For this blog I thought I would try something a bit different: a joint book review. As some of you may know, I am a rainy-day reader of business advice books. Why? Because they are empowering. Art criticism books, though fun to read, are rarely empowering.
Don’t get me wrong: nothing is more hopeful than the enterprise of art.
Writing about art, well, that is a bit different. And though there are a few great art history books, it’s hard to find the same kind of empowerment as in business books. This is odd to me, because art and entrepreneurship are often about the same thing: making it happen.
While the art world has classics with titles like “Art and Fear,” the world of entrepreneurship has books with these titles: “Start Something That Matters” and “Delivering Happiness.” You tell me which books of those three that YOU would like to review. That’s right, the latter two. So here we go!
Both books take the reader on a personal journey as well as a journey through a corporate history. Each book suggests that one cannot be extricated from the other, that life and enterprise must weave together as neatly or as messily as they must. These lessons combine to produce a company culture, core values, and a core competency or mission.
We will start with the TOMS book (which has since launched a movement)
A key lesson to learn from Start Something That Matters is contained in this excerpt:
“When I started TOMS, people thought I was crazy. In particular, longtime veterans of the footwear industry (shoe dogs, as they’re called) argued that the model was unsustainable or at least untested – that combining a for-profit company with a social mission would complicate and undermine both. What we’ve found is that TOMS has succeeded preciselybecause we have created a new model.”
The famous TOMS model of one-for-one, though innovative and expected to fail during its inception, is it’s key success point. Buy a pair of TOMS shoes, and a child in need gets a pair of shoes. Even if you buy the Start Something That Matters book, a book is donated. That’s how TOMS works, and always has.
The model of Corporate Social Responsibility is old news by now. Everyone knows that it’s good to have your company volunteer, limit waste, use green products, ect, ect.
But what is new news is that companies that work social responsibility into their business plans also succeed financially in addition to, well, doing all-around good.
This seminal article reveals the depth of links betwen CSR and financial performance. A touchstone here is Reputation – which TOMS thrives upon both by word of mouth and by its one-for-one policy.
The last sentence in the conclusion of this article reads:
“Corporate virtue in the form of social and, to a lesser extent, environmental responsibility is rewarding in more ways than one.”
If you grew up in the 90s or if you pay attention to any kind of manufacturing activism, you probably have your own imagining of a Nike factory in China emblazoned on your memory. Non-socially responsible business practices call to mind a small Chinese child slaving for 3.20$ a week, sewing until her fingers bleed, eating only government provided meals at her school (if she does go to school). Beautiful and status-endowing shoes, it would seem, emerge from the most humble of hands.
TOMS shoes are still made overseas. The company is transparent about its practices, and this is more transparent than just about any other shoe company out there.
The below graphic reflects a spectrum of corporate social responsibility, where some corporations ‘just get by,’ while others not only get by but give back.
Bare —- Good —- Better
What makes TOMS a particularly revolutionary company is that it skipped a step before anyone even thought about there being a ‘good’ step. It transcended the oh-so-typical shoe business model of doing the bare minimum to doing better, which means that it also does good. There might be a fourth category here, a corporation which follows a Best model for CSR. But you can visualize the Better category as a Better/Best category.
The Zappos book, Delivering Happiness, overflows with lovable biographical anecdotes from the life of Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh. In one memorable episode, a child Tony Hsieh builds a dirt box of earthworms as a business. The worms, after just a few weeks, seem to disappear, much to young Tony’s dismay.
Images in this blog are excerpted from the comic book version of Delivering Happiness, available from Round Table Comics
The utter failure of his worm box, strangely enough, seems like the only disheartening failure in the book; as Tony Hsieh grows up and continues to rock at high school, college, young professionalism, and life in general. The saddest thing that happens to him is a depressing period where he hates waking up in the morning. Who hasn’t been here? You can’t help but feel for him. What distinguishes Hsieh from the crowd is that he uses this experience to change his life. And he never forgets it.
None of Tony Hsieh’s failures seem like failures, because he is A) Positive about failure and B) Learns from everything that happens to him.
Throughout this book, Tony Hsieh reveals himself to be a positive-attitude leader as well as a business leader. Thus the title, Delivering Happiness, which, like TOMS, has become a movement in addition to a company outlook.
Throughout the book he about life and community as a 90s raver, even adopting the acronym PLUR as a sort of life/business model – perhaps the best use of the term outside the grounds of a mega-rave.
Tony Hsieh was a party-maker – he created experiences. He went from a semi-skeptical rave-goer who barely understood electronic music to an enlightened Plur kid who rustled up smoke machines for his penthouse apartment parties. Like any good party person, he gathered awesome people around him. Like any good businessman, he made things happen.
The too-popular image of a burnout or a party monster refuses to cloud the spirit of this book, and surely Tony’s life. The ghost of guilt tries to conjure itself a few times, such as when a fire department must investigate Hsieh’s ‘smoking’ apartment, but it disappears as fast as it assembles.
Tony Hsieh, in the book’s mythos, is too much of a winner for such things to trouble him. And though the book must skip over some of the possible negative consequences of partying (it just has to, or these are the purest parties on the planet), one feels that this editing choice isn’t done out of fear, just out of a resolute positive attitude.
There’s no Lion King moment where Tony decides to cast aside his party-happy life and assume austere responsibility – no, the element of celebration is there up until the end of the book, where his overjoyed employees remind him of peace-loving ravers, dancing in sync to a refreshed corporate beat. The drop, in this case, was Amazon’s acquiring of Zappos.
The key is personal balance, understanding, and true respect for his workers. Without these qualities, the company and the celebration would fall apart. Party’s over.
Zappos as a company is rife with eyebrow-raising corporate policies: newly-hired employees can accept a 2,000$ check after two weeks of work if they choose to quit. This policy may seem extreme and abusable, as some (or many) employees could squeeze into Zappos, quit, and walk out with an instant 2,000$. The philosophy behind this practice is that anyone who takes the mini-buyout is not the kind of person Zappos is looking for.
It makes sense, and it even makes sense in the frame of party philosophy. Would you want to party with buyout-snatching person like that for years on end? It doesn’t seem like much a good time.
Unlike TOMS, there is little CSR that is mentioned in the Zappos book, though this keeps in line with each shoe company’s particular mission statement. All notions of responsibility, in Zappos, are geared toward the Zappos customer and the Zappos employee. Everyone involved in a Zappos transaction is happy.
Now, if shoe manufacturers took a page, just a page, from Tony Hsieh’s book, the shoe world overall would be a much happier place.