Profits, passion & purpose

Delivering Happiness officially hit the streets today – although it kind of feels like it has been out there and read by millions of us already. It deserves to be a major success if for no other reason than the extraordinary way in which it has been marketed over the last few months. It will be a best seller because never before has an author put so much heart and soul into launching a book.

I suspect it cost a few bob as well, but how much better to spend your marketing budget on delighting a legion of existing fans and admirers and leveraging their already enthusiastic advocacy, which has already resulted in 40 reviews on Amazon, 32 hits on Google News just today, and attracted pieces in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and CBS News.

So what is all the fuss about? Read the book and certainly in the early stages you encounter a pretty ordinary guy. If anything, an under achiever. A flighty, fidgety sort who seemed to lack focus and drive. As a teenager and young adult, he was far from being a model student and a worthy employee. To put it bluntly, his low boredom threshold and inventive ways to avoid doing work did little to point to the fact that he would become a multi-millionaire by his early twenties.

That should be pretty inspirational stuff for thousands of listless teenagers out there who think life is sooooooo unfair.

Like many successful entrepreneurs, Tony Hsieh was far more interested in finding ways to make money than to focus solely on his studies. He was making $200 a week from a mail order business making buttons at High School. And while his parents thought he was diligently practicing his violin for an hour every day, he was reading ‘Boy’s Life’ magazine behind his bedroom door whilst the rest of the house listened to a pre-recorded loop of him scratching away at the fiddle.

At Harvard he did as little academic work as possible, spending a lot more of his study time in bed than I ever did at Uni, and instead of working nights for one week every term at the local bakery to like I did to make ends meet, Hsieh was making considerably more from his late night fast food operation selling burgers and pizzas to his peers.

Somehow he graduated with a degree and got a very well paid job with Oracle. That did not last long as he found it tedious and unchallenging. His subsequent stint as a self employed web designer went much the same way.

All the time, Hseih was learning the importance of doing something you were excited by. So much so that a few years later when he sold his Link Exchange to Microsoft for a mere $265m, with a personal fortune of $41m, Hseih gave $8m back because he didn’t have the patience to wear his golden handcuffs for another few months. He had worked out that for him, following his passion was more rewarding that chasing the buck.

And then came Zappos. Having read the book I can see that Tony Hseih’s passion had very little to do with selling shoes. Online or offline. No – his passion is for driving human (and therefore corporate) performance through amazing customer service. It could have been furniture, whoopee cushions, griddle pans or fishing tackle. It just happened to be shoes. Aided by the inspiration of some people he met along the way.

What drives this man is the pursuit of happiness and the recognition (or is it faith?) that there is a proper commercial virtuous circle, where happy staff equals happy customers, equals happy shareholders.

Most companies focus their efforts on creating shareholder value. Tony Hsieh knows that very few people get out of bed in the morning to create shareholder value. A few companies flip this convention on its head and works their butts off the make their staff feel valued, empowered, trusted, respected and dare I say loved. This rubs off on customers big time. And so it’s pretty good for profits too.

If any of this resonates, you should read Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose. If you think it sounds like a load of old tosh, you should read Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.

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