So today is June 7th, which just so happens to be the day that Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness goes up for sale on Amazon and wherever books are sold. (Zappos CEO’s book goes up on Amazon – so meta!)
Part of the have-a-blog, get-a-book deal is that we all write something about Delivering Happiness on today, the day of the book’s launch, and that we make it honest. I’ve already posted my first reaction to DH, but here’s the follow-up that’s been brewing in my head ever since.
Delivering Happiness is plenty cheesy. Like I said before, it’s not your most esoteric business writing – It’s anything but – But now that I’ve had time to ferment this limited vision of Tony Hsieh in my head, I see a fair degree of arrogance and savvy manipulation that just comes with the territory of publishing such an internally focused piece of PR.
Hsieh was a raver. Not to say I haven’t been to a handful of raves, but he highlights this activity in his life to make him seem off-the-cuff, a new-aged hippie touting the PLUR mantra. A boss guy with more relatable bravado than the Mr. Burns stereotype. He sounds soooo cool for going to raves and listening to some blonde tell him what a beautiful thing he’s created in his swank, expensive SF bachelor pad. His outright dismissal of grammar in the beginning of the book is not just a way to level with his readers and say “Look, I’m not the business school snob other CEOs are,” but it’s also a display of his own awareness of his influence. “I’m Tony Hsieh. I’m writing a book, and I don’t have to stick to the rules.”
This is not to say that DH is bad. It’s still my type of business reading – recounting practice rather than just dispensing top-level theory – but I think it should be recognized as an obvious attempt in changing company cultures. All while being branded as a Zappos method.
Hsieh, while casual and generally open with Zappos’ story, says very little to point out these motives. Me pointing them out may sound like a disgruntled anti-marketing pundit not letting big stars shine, but I think this layer of intention is often dismissed by the general public. I’m sure Hsieh wants DH to come off as the anti-marketing book for branding a business, and his tone is a pretty good distraction from what should be somewhat obvious purposes. (He rarely cites people’s last names, for instance. Buddy-buddy.) His voice is so much just that guy who sits across the table from you telling stories with decent zeal that the basic fact is discreetly masked: This thing was written to push Zappos’ pin deeper into the map.
I still generally liked DH, though the grain of salt in my mind continues to roll and grow as more time passes since I closed the book. Overall, I think the message and the spirit is worth it. I’m hoping it’ll get a lot of companies to change how they operate in a time where job insecurity looms in the zeitgeist of any work environment. When big corporations are letting go of thousands of employees at a time, something becomes very attractive about smaller organizations. Startup-sized companies take on employees knowing fully well that they may just be looking for something else. If your employees are filling their positions “in the meantime,” then you may as well make their jobs as delightful as possible. (And maybe they won’t see their roles as so transitory anymore.)
I agree with Hsieh that it’s really impressive how much innovation one group can come up with when you open communication and build as much of a rapport as possible throughout the ranks. Zappos’ approach, its commitment to customer service, is possibly the easiest application of this theory. Your employees are your internal customers, and if you listen to their ideas about improving customer service, it’ll be close to the kind of treatment they’d want from their own company: open communication in the office led to unparalleled responsiveness to Zappos’ customer support phone lines.
It’s the most basic mirroring: company practices | customer relations
There’s a lot of insight that went into that choice of direction, even though it seems so simple. Companies have been running so differently for decades that we’ve completely forgotten that things could be so open. If it takes Tony Hsieh’s voice to revolutionize the way people run their businesses, then so be it. Just keep in mind the book celebrates Zappos, a company, a large stable of people – not just yer unknown pal Tony – and it sure as Hell wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for some marketing savvy and public relations budget.