Tim Dobson and I swapped books. It was one of those crazy internet things where I randomly sent him a copy of Unlocking the Clubhouse, and Tim bought me a copy of Delivering Happiness. We don’t see each other much, so we did this using Amazon.
This is the story of that book. This is definitely not the sort of book I would normally read thing. So that’s good thing. There’s no point in sending me a book that it is already on my reading list: much more interesting to be sent something slightly quirky.
Tony Hsieh is CEO of Zappos.com, and the book is about how he discovered how to make Zappos.com great (hint: by “Delivering Happiness”). I hadn’t heard of Zappos.com when I got the book, and having read it, I’m still not sure if I should’ve heard of Zappos. I think this is mostly geographical. I’m in the UK and Zappos seem to be a North American shoe e-tailer. Haha. “e-tailer”. Yes, the book is largely a story about _that_ era, when selling things online was novel enough to be talked about (to quote: “There will never be another 1997”).
I have to get one thing out of the way. Typography. Generally, the typography and book design drifts between mediocre and terrible. The main body text is just fine. But the line length is too long and the margins too small. There are many quotes in the book, extracts from emails and blog posts and so on, and in some sections Zappos employees have been invited to write a few paragraphs. These displays are poorly designed. No consideration of visual flow, and alarming and inconsistent choice of font. The whole thing gives the impression of having been done by dumping the whole lot into a Word document, fiddling with the fonts a bit, and then posting off to a print-on-demand publisher without ever having been edited. As one of the reviewers in the blurb says: “honest, passionate and humble, fun and a little weird”.
It really could have done with a little bit of book design and/or editing.
What about the content and the message? It’s a fun read. Despite my quip about it not being edited, it has at least been proofread. It’s self indulgent and egotistical. It’s written as if I already know who Tony Hsieh is and all about the california start-up scene of the late 1990s. Despite all that, I like it.
It is a story of journeys. Tony’s journey from childhood to Zappos, and then Zappos’ journey. There is a real central crisis: at one point Tony and other key people are deciding whether to kill Zappos, which they love but they didn’t create but which they did nurture, or to become even closer to Zappos. The book is about Zappos, so, obviously they decided to get closer. The second journey of how Zappos grows is the more interesting story. It’s illustrated with many amusing anecdotes not just from Tony, but personal (and badly typeset) stories from staff and friends too.
It is in this journey that Tony discovers happiness. Or rather, discovers how happiness can improve a business, and ultimately realises that it may be the key to improving the world. The closing parts of the book read like a call to arms. Arms to embrace happiness and each other, not arming for war. The US edition has one of the flash things on the corner but instead of saying “Fork me on github” it says “Join the movement”. Kinda creepy.
The book is very quotable and says many things I already agree with: On quitting a boring job at Oracle: “be in control of our own destiny”. On making the mistake of buying logistics rather than building it: “we should never outsource our core competency”.
Tony writes openly and passionately. There are definitely interesting things to read. Ideas that you might want to consider applying to your company, your hires, your life, your friends. It won’t all stick, but I don’t think it has to.
Thanks Tim for delivering “Delivering Happiness” to me!