a free advance copy with the understanding that I would write an honest review, which I did. I really enjoyed the book -- jms