The day before our trip to Cambria, I got one package more than what I expected (Married to the Mob’s Rue Honore button-up is a beachside must-have!), and yes, I truly very nearly panicked when I saw it on my doorstep. Let’s just say working in online retail (“I’m not shopping. It’s research!”) and having just come out of paying off a hefty load of medical bills do not go well together. I was truly very stoked and flattered to find that the Zappos package was two advance reading copies of Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, and not the results of a night of sleep-shopping.
The book couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been philosophizing every week on Moxsie Street Eats and how it affects our external branding and internal culture, plus I’m learning more every day about the innerworkings of online retail. Hsieh grew up in Marin – Bay Area, whattup – and does a pretty impressive job concisely describing the overachieving commonalities of some Asian Americans. (The stereotype doesn’t apply to every AA kid.) It would take a book (or a blog, hah!) to address all that Bay and all that Asian.
More notably than anything, and this point will relate to anyone who doesn’t work in online retail or wasn’t born in the Bay or didn’t grow up in an Asian American family, I found Hsieh’s writing very easy to relate to because he doesn’t write in a business tone. There was a specific type of person and specific type of course I avoided in college: overly enthusiastic marketing kids and anything in the business school that housed them. That said, I’m not very well-read on traditional “business” books. In a time when I thought I needed to wise up on business-y things, I read Carly Fiorina’s autobiography, and it was an ill-matched pick. I couldn’t relate to Carly or her writing or her careful tiptoeing around her controversy. The industry didn’t jive with me, and I didn’t have anything in common with the woman.
Delivering Happiness reads like business reading for non-business readers. It is founded on the entire case study that is Tony Hsieh’s long string of entrepreneurial endeavors, which is far more palatable material to me and my preferences for the more sociological effects of business and cause-and-effect case studies. It’s an easy read only lightly peppered with a dash of corporate, business strategy lingo, which is great. Because “synergy” makes my skin crawl.
Hsieh’s overarching message is simple: focus on company culture. Zappos went above and beyond in taking care of its internal customers (its employees), and I personally believe that the choice to be positive had an inside-out effect. When your core team of people is happy, their individual attitudes spread in their interactions with external customers and you end up “delivering happiness” to more than one audience. I’ve oversimplified his already simple philosophy, but I think that’s really it. When you do good for your people, they perform better, and everyone on the outside reaps the benefits, too. Though the thought of being as transparent and public as Zappos is somewhat intimidating to me (because it’s so novel! [Sad.]), I like the idea that they’ve got nothing to hide. I’m all for putting money where your mouth is.
I’m not all for Hsieh’s spontaneous use of propositions as the end of his sentences. (He gives fair warning in his preface that grammar police will cringe.) I’m also not entirely bought into his take on marketing. In so many words, he kind of operates on the Field of Dreams adage, “If you build it, they will come.” In the age of relatively cheap marketing (Read: social media.), I’ve seen this philosophy applied to so many industries and applications where it simply won’t work. So many startup properties think that as long as their product is good, they don’t have to invest in marketing and PR.
I have a couple of qualms with this theory. First off, I think a number of groups who subscribe to this theory miss the point that your product has to be good. They read the latest social media blog and a cheap light bulb sparks. Then they build something mediocre for an overly saturated industry and, surprise, nothing happens. Being “discovered” takes some luck and some work, buddy. Second, even if your product’s quality is solid and you’ve got a lot of genuine potential, you’re going to end up relying on some well-positioned PR and word of mouth. This makes you dependent on landing in front of the right set of eyes, the early adopters of whatever trend it is that influences your industry. It’s networking, and it is work. Even in a vacuum where you spend zero dollars on traditional marketing and public relations, you’ll need the skill set of some degree of charisma that comes across in in-person introductions or in press. A key someone is going to have to pass you along to a key someone else, and therein lies the heart of PR. Connections are valuable, and the number of connections that marketing and PR departments create should not be overlooked.
Also, I don’t like this font. (Thankfully it’s only used in one section of the book.)
But I do love this:
It’s more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long difficult words but rather short easy words like “What about lunch?”
I think Delivering Happiness, aside from being a great marketing plug for Zappos (Ri-ight?), is really worthwhile for organization leaders to read. Its recommended practices will not work for every industry, but it does at least instill the idea that it’s okay to take a risk with a group. Though the dynamics Zappos went through are extreme and dramatic, it is a swift-moving history that ends up (at least so far) in a great place.
I got a kick out of the scenery surrounding me as I finished the book. On the plane back from San Diego, I was seated between a middle-aged White woman reading Infidelity and a textbook urban-dwelling White man flipping through the business section of the New York Times. Meanwhile, my blue hair needed a touch-up and I was wearing the same lace-striped leggings I wore the day before. Like a proper brat, I carefully placed my ADVANCE READING COPY on my tray table as I wrapped things up. I saw the gentleman to my right turn his chin in DH’s direction. And smugly smiled to myself as I imagined him wondering “How did she get that?”