Tony Hsieh, sound familiar? He was Zappos. The early problem with shipping shoes ordered online was getting the right shoe; he devised this seemingly random system to stock shoes that drastically reduced errors. He wanted workers to feel like family, like a community. He encouraged managers to take teams out for a meal, to have fun. He was so committed to this idea of workplace happiness and fun, he moved operations to Las Vegas since it is a place where things are open 24 hours a day. Once there, he was committed to the city that he had a vision for downtown (versus the strip) and spent 350 million dollars in a revitalization effort that made downtown Vegas a destination. Tony’s thing was happiness and he literally wrote the book, “Delivering Happiness.”
On July 22, 2009, Hsieh sold Zappos to Amazon for 1.2 billion; at the age of 35. When I was doing a lot of speaking on innovation and problem solving, Tony was one of my favorite examples. Tony, Tony, Tony. When news reports of his death last week from smoke inhalation sustained from a house fire in Connecticut I was confused; it didn’t seem to make sense. I’ve always felt when something doesn’t make sense, there is something you don’t know. This week, the “don’t know” came out. It’s a sad story of isolation and sycophantic enablers.
When the business icon died in a fire last week, questions abounded. The answers seem rooted in a Covid-period spiral, where he turned to drugs and shunned old friends.Tony Hsieh’s American Tragedy: The Self-Destructive Last Months Of The Zappos Visionary
The Forbes1 article details the spiral, from paying people (doubling whatever their salaries) to move to Park City, Utah and distancing himself from his network of friends. Most telling is the letter from his friend, the singer, Jewel who wrote him:
“If the world could see how you are living, they would not see you as a tech visionary, they would see you as a drug addicted man who is a cliche. And that’s not how you should go down or be known,” she wrote in her letter to him. “Your body cannot take not sleeping. And the amount of N2O you are doing is not natural. You will not hack sleep and you will not outsmart nature.” She added that he risked crossing the line “from eccentric to madness.”
I love my job; I get people to see things in a different way. There is always a moment after I’ve pushed hard, when the shift occurs. You see, typically the people I work with are trying to solve the “wrong problem.” They approach a task with what worked before, not realizing it’s a different situation. As an outside observer, I can see what direction they need to go in, so the first 15 minutes is a fight, then the perception shifts in the next 15 minutes prove productive. Maybe that was the case with Tony. The guy was brilliant, why would he seek the council of others? But, that’s the value of the outside observer, your true friends, which may include family.
They will tell you the truth, hold you to a standard you might not hold for yourself. They will tell you what you may not want to hear or be able to see, even at risk of ending the friendship. This week, consider, do you have at least one person who will tell you the truth, and more importantly, who is it that you will tell the truth to? As we enter the season when people start to make resolutions, is this a task you need to take on?