Why "Delivering Happiness" is a must read

The mindset at Zappos is illustrative of the era of engagement.

At Web 2.0 Summit last week, Tony Hsieh explained to the audience that when it came to phone support at Zappos, he had opted to use the phone as a branding tool rather than to focus on expense minimization or revenue maximization (upselling). Zappos is thriving. In his tenure as CEO of Zappos, Tony has made many decisions that might fly in the face of conventional advice, and in his book “Delivering Happiness,” readers gain wisdom from his stories and processes.

For more than 40 years, we’ve escalated our obsession with productivity. From efficiency experts at Disney in the 1960s peering over the shoulders of animators to being accessible 24/7 by checking email and answering the phone in the bathroom today, we have worshipped at the altar of output, efficiency and accessibility. Our productivity- obsessed society manages time and not attention.

At many companies, software developers are rewarded for knocking out the list of features and cranking toward the release date with no emphasis on the quality of the feature being checked. Does it work? Check. Tests ran? Check. Is anyone asking if it’s contributing to the excellence of the product or service? Is there another way, a path to quality results and profitability that is not productivity-obsessed?

One might venture a guess that Apple has found that path. Readers of “Delivering Happiness” realize that this alternate path is the secret sauce at Zappos.

Our productivity-obsessed society is in the more, faster club. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s not. Which is why I started a discussion about post-productivity computing and an era characterized by post-productivity values.

Post-productivity does not mean unproductive. It does mean, let’s take the best and leave the rest, as our burned-out selves, our burned-out workforce and our burned-out economy take steps to move into a thriving and prosperous 21st century. This era of engagement is post-productivity because the motivations and metrics mine, in the best ways, our human assets (positive emotions, positive relationships, meaning, engagement) as well as profitability. I use the term post-productivity primarily as a reminder that a productivity-obsessed approach to an era of engagement takes us right back into the murky swamp.

This is about a new mindset. Tony Hsieh figured it out and last year, 25,000 people applied for the 250 job openings at Zappos. Applicants are enthusiastic to be part of an era of engagement, post-productivity company — selling shoes online, being part of the Zappos team.

Like many of you, I’ve worked in companies that pit employees against each other by rating on a curve. Productivity, which could be contagious, instead, becomes a zero sum game. The brilliant and insightful Stanford professor Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset,” would view this as a management process with a fixed mindset orientation. Hsieh manages Zappos for what Dweck calls a growth mindset, a mindset that welcomes challenges, embraces exuberant learning, and experiences failure as part of positive forward motion.

Once you start reading “Delivering Happines” you’ll feel an irresistible pull to email Zappos for a copy of their “Culture Book”. This crowd-sourced, edited collection of stories bathes the reader in stories of a corporate culture characterized by trust, productivity, joy, and profitability. “Delivering Happiness” is an inspired and inspiring must read for our journey into an era of engagement.


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