Ever heard of Zappos? Just an online shoe company right? As Lee Corso would say, “not so fast my friend.” In 2009, I read “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, ” and it changed my life. The book is written by their CEO, Tony Hsieh, who stumbled upon an incredible 1 + 1 > 2 vision while building an online shoe company. So what was in this book that had such an impact on me?
I guess I will start by laying it all out there and being a little vulnerable. I read this book during a difficult time when I really lacked purpose and meaning in my life. I didn’t know where I was going professionally, and I let my ego or my preoccupation with my own self-worth guide too much of my behavior. I wasn’t always myself in front of others for fear of approval and at times was quick to judge people. The Zappos story opened me up to a new perspective and inspired me to change.
What resonated so much with me was the extraordinary purpose ingrained in the Zappos culture. They have an environment that embraces everyone’s differences and allows people to pursue growth in their own way. They celebrate authenticity and focus on how they can bring happiness to their employees and customers. They live and breathe the Zappos Family Core Values with phrases like “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness.” Simply put, Zappos uses business as a way make people happy. And this really struck a chord with me.
Below are a few employee quotes from the Zappos 2009 Culture Book. They ask every employee to describe what the culture means to them and then publish everyone’s thoughts in a book. How cool is that?
“The Zappos culture is still the “life blood” of Zappos…It is what flows through all of us, every day, and it even carries over into our everyday life…It is a feeling of freedom, happiness, empowerment and gratitude.” – Augusta S.
“Every day we are asked to live and breathe these core values and I am finding that they are spilling out into my life outside of work. The culture here encourages people to express themselves, make mistakes and learn, and become the very best person you can be. While no place is perfect, Zappos is the closest I have ever seen.” – Scott S.
As word spread about the story of Zappos, Tony Hsieh was asked to speak around the country. I believe this is when he found his calling or 1 + 1 > 2 vision. He describes it as the moment when they started “realizing that we were actually changing other companies and other people’s lives. It slowly started sinking in that we could be part of something that was much bigger than Zappos.” I was deeply moved by Tony’s mission, and it helped me identify a way that I could make a difference in the lives of others. The quotes from Augusta and Scott show how the Zappos culture was positively impacting their lives outside of work. This is a very important connection, because I realized that we can use our work environments to make our world a better place.
Since I was slightly excited about the ideas in this book, I immediately ordered 14 copies to share with others and still use the book as one of my favorite gifts. I stopped worrying so much about my own success at work and tried to focus more attention on making the people around me better. I began to learn more about companies that brought purpose to the workplace and tried to bring these new perspectives to our office culture. With the help of my co-workers, we started our own company L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. Library. It stands for Love of Education Awesomeness Drive Excellence Reading Serving Health Improving People. Like Zappos, we use it to share new books and powerful ideas that everyone can enjoy together. And recently we came up with our own core values!
On a personal level, I started on a new path to be more authentic and connected to my co-workers, friends and family. I became more involved in the community and started volunteering with the Friends of the Library and Starlight Society at Levine Children’s Hospital. I read as much as a I could about a type of leadership that empowered others and tried to find more ways to grow as a person. The Zappos way spilled over into all aspects of my life and re-ignited a passion for life-long learning.
This past May I had the chance to visit the Zappos headquarters for a tour and was able to learn more from their Insights team. Want to see Tony’s office? Huge corner office separated from everyone else? Think again…he is right in the middle of everyone.
I saw people giving flowers to their co-workers, conference rooms decorated like forests and casinos and an incredible library of books for customers and employees. And best of all, I was “wowed” by every person I met that day. I truly believe they are changing the world out there.
Surely not all of the lessons from Zappos will work for everyone, but how you can you translate some of them into your life? Can you identify a larger perspective that brings purpose to your work and may improve the lives of others? A guy selling shoes online found a way. And you don’t to have a special title like CEO to make this happen. Sometimes just being an example with your actions will invite others to change.
So thank you Zappos and thank you Tony for inspiring me to do my part to co-create a culture where one plus one is more than two. You sure delivered me happiness.