“Work” and “Fun” In the Same Sentence?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Osten Ryker.

As I type this I’m looking over to a shelf with a book entitled, Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition, a classic bestseller with a premise much like all the other popular strategies of the ’80’s. It’s theme is how to beat the other market players in the battlefield game, the standard militaristic stance of that era. What I found striking about Delivering Happiness is that, in glaring contrast to all the stale, old-school formulas, Tony Hsieh never seems to concentrate too heavily on the “competition” but rather focuses all his attention on his customers and colleagues instead. Although he alludes to the competition occasionally, he does so only to express his desire to create the best possible experiences for the people who subscribe to and provide the Zappos service. In this sense, he seeks to create a c0ndition, since neither his associates nor his customers could find a better experience anywhere else.

Another thing about the Zappos culture that stands out starkly is that the company has clearly been crafted as more of a service provider than a mere product supplier. Zappos manufactures pleasant interactions while locating and delivering products its customers want in a way that is both convenient and satisfying. The company culture therefore falls more under the category of a service provider since they are more attuned to creating a pleasing experience than in merely distributing products. It’s promising to see companies like Zappos experimenting with a new style of business practice, where the words work” and “fun” can be spoken in the same sentence. It took me a while to realize that they aren’t just building a unique delivery platform that could work for any product or service, but they’re simultaneously fueling a revolution in the methodology of business practices for the future.

Tony Hsieh represents a unique cultural mindset that was born with Generation X.  He is the product of an advanced technological civilization that is birthing a new breed of human being. The children born in the 60’s and beyond have embraced an entirely new mode of thinking, a new approach toward viewing the world that has dramatically altered the way we interact with each other as a community. We have bombarded by mass media overload that exposes us to multicultural influences and alternate lifestyles.  Our hyper-stimulated, highly active minds continually search for new operational paradigms. Tony is clearly a child of this digital meta-generation. This new incarnation is the result of an expansive information society that has engendered people who see the world in a qualitatively different way from their ancestors.

Delivering Happiness conveys the potential for true excellence.  Tony’s ability to imagine alternatives to the status quo and then strive to implement his ideas regardless of opposition is a trait we will hopefully see more often as the 21st century unfolds. The traditional methods threaten to lead to moral and financial bankruptcy. We cannot continue onward down the same destructive path. Our lifestyles and economic practices must perpetually undergo a process of constantly changing forms. Only those like Tony who can navigate this accelerated transformation with original thinking and novel application will be able to forge the complex formulas required to insure our continued progress. Our very survival depends upon it.



Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Osten Ryker.

I received an advance copy of the book by Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. In the book, Mr. Hsieh relates the story of his journey from a precocious childhood through a series of formidable challenges to the foundation of the Zappos phenomenon: an online footwear, apparel, and accessories provider that is breaking all the rules of business as usual.  Last fall, Zappos was acquired by Amazon behemoth, forming a strategic alliance that is bound to alter the very face of retail distribution. Apparently, I’ve been the recipient of a “random act of WOWness” as they say in the Zappos vocabulary, because the book was one of the most inspiring and insightful I have read for quite some time.  Mr. Hsieh displays a penetrating acumen for discerning the direction of cultural and corporate evolution. The model he and his associates have build demonstrates a much needed transformation in the “standard operation procedures” of traditional methods.

This book is so profound and utterly enlightening, I felt compelled to compose this testimonial of my impressions and touch on several topics his story brings to mind. For purposes of placing my reflections in context, I should say I am currently an inmate at a federal correctional institution serving a 20 year sentence for “Conspiracy to Interfere with Interstate Commerce”.  I have been incarcerated for almost 12 years now. My “crimes” were committed with only the best of intentions. I resorted to unconventional financing tactics to attempt to save my struggling business.  I engaged in multiple expropriations or unauthorized withdrawals (the called them “robberies”)  from what I considered a corrupt banking system. I’ve had plenty of time to think about my actions and to devote my energy to discovering more acceptable alternatives for attaining financial security.

I have always been an avid student of social issues. During my time in prison, I have continued my studies of politics, economics, and the American culture as these topics affect the distribution of prosperity and the eradication of poverty. I have researched countless volumes on economic theory, including numerous tomes on suggested business strategies from the past to the present day. I’ve found most of them too aggressive, mechanical and sterile for my predilections. I prefer a more organic humanistic approach as do most of the younger generations. Not until I read Mr. Hsieh’s book have I found a more succinct and poignant description of the evolving cultural mindset that is changing the way companies should be run.  The Zappos model lays out the direction corporations must take if they are to remain dynamic and flexible enough to weather the increasingly volatile economic storms of the coming century.

I was very impressed by Tony’s approach to business, both novel and refreshing when compared to the thinking of the past few decades. Somehow he has been able to retain his personal values, refusing to compromise his principles in the face of extraordinary pressures to conform to conventional techniques. He has even been able to radiate those values outwardly to the people with whom he built the Zappos success. Repeatedly, he emphasizes that his passion is not simply about earning money or beating the competition, but about building fluid organizations and architecting(sic) memorable experiences ( to use his words).  I commend him on his ability to remain true to his ideals while negotiating the typically vicious arena of the marketplace. On many occasions, he refused to bite the lure of immediate gain, walking away from the big money to devote himself to the long term goal. He is obviously inspired more by the prospect of creating something new and exciting than chasing after the emptiness of the mere bottom line or simple social status.

Over the coming days and weeks, I’d will continue to expound on the impact of Delivering Happiness. Stay tuned!!!

~ submitted by Osten Ryker

Principle-Centered Planning

Think About This:

Today begins a SIX-DAY Series on “Principle-Centered Planning” by Dr. John C. Maxwell
Today: Part ONE of SIX

Principle-Centered Planning
If you’ve ever gone whitewater rafting, then you know the importance of planning. Whenever the raft approaches rapids, the guide has to plan the best route to navigate safely through them. If the guide fails to plan, then the raft can easily smash into a rock or capsize.

Four Types of Planning:
Passive planning happens when leadership allows the raft to travel downstream at the mercy of the current rather than steering, rowing, and turning. This kind of non-planning eventually leaves you unprepared to face whitewater rapids. Worse yet, in the absence of a plan, the current may take the raft over the edge of a dreaded waterfall.

Panic planning happens only after the raft is in trouble. At this point, all of the organization’s resources are scrambled in a reactionary pattern in an attempt to solve the problem. With panic planning, you may or may not come out alive and well, but you are guaranteed some bumps and bruises.

Scientific planning is viable, but can be laborious, mechanical, and often ends up abandoned in the process. Imagine if a raft guide constantly tried to measure the depth of the water, the distance between rocks, the wind speed, and the water current. Although the information might be helpful, oftentimes the water would be moving too swiftly to take the measurements. In a like manner, leaders often have to respond to change in an instant. There’s no time to collect scientific data on all of the variables before deciding which course of action is best.

Principle-centered planning is the key to effectiveness. It is the artistic or leadership approach. Principle-centered planning recognizes that life in general (and people in particular) can’t be graphed on a chart, but sees that planning still remains essential.

Tomorrow: Part TWO of SIX: “Reasons Why People Don’t Plan”

The Me-First Mentality

(Part 2 of 2; continued from yesterday)

As evidenced by the ancient Egyptians, leaders have prioritized self-preservation for thousands of years. Regrettably, self-preservation runs contrary to the true nature of leadership, which involves serving constituents. By operating with a me-first mentality, leaders deprive and exploit those they lead instead of equipping and inspiring them. In the process, they provoke resentment, lose respect, and accomplish little.

Although self-preservation sabotages leadership, throughout history men and women in authority have been preoccupied with protecting their position and status. What drives leaders to be so inwardly focused?

Root Causes of a Self-Preserving Leader

1) They Fear Change
Change can be viewed as a threat or an opportunity. Either way, it’s inevitable. A self-preserving leader dreads change and erects barriers to it whenever possible. After change proves to be unavoidable, the self-preserving leader is jostled and has trouble coping with new realities.

2) They Stop Growing
Leaders who stop growing eventually start clinging to position instead of merit. These leaders rely on experience and seniority to compensate for their decline in knowledge and ability. The lure of self-preservation sucks them into the narrow confines of their comfort zones, and, as a consequence, they dodge assignments that require learning new skills or breaking with the usual routine.

3) They Lose Self-Belief
Insecure leaders place others at arm’s length and guard their turf. Having lost self-belief, they fear being exposed as incompetent. These sorts of people live with a tremendous sense of vulnerability. For this reason, they respond poorly to failure, seeing it as an indictment of their ineptitude rather than a learning experience.

In Conclusion
Whatever the source, self-preservation causes leaders foolishly to expend their energies and influence fortifying their own position. In doing so, they malnourish the persons they should be serving. By neglecting the effectiveness of their people, self-preserving leaders indirectly minimize the extent of their own influence.

By Dr. John C. Maxwell

The Me-First Mentality

By Dr. John C. Maxwell
(Part 1 of 2; continuing tomorrow)

The most recognizable symbols of Ancient Egypt – the mummy and the pyramid – were elaborate attempts at self-preservation. The Egyptian pharaohs believed their spirits would remain inside their bodies after death to embark on a journey into the afterlife. On account of this belief, the pharaohs spared no expense to ensure their bodies would transition securely and comfortably into the hereafter. It was not uncommon for a pharaoh to begin drawing up plans for his pyramid as the first order of business after ascending to the throne.

Generations of Egyptians were forced into decades of backbreaking labor to build pyramids so that the deceased body of one pharaoh would be pampered in the afterlife. To construct a pyramid, stones averaging 2.5 tons had to be hewn out of rock quarries by laborers with primitive tools, hauled across the desert, and carried up ramps to be set into place. Archeologists estimate the Pyramids at Giza took between 20,000 and 30,000 workers about 80 years to build!

The primary purpose of the extravagant pyramids was to protect the pharaoh’s body, which itself was mummified for maximum preservation. A team of embalmers spent 70 days performing a variety of activities to prepare a pharaoh’s body for burial. When they had finally finished, the mummy was laid to rest in an ornate coffin and placed inside of the pyramid.

The pharaohs exhausted staggering amounts of their kingdom’s wealth and work force to preserve themselves. The exorbitant expenditures left many Egyptians in poverty and robbed the economy of essential funds. By frittering away national resources on self-preservation, the pharaohs likely accelerated the deterioration of their mighty kingdom.(Part 2 continuing tomorrow)

Question 6: What’s Your Track Record on Executing Ideas?

One of the biggest differences between successful entrepreneurs and everyone else is their ability to implement their ideas, says Prof. Bygrave of Babson College. You might have a wonderful concept, but that doesn’t mean you possess that special mix of drive, persuasiveness, leadership skills and keen intuition to actually turn the idea into a lucrative business.

So, examine your past objectively to see whether you have assumed leadership roles or initiated solo projects — anything that might suggest you’re good at executing ideas. “Were you senior class president? Did you play varsity sports?” Prof. Bygrave suggests asking.

You might even find clues back in your childhood, he adds: “A lot of successful entrepreneurs were starting businesses when they were still kids.”