Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh - Book Review and Development Guide

Did you put together a list of New Year's Resolutions?  When you were putting it together, did you think "if I can just achieve this, I will be happy?"  Have you felt that enthusiasm start to fade as "life" takes over and those resolutions get pushed to the bottom of your to do list?  Already thinking about doing a New Year's Reboot (no, really, from here on out I will do X.)?  Are you willing to consider a slightly different approach?

Here's my recommendation to you…

Download the unabridged Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh from iTunes or, order the book from or, or pick it up from your favorite books store.  Whatever you do, don't put getting the book on your list of things to do later.  Do it and check it off as an item complete.  Print this article and keep it with you while you are reading.  For extra credit - grab a notebook and start your professional development journal with your reflections.  (Disclaimer: The link below is an affiliate link, but I have no other relationships with any of the other vendors listed above.)

What I love about this book is how Mr. Hsieh weaves stories from his life and career into the best description (and validation) of values-based leadership I have read in a long time.  And he doesn't stop with values-based leadership - he created a values-based company…a billion dollar values-based company!

The book mixes success and failure, logic and people-based decision making, and experiential and research based background.  He throws in a disclaimer that it is not his or Zappos' whole story.  Each of those would probably be great reads in and of themselves.  By tying the two together, however, he has created a wonderful illustration of how living your values in all aspects of your life pull things together.  His successes are by no means "easier," but the pride and passion he exhibits is inspirational. The whole book reflects his value of surrounding himself with and working with the right people (and we even get snippets from their perspectives!).

The book chronicles how Zappos took the first few steps toward creating, defining, and embracing a set of core values and how that translated throughout the chain.  A particularly honest section of the book describes his angst when federal securities regulations forced him to break one of the core values, how he handled it, and the trust his team showed by understanding.  The last part of the book provides his research in the study of "happiness" and how he lives for today while not losing sight of tomorrow.

I believe the impending changes in the workforce over the next ten years will be dramatic and will catch many organizations unprepared.  I believe the great culture experiment (for lack of a better term) at Zappos may provide the answers we are looking for and Tony Hsieh and his team have placed themselves in an excellent position to lead this field of study over the next decade (and have continued to do so since the 2010 publication of the book).  While Zappos won my heart by consistently delivering my favorite Jessica Simpson shoes to my door with WOW service, I believe the great culture experiment and the contributions to values-based leadership and organizations will be Zappos' far-reaching legacy.

Development Guide - Think about these questions as you finish each section of the book.  (Bonus points for writing about them in your development journal!)

Finding My Way - There are times in our life that make us reflect back on how we got there.  Mr. Hsieh's experience is a vivid description of that feeling.  You don't need a massive life high or low to embrace reflection however, it can happen during a quiet walk, a morning commute, or during a particularly uninspiring meeting at work.  Take some time (preferably not when others think you are engaged in what they are saying) to think about all the pieces in your life that have led you to where you are.  Do they fit together, even if in a way only you understand?  Are there outliers in which you learned how not to do something?

In Search of Profits - What moments and values from childhood, teen years, and college are with you today?  While not everyone creates a successful business that they are able to turn over to younger siblings before even reaching high school, I will bet there are a few lessons there that absolutely shaped the way you approach life, love, and business today.  There is a keen self-awareness at work in the way Mr. Hsieh describes his youth and experiences even if they are shaded in humor and humility.  For example, "As for homework, I tried my best to find creative ways around actually doing any hard work."  He goes on to describe submitting 14 lines of morse code in Shakespeare class when the assignment was to write a sonnet.  Personally, I would rather write a sonnet than try to figure out 14 lines of morse code.  Here's the bottom line, he figured out early on how to successfully play to his strengths.  Success does not have to be achieved through learning things you hate and find difficult and uninspiring.  If you play to your own strengths and surround yourself with people who have different strengths you can all operate effectively and productively at your highest ability.  What strengths do you have?  Are there times when you pull them out and wow people and then secretly wonder what all the fuss is about?  How can you use these strengths more often?

You Win Some, You Lose Some - Lots more self-awareness here.  We learn very quickly what Mr. Hsieh looks like when he is disengaged while he describes his search for personal engagement.  I love his thought experiment - make a list of what you would do with $20 million dollars. What would be on your list?  In his time at LinkExchange he solidified his "all are equal" philosophy when he asked his investor to attend the initiation meeting.  Now here's one for you to think about - think of the most senior person in your company/life/etc.  Would you treat them the same way you would treat the most junior person on your team?  If your answer is yes, write down three examples at least one of which you are telling someone you think they are wrong, in which you have done so.  If your answer is no, why not?  Do you feel comfortable with that?  What can you do to change your daily actions to align with your personal values about how you want to treat people?  Am I suggesting you go prank the CEO of your company?  No.  But if you would not prank the CEO, why would you do it to your subordinates (or allow others to)?  (Ditto harass, yell, bully, etc.)  There is another huge line of questions in this chapter that I don't think will be answered in a few minutes reflection but putting some time into would be valuable use of your time - what would make you walk away from money on the table?  What would stop you?  What can you do now to put you in a position that you can if you want to?

Diversify - The chapter in which we learn that Mr. Hsieh's true genius came from a study of poker. Okay, maybe not really, but the thought process itself is genius.  From reading this book, I get the impression that Mr. Hsieh never stops analyzing anything that is going on around him.  Whether it is a rave, a poker game, or his company.  He doesn't look to only business books to find out how to succeed in business.  Think about something you did in the last month that did not involve your work.  Did you watch a good football game?  Take your children to soccer/gymnastics/hockey/dance practice?  Did you watch a funny/serious/sad movie?  Get sucked in by the latest tech craze?  Anything, as long as it is not related to what you do for work.  What did you see in terms of market opportunity?  Team Building?  Marketing and Branding?  Financials?  Strategy?  Continual Learning?  Culture?  Conflict Resolution? Recognition?  Operating from Your Strengths?  You don't have to find something for every category but push yourself beyond your off-the-cuff reactions.  When you think you don't see any more - find five more.

Another piece of this chapter is connectedness.  You cannot do it all alone.  Networking is about building relationships rather than finding someone who can help you now and asking them for help.  It is about creating a wide and diverse network.  With whom do you want to surround yourself?  Qualities, values, skills, perspectives?  Where can you meet those people?  How can you learn about and from them?

Finally, there is another honest example of true self-awareness when he says that he is passionate about proving other people wrong.  I think you can see a recent example of this in Zappos' adoption of "holacracy."  Think about what you are truly passionate about.  For some it is winning, for some it is being the best, and for some it is doing what's never been done successfully.  Don't worry about what others will think about what drives you, just be honest with yourself.  How can you use that to move you forward today?

Concentrate Your Position - This is really about believing in your "tribe" and taking risks.  You also see the loyalty that Mr. Hsieh has earned from his "tribe."  I can't help but think of a going "all in" in a poker game while reading this chapter.  So here are some questions for you.  Is there anyone you work with you trust implicitly?  Would the people you work with drop everything to go to Kentucky for you for an unknown amount of time?  Would you go "all in" on anything relating to the work you are doing now or the people with whom you are doing it?  If not, what relationship building steps can you take today to start forming a strong network on which you can rely?

Platform for Growth: Brand, Culture, Pipeline - I think communication is the real theme of this chapter, from the move to Vegas and the development of the call center philosophy, to the solidification and adoption of the core values.  And here is the twist, none of it is top down.  Everything is a conversation and a product of collaboration.  If you trust the people with whom you have surrounded yourself, then you include them and their opinions in decision-making and innovation rather than guiding or managing them.  Think about the last significant decision you made at work and the last significant decision you made in your life.  How many people did you get input from first?  How many people did you tell what was going on and how it was going to happen?  How could you have expanded your reach in the information gathering stage?  What significant decisions do you have coming up?  What five people can you bring in to the decision making process?  Do at least three of them have strengths, skills, and knowledge that differ from yours?  What will that bring to the process?  How does corporate communication strategy change when it is about a conversation rather than dissemination of information?

Taking it to the Next Level - My two favorite parts of this chapter are the public speaking formula (be passionate, tell your stories, be real, and I will add stick with your strengths) and the Amazon story.  With regard to public speaking, do you do it now or shy away from it?  Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone and take the public speaking challenge?  Find someone who wants to hear your stories (there are ton of organizations out there looking for free speakers!) and commit to a date.  Keep the content in your wheelhouse and work off an outline rather than a memorized speech.  How does it feel?  What did you learn about yourself?  What did you learn from your audience?

With regard to the Amazon memo, imagine for just a moment that a change of this caliber is coming down today in your organization.  How long after the initial memo, do you think it will take you, your co-workers, and your subordinates to get back to work.  (Just FYI, less than an hour is unimaginable to me.)  Honestly, whatever you guessed, probably needs to be multiplied by at least three.  Even assuming a great deal of loyalty to the co-founders at Zappos, loyalty is not enough to let this pass that quickly.  Now go back and dissect "the memo."  What is it about the memo that reached people to the point that they were able to jump back to work?  This is definitely an information dissemination memo where conversations and collaboration could not be utilized.  Are there thematic elements that make it work?  Can you use the memo to put together a template for your communications?

End Game - Do it, write down your goal in life and keep answering why.  Think about what you want your path to happiness to look like.  My favorite framework is #1 because I think it works from an individual development level and from a leadership (volunteer or paid) level.  Which framework speaks to you and how can you incorporate it today (and this week, and this month) to increase your happiness now and decrease your use of the words "someday I will…"?  Whenever you are stuck, go to the last page of this chapter and write the answers to his questions in your journal until you know the answer.  They are amazing questions!

Epilogue - Extra Credit - if you like what you've heard and/or read and want more - join the movement at

What did you think about the book?  Did the Development Guide help you process it internally?  What will you do differently as a result of what you have learned about yourself?  Is there someone you want to share the book with (and hopefully this guide)?