Full disclosure: I only picked up this book because it was recommended as part of the Happiness Engineer job description.
The first time I checked it out of the library, I might have read 20 pages, and then it sat on my nightstand for weeks. I returned it.
But I really, really want to be a Happiness Engineer. Like a lot. So, I went back to the library and checked it out again, determined to slog my way through it.
I did not expect to enjoy it. At all. Imagine my surprise when I had difficulty putting it down. And then again, as I got deeper into its pages, when it actually began to resonate.
It is a rarity that I get so much affirmation from an organizational, kumbaya, this-is-how-you/we-can-make-the-world-a-better-place-together book. I expected this to be the same. I was so wrong.
I love a book that fills you with joy and hope. This book does that. But only if you’re open to its message.
I loved the unique voice with which he tells the story – in his own words with very little editing. Ordinarily, the grammar mistakes would drive me crazy, but the method by which he tells the story makes it easy (mostly) to overlook those minor flaws.
The first part is mostly autobiographical, in which Tony Hsieh shares several anecdotal stories about the various entrepreneurial enterprises from his early days, both successes and failures. Not only did it make me feel like I had somehow misspent my youth, but also that I have been woefully inadequate in realizing my full potential as a human being. Just slacking.
He covers his early internet success story and goes into great detail of his own (potentially) downward spiral. Lots of parties in grand style. Almost falling trap to the lackadaisical lifestyle to which so many young and rich become victim.
But alas. Hsieh is not one of them.
Because he essentially devoted himself to the fledgling online shoe sales company in which he had invested some capital. Even knowing the outcome (spoiler alert! Zappos makes it), there is some real suspense in those early days and challenges; despite myself, I was actually rooting for them to succeed.
Save your judgement. At least until after you’ve read it.
I enjoyed reading how his focus, and thereby the organization’s, evolved from one that was profit-driven to one that became not only customer-focused but also company-focused. In my experience, lots of corporations love mission statements and employee empowerment and whatever other hot, buzzwords happen to be en vogue. Once you pass the training and introduction phase, however, you rarely hear about it again.
Zappos steps out of that “corporate mold” and really makes it happen. Culture and values. And amen.
And it makes you want to work there. I actually thought about what it would be like to live in Las Vegas.
For a nanosecond.
Their Core Values (page 154):
- Deliver WOW through service.
- Embrace and drive change.
- Create fun and a little weirdness.
- Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded.
- Pursue growth and learning.
- Build open and honest relationships with communication.
- Build a positive team and family spirit.
- Do more with less.
- Be passionate and determined.
- Be humble.
And on page 160:
Our core values should always be the framework from which we make all of our decisions…Make at least one improvement every week that makes Zappos better to reflect our core values. The improvements don’t have to be dramatic–it can be as simple as adding in an extra sentence or two to a form to make it more fun, for example. But if every employee made just one small improvement every week to better reflect our core values, then by the end of this year we will have over 50,000 small changes that collectively will be a very dramatic improvement compared to where we are today.
Can more companies do this? Please?
Better yet. Can more humans?
At the end of the book, Hsieh shifts the focus from Zappos to its people, all people really, and happiness. This was far and away my favorite part.
Think about what it means to improve just 1% per day and build upon that every single day. Doing so has a dramatic effect and will make us 37x better, not 365% (3.65x) better, at the end of the year. Wake up every day and ask yourself not only what is the 1% improvement I can change to make Zappos better, but also what is the 1% improvement I can change to make myself better personally and professionally. In the end we, as Zappos, can’t grow unless we, as individuals, grow too.
I suspect most will gloss over or entirely skip the last chapter. Don’t fall victim to the temptation. It is the best chapter in the book.
There is an actual science of happiness. Who knew? But when I read this small snippet about it … holy wow! So. Much. Sense.
At the end of the day, though, I think it comes down to individuals. Personal growth. Personal happiness. It all starts there. No matter where you work. No matter what kind of company. Whether you work for someone else or for yourself.
We each are a piece to a greater puzzle: our families, our network of friends, our communities, and whatever organization or corporation for which we work.
And if we all start to find happiness in our decisions and our choices (and even the potentially undesirable sacrifices) that we make, then all of those puzzles become far more cohesive.
And hopefully the world in which all of your puzzles and my puzzles coexist becomes a far more gratifying place in which to live.