Book Review: Delivering Happiness

In April, I was given an advanced reader copy of Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh on the condition that I give it an honest review.   Delivering Happiness is being released today and here is my review.

Tony Hsieh was one of the founders of LinkExchange, which sold to Microsoft for $256 million in 1999.   Shortly thereafter, he became affiliated with Zappos.com and ended up as CEO.   Zappos.com was later sold to Amazon.com as a “wholly-owned subsidiary” in a stock-exchange transaction valued at $1.2 billion.

Delivering Happiness is his story and that of the creation and management of Zappos.com.

The book is divided into three sections: Profits, Passion, and Purpose.

Section 1 is largely autobiographical.    It tells the story of Hsieh’s business ventures all through his life, from a failed worm farm to a failed newspaper to an abandoned greeting card business.    Obviously the business of having children sell greeting cards had improved between his childhood and mine, because, when I did it, there were many more choices than just Christmas cards.  I still have both the telescope and microscope I earned selling overpriced greeting cards. An important lesson imparted is that past success is not an indicator of future success.   Different personalities, goals, and economics can change the result of two nearly identical activities.

Hsieh tells the story of the excitement of building LinkExchange and how he knew it was time to move on when the excitement faded, largely due to a surprising change to the corporate culture.    After leaving, he spent some time just living and reviewing his past activities.  He came to the conclusion that the happiest times of his life didn’t involve money.   Doing things right beats strictly maximizing profits.   Taking business lessons from the poker table, he reminds his readers that the Right Decision may lose sometimes, but it is still Right.

When he gets into building his business on a foundation of relationships, he is reminiscent of Keith Ferrazzi.   Don’t network.   Build your relationships based on friendship and let the friendship be it’s own reward.  The rest will follow.

Section 2–while denying it was intended–reads heavily like marketing copy.   It is almost entirely about how wonderful Zappos.com is to work for and with.   I think it is fascinating to read about how successful businesses are built and how the corporate culture comes with that, but it’s not for everyone.   The important points from this section include being open to necessary change without being reckless and their insistence on transparency.   I don’t believe in hoarding information and it’s wonderful to hear others feel the same way. They go as far as giving all of the profitability and sales numbers to the vendors, live, which makes the vendors feel respected and gives the vendors an opportunity to suggest future orders based on past trends.   That saves time and effort for the buyers at Zappos.com.

Section 3 attempts to tie the business lessons to life lessons and almost–but not quite–succeeds.    After discussing differences in vision and alignment between the Zappos executives and the board, he talks about his growing speaking arrangements.   When he started, he nervously memorized his presentations, resulting in mediocre speeches.   When he discovered his “flow”, it all improved.   His method of writing and speaking involves being passionate about his topic, telling personal stories, and being real. When he adopted that plan, his speaking became natural and popular.

In the final chapter, Hsieh actually discusses happiness.    His equation is Perceived Control + Perceived Progress + Connectedness + Vision & Meaning = Happiness. He works to apply all of this as a part of the corporate culture at Zappos, giving the employees a measure of control over their advancement, duties, and culture.  The employees help write the Corporate Culture book, which is given to all new hires and vendors.   I intend to get a hold of a copy in the near future.  It sounds like a fascinating read.

He also addresses the three types of happiness:  Pleasure, Passion, and Higher Purpose, also described as Rockstar, In The Zone, and Being a Part of Something Bigger.   The first is fleeting, and the last is long-lasting.

Would I recommend the book?

Yes.  I found Delivering Happiness to be incredibly interesting, but, if you have no interest in how a successful-but-not-traditional company is built and run, or if you are bored by successful people, this book is not for you.   The book is largely autobiographical and a case study in the success of Zappos.com.  If that sounds remotely interesting, you will not regret reading this book.

Now, the fun part.   I was given two copies of the book.  The first one is becoming a permanent part of library.  The second is being given away.

Giveaway

There are three ways to enter:

1.  Twitter.   Follow me and post the following: @LiveRealNow is giving away a  copy of Delivering Happiness(@dhbook).   Follow and RT to enter.  http://bit.ly/czd31X

2.  Become a fan on Facebook and post about the giveaway.

3.  Post about the giveaway on your blog and link back to this post.

That’s 3 possible entries.

Next Sunday, I will throw all the entries in a hat and draw a name.

Future Reviews

If you have a book you’d like me to review, please contact me.

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Book Review: Small Message, Big Impact

I was recently given an advanced reader copy of Small Message, Big Impact by Terri L. Sjodin.  It’s a book on crafting an effective and persuasive elevator speech.

Small Message, Big Impact

Small Message, Big Impact

An elevator speech is, according the the author, “a brief presentation introducing a product, service, philosophy or an idea. The name suggests the notion that the message should be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride, up to about 3 minutes.  Its general purpose is to intrigue and inspire a listener to want to hear more of the presenter’s complete proposition in the near future.”  It’s a 3-minute speech you give to intrigue someone enough that they will let you give a real presentation.

A lot of people–probably most–use their 3 minutes of unexpected access as an “information dump”.  They pour as much data as possible into their audience.   According to Sjodin(and I agree!), and elevator speech needs to be primarily persuasive, not informative.  You need to include enough information to back up your persuasive arguments, but too much information is at least as bad, if not worse, than too little.

An elevator speech is either a sales pitch or a waste of time.   You are selling the right to give more detailed information at a later time.   The elevator pitch is not about making the sale.  It’s about advancing the ball toward the eventual sale.

Who needs an elevator pitch?  You do.  Everybody sells. Even if you don’t have a product, a service, or a business, you have yourself.  Can you pitch your boss on why you deserve a raise or a promotion?

The author walks you through creating an elevator speech that takes advantage of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence to advance your goal, whatever that is.   She’ll teach you how to grab your audience’s attention and make them recognize a need for change.   You’ll offer a solution, help them see the super-ninja-awesome future you’re offering, and give them a clear call to action.   All in 3 to 5 minutes.   Small Message, Big Impact will also teach you  to provide a clear progression through those steps, making it easy for your target to say yes.

You’ll learn the basic outline of an elevator speech, including how to grab your target’s interest, build a persuasive case, and establish credibility when you’ve been surprised with a few moments of access.  The three pieces of any successful presentation, from an elevator speech to a full-day presentation are

  1. Case.  If you can’t make your case, nothing else matters.
  2. Creativity.  You won’t win by being the same as everyone else.  The same product, the same service, the same buzzwords won’t differentiate yourself from the competition.
  3. Delivery.  Stumbling, stammering, and talking to the wall will make the the best product and the most creative presentation sound like crap, every time.  You need to build your presentation and practice it, so you come across and smooth an knowledgeable.

One of the best ways to sound credible, which will assist your delivery like nothing else, is to use an authentic voice.  Be sincere and sound it.   Believe in the material and yourself.   Know the material–inside and out–and practice it until you can deliver it smoothly, even if that means enlisting a friend for speech practice.

Of the books I’ve reviewed, I think this is my favorite.  If you need to design an elevator speech or improve the one you’ve been using, you should read this book.   Even if you don’t care about an elevator speech, the book provides a decent education on persuasive selling that easily carries over to the written word.

How would you(or do you) use an elevator speech?

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Book Review: Social Nation

I recently had an opportunity to read Social Nation: How to harness the power of Social Media to attract customers, motivate employees & grow your business by Barry Libert.  Heckuva title.

Libert is the the CEO at Mzinga, which is a company that connects other companies–and their customers–using social media to collaborate and communicate.  Social media is, quite simply, using the internet to drive interactive communication.  This includes Twitter, Facebook, and forums.  Sometimes, it’s just discussion, sometimes, it’s sharing user-generated content.

Social Nation “will show you, as an employee, customer or partner, how to use new social technologies, make yourself heard, and produce better products and services.”   It bills itself as a “complete toolbox” for social media.   Does it match the hype? Let’s see.

The book is broken into three sections.

Part 1: The Future of Business is Social

Libert asserts that the future of business is social.   That is obviously true, to a degree. A solid viral marketing campaign can drive more eyeball to a product than a full-page spread in the New York Time or a 30-second spot during Super Bowl halftime.  However, there are a lot–possibly a majority–of business-to-business companies that will gain no value from a social media campaign.   Would a regional supplier with an exclusive distributorship for a top-name line of faucets benefit from being on Twitter?  No.  On the other hand, 17% of our time online is spent on social applications and the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 35 years old or older.  There is certainly some value to be gained by have a social media presence in some markets.

This section(all of chapter 3!) also contains a link to a test to determine your social media skills.   I haven’t taken the test, mainly because I don’t feel like registering for another site.  This struck me as nothing more than lead generation, which is a shame.  It could be a useful tool.

Part 2: Seven Principles for Building Your Social Nation

This section has seven chapters, containing 7 case studies that detail the 7 principle of social media, as defined by Libert and Mzinga.

The principles include:

  • Let the culture lead the way, as demonstrated by Zappos.com.
  • Involve your fans.  The big takeaway from chapter 8 is that, when you create a community, your job is to facilitate involvement, not to control it.  If you try to run it with an iron fist, it will choke and die.
  • Reward others and you will be rewarded. Apple lets developers keep 70% of the money they make in the app store.  That encourages developers to develop, making everyone more money.   Give.  Karma will take care of the rest.
  • There are 4 other principles, but some are just common sense, and I don’t want to give away the contents of the book.

Part 3: Start Today and Create Your Own Social Nation

aka

Chapter 11: How to Get Started and 10 Pitfalls to Avoid

Section 3 has just one chapter, but it’s a good one.    It explains the difference between followers and fans, the value of each and how to bond with each.   The difference?  Fans are actively involved.   Followers are far more passive.

This section/chapter also goes into some things to avoid, like abandoning a social media strategy too early, failing to market your business, underestimating the power(positive and negative) of a social network.

Is it worth getting the book?

Social Nation bills itself as a complete social media toolbox, but it falls a bit short.   The book tackles social media from a purely strategic point of view, ignoring the tactical concerns.   It’s clearly geared toward helping a company plan its social media strategy from a 10,000 foot perch.   For the people in the trenches, or anyone with a grasp of strategy that’s looking for the details on running a social media campaign, it’s not enough.  That said, if you are trying to plan a social media strategy, or you have no idea where to start, this is a great book for you.   It holds a lot of value, but stops some distance before “complete”.  Definitely worth a read if you are involved is social media planning.

Giveaway

I’m giving away Social Nation.   If you’d like to have a chance to get it, just leave a comment, telling me how you like to see companies use social media.  Fair warning, this is the book I read, so it’s “used”.   I take care of books, so you can’t tell that it’s used.

Publishers, Publicists, and Authors

If you have a book you’d like me to review, please contact me.

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Book Review: The Art of Non-Conformity

The Art of Non-Conformity

The Art of Non-Conformity

We grew up in a world of expectations: Eat your vegetables, don’t poop on the carpet, do your homework. It continues right up to “Go to college”, “Get married”, “Having a dozen kids”. Are those the expectations you want to use to guide your life?

Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity (the blog and the book) puts the question like this: We we were younger, we heard “If everyone else was jumping off of a cliff, would you do that too?” In theory, that meant we were supposed to think for ourselves. Yet, as adults, we are absolutely expected to conform and do the things everyone else is doing. Work your 40, take a week’s vacation once a year, and repeat until retirement or death.

Is that our only choice?

The Art of Non-Conformity attempts to be a guidebook, showing you how to live the live you want to live. Chris has made a lifelong series of decidedly unconventional choices, from dropping out of high school to attending 3 colleges simultaneously to spending 4 years as a volunteer in Africa. For the past few years, he has been working his way through visiting every country in the world. He is an expert on non-conformity.

The books tells a lot (a LOT) of stories of people who have either made the leap into a self-defined life or people who have done nothing but talk about taking that leap while staying comfortable in their soul-numbing careers.

The Good

The Art of Non-Conformity is an inspirational book. It spends a lot of time explaining how to break through the wall of fear to take control of your like. More important, it explains why you’d want to. It does not pretend to define how you should live your life, it just provides the framework for the mentality to help you make that decision for yourself.

The Bad

If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide, complete with a list of possible work-alternatives, this isn’t the book for you. This book approaches lifestyle design from the conceptual end rather than the practical. If you want a practical manual, I’d get the 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris. Ideally, you should get both. They complement each other well.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. If you’re considering taking a non-standard path or just hate the career- or life-track you are on, you should read The Art of Non-Conformity. I’m planning to read it again in a couple of weeks, just to make sure I absorb all of the lessons.

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