Tony Hsieh handed me an advance reading copy of his book a couple months
back after I’d interviewed him for our work on The Challenger Project.
He’s really interesting character, but not in the usual sense. He’s a very rare
species, in fact: a quiet, thoughtful, low ego-emissions CEO with a
remarkable track record, who¹s even a little weird (a self-confessed 7 on a
10-point scale of weirdness). And all of this is evident in his book, every
word of which he wrote himself.
The book is broken into 3 parts: 1) Profits; 2) Profits and Passion; 3)
Profits, Passion & Purpose. This loosely describes the arc of his story so
far: Tony the boy and young man on his way to running Zappos, the Zappos
phenomenon itself, and finally how Tony wishes to apply what he has learned
to create something of a cultural revolution spreading happiness.
There is a lot in here to satisfy those who want to decode Zappos’ success.
And along the way there are also revealing surprises that for me made this a
more engaging read, each surprise a small clue as to what makes Tony such a
success: How his obsession with comics lead him to deceive his parents with
pre-recorded piano practice; his stint with the Guardian Angels under the
code name ‘Secret’; his obsession with poker; his addiction to Red Bull; his
embrace of counter-intuitive marathon training techniques; his time as rave
impresario, and his ‘awakening’ at just such an event. How many CEOs can
credit real business insight to a techno induced epiphany?
That insight? The idea than true Happiness requires us to get lost in
something bigger than ourselves. Here Tony leans hard on psychologists like
Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and business writers like Chip Conley’s Peak, itself
a re-working of Maslow. He’s well-read. And the book ends with Tony’s own
happiness framework, which is as straightforward as it is well informed. If
you want a short cut through the happiness/positive psychology literature,
Zappos success is built on an almost irrational obsession with Wow-ing
customers at any cost, and their loyalty scores and repeat purchase numbers
are off the charts. Tony is quite clear that if Wow remains his priority,
profit will take care of itself. For all the ‘new-agey’ vibe of the positive
psychology in the book, this is an almost old-fashioned idea: people love
great customer service and will reward you with their loyalty if you provide
it (even through a recession!). It says a lot about the world today that the
dedication to this simple idea seems almost radical.