Delivering Happiness Doesn’t

I was really jazzed to get a free review copy of Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose from Hatchette Book Group. Earlier, I had read a bunch of praise for the book, such as “Awesome”, “Fascinating”, “Tony reveals the secret of his success at such a young age”, so I began it right away.

Only to find that early on, I started to think the title ought to be “The History of Zappos, an Autobiography of Tony Hsieh, and a Tiny Bit about Happiness.”

I think that where this book falls short is in trying to cover everything, mixing in personal anecdotes, business advice, and company culture, alongside the story of Zappos from startup to being acquired by Amazon. That reflects back on the editor and publisher, including Hsieh’s choice to not use a ghost writer, and speaks volumes about the publishing industry’s attempts to market books by CEOs and entrepreneurs as something more than can be delivered by the content.

Add into that the trend of publishing nothing but positive quotes about the book from well known personalities, and you’ve got a book that is oversold and overhyped and doesn’t deliver. Never mind the statement that it’s number one on the NYT bestseller list – just because something sells to the masses doesn’t mean that it’s superior. It just means the promotion was effective.

Chapters one and two (54 pages) cover Hsieh’s childhood and early business experience, and by chapter two, we’ve already seen Tony and company sell LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265 million, and he’s now become a venture capitalist and startup advisor.

The bulk of the rest of the book (save the last 13 pages, which actually does discuss delivering happiness) is the story of the birth, growth, and sale of Zappos. This is the real book – about 174 pages of lessons learned from running a business, including some of the ways that Zappos created a fun company culture. Unfortunately, there’s also plenty of superfluous and not especially relevant content by both Tony and other Zappos employees, which would have been much better off being published as blog posts on the company site.

By the time I get to chapter 7, titled ‘End Game’, I’ve been wondering for some time just exactly when Hsieh is going to talk about “how by concentrating on the happiness of those around you, you can dramatically increase your own.” And for the last 13 pages, he does, a little. But not enough to save the book, unfortunately.

Don’t get me wrong. Delivering Happiness isn’t a bad book, it’s just an unsuccessful attempt to conjoin a business book and an autobiography, while promising to deliver some insights into happiness. For a CEO or entrepreneur with a business big enough to have employees, there’s certainly plenty of takeaways about customer service and employee retention in there, but it could have been published as a much shorter, more focused book.

With a bit more heavy-handed editing (or ghost writing), Delivering Happiness might have delivered. But I never did figure out just exactly what Passion and Purpose had to do with the book, other than having a passion for making money, which I guess is the purpose he talks about. There’s also a bit of a hint that somehow Zappos is changing the world, but again, I can’t see it. Or at least, I don’t think that building big retail businesses is the change I want to see in the world – perhaps that’s the difference.

I’m sure that Tony Hsieh is a great guy, with plenty of wisdom about running a business, but it just didn’t come through in this book. It left me wondering what the publisher was thinking when they released it. Of course, they may be laughing all the way to the bank…

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

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