When an Online Business Says Yes to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

by | Jun 4, 2010

I admit it, I love Zappos. A huge selection, great prices, and free shipping (on returns, too) make an irresistible combination. But irresistible as these are, they’re not why I love this company.
Zappos transformed the world on online business, infusing it with personality and a level of customer care that blew the top off anything that had been done before. But this, too, isn’t why I love the company.
I love Zappos because of its contagious culture.
Tony Hsieh (pronounced shay), the CEO of Zappos, captures the company’s culture in his book, Delivering Happiness, A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. People in large companies should read it to shake up the hidebound policies and procedures that keep employees from rocking out and customers from experiencing down to their toenails satisfaction.
But if you read this blog, you probably aren’t in a large organization. Most likely you are (or want to be) self-employed.
So the question of the hour is, what does this book have for you?
In a word, heaps.
Here are a few highlights.
Character is not enough

“For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.”
When you’re self-employed, it’s easy to conflate character and culture. You may relate to your clients and customers as if your character should be enough to attract them. And it’s just not.
Culture is bigger than one person, and a successful one-person business has a culture bigger than the owner. Culture invites participation in and connection among clients, vendors, colleagues, and other stakeholders.
If your culture is constrained by fear, self-doubt, and creative self-absorption, prospective clients will be left out in the cold. Even if they love your work, there’s no space or path for them to become raving fans.
The difference between fear and foresight

Even a thriving company like Zappos took a hit in 2008. After much agonizing, the company decided to lay off employees. For a culture that valued employees as highly as Zappos’, this was a radical decision.
What leapt out at me about the decision is that it was made from a place of strength and confidence. The company’s leadership had the foresight to know that costs needed to be cut. And the cuts were made before drastic measures were required so that laid off employees received about two months’ severance pay (more for employees who had been with the company for more than three years).
Zappos also offered to reimburse laid off employees for up to six months of COBRA payments (continuing insurance coverage). Because Zappos made the hard decision out of foresight rather than fear, it was able to continue its tradition of extraordinary respect and care for employees.
The lesson for those of us who are self-employed is to keep our eyes open. To look at the economic realities of our businesses rather than closing our eyes and holding on for dear life. And when we make difficult decisions, to make them early rather than late.
Delivering happiness
Tony Hsieh is obsessed with purpose. He observed what people said about their goals in life. And ultimately he found that, if you keep asking why a certain thing is important, everyone lands at “it will make me (and others) happy.”
Happiness, however one defines it, is the end of the journey. (In fact, it’s so important that the pursuit of happiness is part of the USA;s Declaration of Independence.)
In 2007, Hsieh began to study happiness in earnest. He learned about positive psychology and Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. And based on what he learned, he identified three kinds of happiness.
Three kinds of happiness
Pleasure. Pleasure is about highs. It’s transitory, depending on an immediate stimulus. Once the stimulus is removed the pleasure is gone. Nothing wrong with this, provided it doesn’t lead to addiction.
Passion. Also known as flow, this level of happiness comes being in the zone where you do your best work and time flies.
Purpose. The highest level of happiness is being part of a higher purpose. Of all the levels, this is the most sustained.
When your work is built on purpose, you can layer on passion and pleasure. They won’t take you off track because the enduring happiness nature of purpose keeps the shorter term forms of happiness from leading you into compulsive patterns.
Its a formula that works for the individual as well as the corporation. And when you use that formula, your work, too, can deliver happiness.
Delivering Happiness is a quick read that can shift your thinking about business and open your eyes to the relationship among profits, passion, and purpose. A thriving business (and one that serves its clients well) requires all three.
Disclosure. I received a complementary advance copy of this book. The link is an affiliate link. Huzzah!