Summer Reading: Delivering Happiness

What makes you happy?

Does money buy happiness? For some, the immediate answer would be yes. But for Tony Hsieh, entrepreneur and CEO of Zappos.com, the answer is simply no. Happiness is not just an emotion, but a state of mind.

In Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Hsieh tells the story of how he guided Zappos.com from a fledgling start-up to a 1 billion dollar annual business. The (New York Times Best Selling) book is part autobiography, part how-to, and part self-help. Hsieh is not the best writer, (as he openly admits), but his tone is conversational and comfortable. Never does he sound preachy or act like he’s looking down on his audience.

The book uses the theme of happiness to examine the success of Zappos.com. How do we become happy? How do we develop an enriching career? Do you love what you do for work? All questions that Hsieh tries to address. Zappos has separated itself from other online retailers because of it’s outstanding customer service and has become famous for their unique corporate culture. We’re not talking just a ping pong table in the break room here. Zappos has a serious commitment to it’s culture by investing in its people, providing a positive work environment and keeping things “fun and a little weird.” All things companies say they do (or want to), but rarely follow through.

My one beef with the book related directly to Zappos’ number ten core value: Be Humble. I feel like Hsieh is too humble throughout the book and doesn’t stress how smart, creative and lucky he has been. He grew up with a strong family and graduated from Harvard. He quit his first job at Oracle because he was bored and wanted to work with his friend on the Internet. He sold his first company LinkExchange for $265 million to Microsoft in the late nineties before the dot com bubble burst. He walked away from a large Microsoft payout because he couldn’t fake passion for the project. He bet the farm on Zappos and built it up to a point where it became acquired by Amazon in 2009 for one billion dollars in stock. That’s some serious shit, and the dude is still young. And he’s just so humble about it all. Like overly zen. Probably why he’s had so much luck and has been so successful. Hsieh has always thought outside the box and looks for pragmatical solutions in business. Tony is insanely ambitious and for him, working and building a company with like-minded people is his happiness.

Hsieh could have easily checked out two years ago. He’s a very wealthy man. But the thesis of Delivering Happiness seems to be that happiness comes in many forms and is a very personal journey. Zappos’ story is a true rags to riches tale, but like Hsieh writes, it is just an example of how he did things. Companies, entrepreneurs, bosses and workers should not read this book and expect to be successful by mimicking Zappos’ every move. A culture book is not for everyone. Transparent, open communication is difficult for large institutions. Hsieh shows that there are other ways to be successful than the traditional corporate model. Take his lessons and apply them to what works best for you. There is no right or wrong ways. Learn from your mistakes and grow. Happiness is unique. Everyone has a different path.

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