Delivering Happiness

Can a company really deliver happiness?  That is a question that Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh tries to answer in his new book, Delivering Happiness (out today!). He certainly delivered happiness to me as a blogger when I received a free review copy of the book a couple months ago.  With that disclosure taken care of, let me go into what I hope will be a fair review.

Delivering Happiness was a quick and easy read.  Hsieh writes in a casual conversational style and claims in the introduction that he did not employ a ghostwriter.  I finished the book the night I got in the mail.  Despite his own self-deprecation about his writing ability, I appreciate the conversational tone and the authenticity of his personal voice.  As far as books written by CEOs of successful companies go, Delivering Happiness is definitely not douchey.  I have to admit, I don’t usually read business management books, nor have I ever shopped at Zappos, but I was intrigued by the offer of a free book.

Hsieh delivers sage business advice in a simple and earnest way while interweaving it with his own personal narrative. As a brief aside, in the spirit of Hsieh’s personal narrative style, I’ll interweave some of my own personal narrative into this review.  Hsieh and I have a lot in common.  We are both the sons of Taiwanese immigrants who grew up in suburbia.  Both of our last names start with H.  And speaking of the letter “H”, to drop the H-bomb, we both went to Harvard. We were both forced (um, I mean, strongly encouraged) by our parents to learn piano and some sort of string instrument growing up (in Hsieh’s case the violin, in mine, the cello).  I have to admit, as someone who didn’t grow up with many Asian-American role models outside of my own family, these kinds of commonalities made me really identify with Hsieh’s story and personal journey.

Hsieh emphasizes the importance of building a strong and distinctive corporate culture as the path to business success.  He has done this at Zappos by maintaining transparency and a personal touch in management, and hiring and training employees in a way that infuses Zappos with its distinctive culture.  For example, Hsieh talks about how prospective employees are asked questions like “how weird are you?” and how Zappos offers new employees $2000 to quit after their training period just to make sure they are getting people who are really committed.

Just so I don’t come across as a total fanboy, the last paragraph will be critical. There were a few awkward bits in the book.  One is just a slightly typography technicality, but my designer side can’t help it.  There are several fonts used in the book, but the one used for quoting the Zappos Core Values Document (page 159), was a bit hard to read for such a long excerpt (maybe they have changed that for the final publication version though).  In terms of content, the part about Hsieh’s first experience with rave culture could have been shorter, and might have been a bit self-indulgent, but once again, I appreciate the personal, almost naive candor and honesty, and very much jive with Hsieh’s persona as a “hip, iconoclastic CEO” (I got that one from the book cover).  At the same time, the side note about how much Hsieh loves Red Bull was just plain weird (tacky product plug, or just an over-enthusiastic fanboy?).  Then again, if I ever get the chance to write a book about myself, I would welcome gladly the sponsorship of any of my uppers of choice (any matcha or yerba mate producers out there reading this?).

Don’t take my word for it though.  Delivering Happiness is a breezy entertaining read for anyone interested in building different kind of corporate culture, that optimizes both financial success and, well, happiness.  I’m happy I read the book and happy that you made it all the way through my review.  Have a nice day!

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