Book — Delivering Happiness

I made a list of the happiest periods in my life, and I realized that none of them involved money. I realized that building stuff and being creative and inventive made me happy.

Money and happiness do not correlate linearly. Its relation looks to me like a logarithmic curve, where deltas in money at the very beginning have a huge impact on happiness — because they unlock fundamental and necessary things, such as food, health care or shelter. But as you move to the right, the curve flattens out and additional amounts of money do not have an impact on the overall happiness. At that point, happiness is entirely up to you and what do you want to make of it.

At the end of the book, there is an accurate framework to categorize the types of happiness, and I paraphrase here:

  • Pleasure: is about always chasing the next high. I like to refer to it as the “Rock Star” type of happiness because it’s great if you can have a constant inflow of stimuli, but it’s very hard to maintain unless you’re living the lifestyle of a rock star.
  • Passion: is also known as flow, where peak performance meets peak engagement, and time flies by. Research has shown that of the three types of happiness, this is the second longest lasting. Professional athletes sometimes refer to this state as “being in the zone.”
  • Higher Purpose: is about being part of something bigger than yourself that has meaning to you. Of the three types of happiness, this is the longest lasting.

One of the things that he found from his research was that great companies have a greater purpose and bigger vision beyond just making money or being number one in a market.

This last bullet is also a recurring theme during the book. The idea of "being part of something bigger than yourself", not only at a personal level, but it also can also be extrapolated at a company level.

Having a vision of a higher purpose means being about something bigger than whatever you are selling. It transcends mere profits and drives the whole organization towards a larger goal.

They were expensive lessons, but I guess what I ended up learning was that it’s a bad idea to invest in industries you don’t understand, in companies you don’t have any control or influence over, or in people you don’t know or trust.

I realized that the day-trading and investing I was doing weren’t really fulfilling. I didn’t feel like I was really building anything. It felt more like I was gambling, but with the odds stacked against me because I was investing money in things I didn’t understand.

Do not invest in business you do not understand. There are two main ideas merged together here:

  • Be curious and learn as much as you can. This should be a state of mind by default. It does not matter if you think of the subject as "useless" knowledge, there is no such thing. Everything is related and learning, in opposition of money, compounds and therefore, is exponential.
  • Do not get involved in things just because of money. Money does not have a soul and can't be considered an end in itself. Going back to the first quote: building stuff and being creative and inventive is what really gives life a meaning. Money is a powerful external driver, but it won't get you too far.

To me, connectedness—the number and depth of my relationships—was an important element of my happiness, and I was grateful for our tribe.

Connectedness, and feeling like part of a tribe makes people happy and creates a sense of fulfillment. Both are strong motivators. When a group of people feels connected, like a family, there is a strong sense of obligation to the whole team, to work harder and treat each other better.

Here there are several apparently unrelated, but deeply connected ideas floating around: happiness as a function of building stuff and being creative, getting money and material possessions out of the equation. Then the idea of vision or purpose larger than yourself, which in itself is related with the connectedness and this sense of tribe, empowered by the aforementioned vision.

Every interaction with anyone anywhere was an opportunity to gain additional perspective. [...] I believe that there’s something interesting about anyone and everyone—you just have to figure out what that something is.

Every interaction is an opportunity to learn something new. Each person is unique in some dimension, if you learn how to how to spot that uniqueness and exploit it, you will develop a super power and create an ubiquitous, always available supply of knowledge.

So the challenge to everyone is this: Make at least one improvement every week that makes Zappos better reflect our core values.

There are more references of compounding effects throughout the book, but this particular one is a really good framing of how small improvements can have a huge return over time.

I started thinking about all the things that I took for granted in life, and how much more I should appreciate the things I had.

A clear reference to the stoic negative visualization.

As unsexy and low-tech as it may sound, our belief is that the telephone is one of the best branding devices out there. You have the customer’s undivided attention for five to ten minutes, and if you get the interaction right, what we’ve found is that the customer remembers the experience for a very long time and tells his or her friends about it.

Usually you tend to look at a call center as a cost from an expense minimization lens, a necessary evil that comes from getting more customers. But this fresh perspective on the matter turns this assumption on its head and leverages it to delight the customer once she is on the line.

Hidden Gems

Business

  • Cutting marketing expenses and refocusing on customers who had already bought Zappos forced them to deliver a better customer service.
  • One of the biggest mistakes they made was to outsource on of their core competencies. A third party would never care about your customers as much as you would.
  • Do not try to chase the attention of the press. If you just focus on making sure that your product continually WOWs people, your will naturally create interesting stories as a by-product of delivering a great experience and eventually, the press will find out about it.

Company Culture

In the section about Core Values, you’ll read stories of how Zappos employees apply the same values outside the office. Without a separation of work and life, it’s remarkable how values can be exactly the same.

If you are passionate about something, you do not make any distinction between life and work, it becomes a continuum. You speak about it either during a dinner with friends or a meeting room. The context becomes unimportant.

Have the entire company celebrate great service. Tell stories of WOW experiences to everyone in the company. [...] Over time, as we focused more and more on our culture, we ultimately came to the realization that a company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin.

Celebrating small wins and having employees telling stories - extremely powerful medium - creates an atmosphere of empowerment for the rest of the team.

Be Humble is probably the core value that ends up affecting our hiring decisions the most. There are a lot of experienced, smart, and talented people we interview that we know can make an immediate impact on our top or bottom line. But a lot of them are also really egotistical, so we end up not hiring them.

Sometimes "humble" is negatively associated with "poor" or "lack of resources". But the term "humility" actually comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as "grounded" or "from the earth" which I think is a more accurate definition.

Others can copy our images, our shipping, and the overall look of our Web site, but they cannot copy our people, our culture, or our service. And they will not be able to evolve as fast as we can as long as embracing constant change is part of our culture.

Think of a moat, differentiation or competitive advantage not in the supply chain, not in a patent, but rather in the people, in the culture. Is a really powerful idea.

Leadership

At Zappos, we think it’s important for employees to grow both personally and professionally. It’s important to constantly challenge and stretch yourself, and not be stuck in a job where you don’t feel like you are growing or learning. We believe that inside every employee is more potential than even the employee himself/ herself realizes. Our goal is to help employees unlock that potential. But it has to be a joint effort: You have to want to challenge and stretch yourself in order for it to happen.

To build a great company, you have to pursue growth and learning. Continual growth should be a goal for your overall business and for all the people that are part of it.

The best leaders are those that lead by example and are both team followers as well as team leaders. We believe that in general, the best ideas and decisions are made from the bottom up, meaning by those on the front lines that are closest to the issues and/or the customers. The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and enable his/her direct reports to succeed. This means the best leaders are servant-leaders. They serve those they lead.

Lead by example and create the necessary conditions for others to thrive. Simon Sinek masters this idea: leadership is the practice of putting other people before ourselves in a regular basis.