This interview with Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, was conducted at the Zappos corporate headquarters in Henderson, Nevada. It was conducted some months ago, before the sale to Amazon. It is rare that a CEO of a large company talks about happiness, but Tony is clearly not the average CEO.
Wisdom 2.0 Interview with Tony Hsieh
What are some of the teachings or writings that have influenced you, things that have framed how you approach Zappos and your life?
One of our core values here is "to pursue growth and learning," and in the lobby is something called The Zappos Library, where I put books that have impacted me. Some of them are even required reading here. For me personally, the past year or so I have been really influenced by this field called the "science of happiness." One great book in this field is The Happiness Hypothesis; Peak is another great book.
When Zappos first started, the main idea was, "Let's sell a lot of shoes and be number one in that market." We did that for the first few years, and then we all sat around one day and asked ourselves, "What do we want to be when we grow up? Do we just want to be about shoes or do we want to be about something more meaningful?"
We decided that we wanted the Zappos brand to be about the best customer service. The initial motivation was that we could sell more items beyond shoes, but a funny thing happened. We learned that having a higher purpose, which is not just about making the most profit, is actually good for business. Employees were happier and vendors came to visit more.
We also went through a process of asking our employees what our core ten committable values should be, and we developed them through a yearlong process. We actually hire and fire people based on these core values. As an example, one of our core values is to be humble. If someone applies who is really smart, talented and experienced, even if they could make an immediate impact to our bottom line, if the person is egotistical, we will not hire him or her; it's not even a question.
"we learned that having a higher purpose, which is not just about making the most profit, is actually good for business."
From a business perspective, if you have a greater vision beyond just profits or money -- and that you can get employees to be happy about and believe in -- and you combine that with a culture with committable core values, I think that is what will help grow businesses and brands in the long-term.
Pretty much all the research shows that people are bad at predicting what will actually make them happy. They tend to think, "when I get x" or "when I achieve x" then I will be happy. The research shows that the most enduring happiness comes when you are a part of something bigger than yourself.
What ties everything together and really helps us achieve our greater purpose is that Zappos is about delivering happiness, whether it is to customers, employees, or spreading the gospel of the science of happiness.
And that can exist within a large corporate, growing organization?
Yeah, and I would say that is our greater purpose. It is not just about Zappos or our employees being happy; it is really about spreading happiness throughout the world.
And was there something in your life that initiated this interest or was it a gradual process of coming to this?
I think that it was a combination of a gradual process and after selling LinkExchange, I didn't have to work any more, which forced me to think, "What do I really want to do?" Because it seemed kind of pointless to start another company just to make money.
"What ties everything together and really helps us achieve our greater purpose is that Zappos is about delivering happiness, whether it is to customers, employees, or spreading the gospel of the science of happiness."
You got that experience fairly early in your life. A lot of people are still thinking that if I get to a certain place in life that is where real enjoyment comes.
Though it is not like my lifestyle changed a lot after the sale. All the stuff I bought, I could have bought prior to the sale just as easily. I think it is easy to get trapped in thinking, "Once I win the lottery, then I can do all the things I want to do." But if you really sat down and make a list of all the things that you want to do, it's actually not that expensive. At least it was not for me.
A lot of people are looking for greater purpose. People do not want to be miserable and they do not want to create more misery in the world, yet they find themselves in jobs and situations where they are not happy. They don't feel like they are making a contribution to themselves or the world. What do you think is the shift that can help?
I think the shift - and this comes from the research - is about being less "me" focused. When people are unhappy, they are generally focused on "This is what's wrong with my life? Why is this happening to me?" How do I become happier?" It is kind of ironic, but if you actually focus on how to make other people happy, whether it is employees or friends, it actually ends up making yourself happier. If you are trying to chase happiness to benefit yourself, it may be harder to get to than if you go about it in what may seem counter-intuitive by focusing on others.
Soren Gordhamer works with individuals and groups on living with greater mindfulness and purpose in our technology-rich age. He is the author of Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected (HarperOne, 2009) and the audio series Meditations for the Constantly Connected. Website: www.sorengordhamer.com