The Wisdom of Tony Hsieh

Personal Exploration

I had the amazing honor of working with Tony on Zappos Insights.  The best part was the team we built and the fun we had, but that’s another story for another time. For today, I want to honor Tony by sharing some of his wisdom that I hope will add value to your own life and business.

In all honesty, at the time I wasn’t even qualified for the job. But he saw the potential of my ideas and my passion to make it a reality. He trusted me with establishing a new Zappos division that sought to turn the Zappos culture into a product itself, one that could be shared with the world.
It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to lead the effort to take the world class service and culture at Zappos and make it transferable to other companies, not as a replication of Zappos culture, but as a means of empowering other companies to create their own.

1. Talk last

Tony never dominated a meeting. He would always listen first. He knew that if the leader speaks first, that will shape the whole conversation and make people think decisions have already been made when they haven’t. Tony would listen, then by the end he would invariably drop a couple mind-blowing ideas. Finally, he would be like a switchboard, connecting people in the company to work together because he had a bird’s eye view of everything going on.

2. “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?

He would often ask this when someone complained. It’s amazing to realize how much we can be attached to being right, even when it doesn’t serve us. One day I was complaining that someone cut me off in traffic. He said, “What’s the minimum you have to be paid each time that happens for you to be happy?” I thought about it and said $12.  He said, “Any time that happens, you text me and I’ll give you $12.”  I laughed. He would have done it!  But I didn’t. I was never going to ask for $12 even once from him. Instead, I think about that conversation whenever I’m in traffic and I let it go. I’d rather be happy than right. I have used that insight countless times in other situations, both in business and in my personal life. It was priceless wisdom. I would have had to pay Tony $12 a day forever to properly compensate him for what he gave me for free.

3. “Always be on time.”

Tony never said this. He simply lived it. In my 12 years of knowing him, he was never once late to a meeting (personal or professional).  I know for Tony it had a lot to do with integrity, but since then I’ve seen how it’s even more important than that. First, there’s respect for the people you’re meeting. But more importantly, leaders who walk in late are unconsciously delivering the message that they are out of control.  Something else is in control of them (the traffic, the board, the meeting before or after). And it’s hard to trust a leader who is not in control of their own schedule. A leader on time, all the time, creates a sense of safety, and models the behavior that makes a culture work. When Tony considers it just as important to be punctual with you as he does with Jeff Bezos, it speaks volumes about how he valued everyone.

These are just a few of the thoughts that are flooding my mind as I think about the immense loss of Tony, but also the immense gift he was to me and so many others. May his memory be a blessing.

How to Get Everyone to ALL-IN.

Great cultures ,Hacks ,Vision

Alignment is the name of the game, but as you may know from my book, The Culture Blueprint, you can’t force anyone or it will not work. Alignment is about a) making the vision clear and b) removing the obstacles to create a true option.

Here is how you do it:

The R.O.B. Process

I thought of this on the spot when I met with a leadership team that was arguing. I was amazed that the acronym spells my name.

  1. State the GoalThis can be a project, a goal, a vision, or even alignment to the team. In one case this worked to have everyone commit to the leadership team as their top priority rather than their respective teams each leader is managing.
  2. Go Around the TableAsk if each person is all-in. If they are, go to the next. If not, ask them to consider one of the following:

R: Request

Do you have a request of someone else on the team, or the entire team? The more specific the better. This can be for resources, permissions, or anything else.

O: Offers

Someone may feel they are undervalued and want to participate more. In this case they can offer time, people or resources to anyone else.

B: Boundary

Do you have a boundary that is being crossed? This can be a limit in spending, or use of your team, or a policy or a principle.

3. Go Around the Table

Ask if each person is all-in. If they are, go to the next. If not, ask them to consider one of the following:

Once they do this, and the element is agreed upon by the respective person they address, you then ask again: Are you all-in?

This may take several rounds because new things can come up, or someone may have a new offer once they hear another’s request.

The Secret to Your Why

Hacks ,Personal Exploration

Ever since Simon Sinek spoke on the Power of Why, it’s been a phenomenon for companies and individuals to find their purpose by understanding not what they do, but why they do it.

I found the concept interesting, but not revealing. Until… I took a workshop with Chris Smith, the brilliant storyteller and founder of The Campfire Effect.  He can hear your story once (in all its meanderings and half-points) and turn it into Hollywood gold (with no notes).

Chris said, “The real way to find your why is to look back on your life and notice when you said the words, ‘That’s when I realized….’”

It was like being given a key. I noticed that after every big breakthrough I had in my career over the past decade could be summed up as “That’s when I realized content doesn’t change people, experiences do.”

That was my aha after I discovered that Open Space could change organizations more than any consultant report. It was my aha after experimenting with a red tic tac to create a scene from the Matrix (and then became The Xpill).

My why is to create transformational experiences where people change themselves.

What’s yours?

The New C-Level Position


There’s a reason we never had a Chief Culture Officer at Zappos. Tony Hsieh, CEO said it’s everyone’s responsibility. The moment we elect one person in charge of it, people can assume it’s being done without their efforts. That’s far different from a CFO. It’s good to have someone stress the money so that everyone else can do their jobs.

Now that everything is going virtual (including big companies like Twitter telling their people they don’t have to come back to the office), there is a new need emerging.

When we lose the office, we lose a real sense of place that connects us. Imagine if your family suddenly went virtual. Your spouse and kids all in separate buildings, only connecting on Zoom. Think it would feel different? It would change your whole sense of identity.

That means the glue that’s holding a company together is communication itself.

That’s why I believe enterprises will need a new C-Level position:

Chief Communications Officer

Many companies already have someone in this position at the director, or VP level, but there’s a problem in that. This person is usually stressed out because they don’t have a team and they have to deliver tough messages, all while being positive enough to keep their job. They also don’t have the level of authority they need to be properly respected, and thus end up playing politics far more than they need to.

At the C-level, this person would have the following responsibilities:

Advise CEO to C suite communications
Advise CEO to board communications
Facilitate C suite group discussions
Craft messages from C suite to upper/mid management
Work with mid management to craft message to supervisors and front line 
Set company wide communication standards and protocols
Educate the company on virtual communication
Set the tone of appropriate humor

This is all the WHAT.

But what’s also important is the HOW, because the game has changed. This is no longer about long emails that people never read. We are now in the Instagram TikTok age. I saw this coming early on at Zappos – People realized that messages would not necessarily get read when they were sent out to the whole company. So they would include funny images that get people’s attention.

This Chief Communications Officers would direct the graphic designers, photographers, video producers and writers to create:

Short form video
Virtual events
Scoreboards / Dashboards
Short impactful emails
Internal Podcast
More that I haven’t even thought of. 

When disruption is happening as quickly as it is, it’s time to make bets based on the intersection of our values and trends.