(last edited on September 20, 2014 at 3:32 pm)
I had heard of The 4-Hour Work Week (T4HWW) at SXSW, where Tim Ferriss was presenting a panel on it. I was intrigued by the title (catchy!) but was skeptical; I passed on it to see something else. Then a couple weeks ago, I got a nice email from Ferriss offering to send me a copy of the book, no strings attached, because he suspected that we “shared some DNA”. Newly intrigued, I agreed. I’m certainly glad I did, because I think Ferriss has saved me two years of stumbling around in the dark by providing clarifying principles to steer my life by. I’ve had some of these insights myself, but I hadn’t been able to envision the logical culmination of change-producing action: the creation of a lifestyle that is both fulfilling and self-sustaining. What’s remarkable about the book is that it presents a multitude of subjects—goal setting, time management, business, marketing, and the pursuit of happiness—firmly within the context of what Ferriss calls lifestyle design. Why burn ourselves out, deferring our enjoyment of life, when we can redefine the rules of the game and live the life we want right now? It sounds ludicrous and maybe even irresponsible, but Ferriss argues that this reaction is merely a product of social conditioning and fear. We don’t need to play that game…we can beat it instead.
T4HWW is a remarkably transparent guide to achieving that lifestyle you’ve always wanted but didn’t dare admit, rationally presented as a series of steps predicated on a fundamental rule: reality is negotiable…outside of science and law, all rules can be bent or broken. Amen, brother! What makes T4HWW more than the typical self-help book is that Ferriss also names the names of the outsourcers, services and brokers he’s used successfully in the past to build the foundation of his automatic income-producing engine. It’s all part of his meta-approach to planning and getting away with the ideal lifestyle…it’s like the perfect crime!
Tim Ferriss’ DEAL
A lot of self-help books follow a similar presentational arc: starting off with a good story, followed by the making an incredible-sounding claim, establishing the credibility of the claim maker, tying the claim to the reality of the reader, and then presenting the first of many mnemonic devices. In the case of T4HWW, the mnemonic is DEAL. Here’s my vastly paraphrased synopsis of it:
- Definition: Figure out what you want, get over your fears, see past society’s “expectations”, and figure out what it will really cost to get to where you want. It can be surprisingly cheap, costing less than what you’re paying now. Ferriss also provides a very personally-appealing insight regarding the nature of happiness:
The opposite of happiness isn’t sadness. It’s boredom.
Therefore, the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of excitement. While this sounds irresponsible on the surface, if you can precisely define how you can take care of yourself and your commitments and then create a system to take care of that for you, then WHY NOT? You too can live the “eccentric billionaire lifestyle”.
- Elimination is about Time Management, or rather about NOT managing time. Instead, apply the 80/20 rule to focus only on those tasks that contribute the majority of benefit. Also apply it ruthlessly to all aspects of your life to eliminate the small minority of factors that waste 80% of your time. Forget time management, focus instead on getting the really important and results-producing tasks done. There’s a difference, Ferriss says, between efficiency and effectiveness. Choose to be effective!
- Automation is all about building a sustainable, automatic source of income. This is a section that is, practically speaking, about Business and Business Management. The trick is to avoid is building a business that requires your presence, because that just burns up all your time. Ferriss made that mistake once, generating lots of monthly revenue but ended up being chained to the machine to keep it working. Ferriss now has hundreds of people working on his behalf through multiple outsourced vendors, all operating under specific instructions that are designed to not create headaches for him while depositing those lovely monthly checks. This is a fascinating section of the book, and is well worth reading for its pragmatic approach to effective management. Ferriss also provides plentiful examples and resource listings; this is a mini-book in itself on how to define and operate a profitable business.
Liberation: Once you’ve successfully automated your lifestyle, liberate yourself from your geographical location and your job. It’s a lot easier than you think, once you’ve gotten through the previous three steps. With mobility comes the ability to leverage economic advantages across the world. Living in a tropical paradise and eating at 5-star restaurants everyday can be cheaper than watching TV in your house back in the States. Incidentally, Ferriss notes that if you’re in a job, your order of steps will be DELA, not DEAL, and he provides specific examples for that case. Like the time his friend spend a month in China getting married, but was just as productive as if he were working remotely so no one was the wiser.
p>Ferriss calls practitioners of DEAL or DELA the “New Rich” (or NR), and practitioners of the more traditional “work really hard, save up and then retire” approach as “Deferrers” (D). He identifies three key ingredients of the NR lifestyle: time, income, and mobility. With them, you can take the time to travel the slow and enjoyable way, learn new languages. Learn how to salsa dance professionally. Live fully! You’ve arranged for the income to manage itself with minimal decision making required from yourself because you’ve built decision making into the system.
Ferriss notes that you’re likely to freak out and get bogged down in a lot of soul searching before you really get settled. Is it somehow wrong to just do this? I liked his method of resolving those big life questions, which he observes tend to generate stress because they’re just poorly worded. His solution:
- Ask yourself if you have decided on a single meaning for each term in the question.
- Ask yourself if an answer to this question can be acted on to improve things.
If the answer to either question is NO, then forget about it. Ferriss says that if you take away just one thing from his book, it’s to follow those two rules; he believes that the top 1% of performers in the world live by them.
I could spend a long few days writing about everything that I found noteworthy in the book, but I’ll just discuss some of the ones that have popped off my notebook.
This is as much a book about Ferriss’ philosophy of life as it is a guide to freedom. It’s not an easy path, because we first have to rise above our preconceptions about work, responsibility, and society. THEN, once we’re able to peek outside the cubicle walls to see what’s really possible, we have to be BRAVE ENOUGH to do something about it. That’s a tall order. Ferriss has the attitude of an enlightened hacker or game designer; he’s fully aware that a lot of what we accept are rules are merely benefit-producing mass hallucinations. I first became aware of this principle when I was busy sucking at analog Electrical Engineering as an undergrad. After graduating and reflecting upon the experience, I had a burst of insight upon the nature of the field: IT WAS ALL MADE UP. The units, the processes, the conventions, the mathematics…these were merely convenient constructs that had evolved and/or stuck around out because of inertia and, in some cases, momentum. I had been seeking universal truths in the equations and the work, and couldn’t perceive them. The people around me generally didn’t care; they knew how to work the equations and extract the right numbers, and they were rewarded by the system with good jobs and big, stable companies. I always asked WHY all the time, and this was my undoing until I realized there was no WHY other than it was what people BELIEVED, what people had ALWAYS DONE, and that IT WORKED.
There’s nothing stopping you from creating another system that works for you, except your own perception of your limitations, and (to paraphrase Ferriss) the twin bogies of science and law. But even those can be gamed: witness the existence of the applied sciences and lobbyists.
Ferriss spends quite a bit of time deconstructing the nature of fear: by defining fear, you create the means to conquer it. A lot of us know that already, but there was one aspect of it that was new to me: fear disguised as optimism…the belief that things will get better if you keep doing what you are doing now, or don’t do anything. Oh crap, that’s me! I’ve been happily pushing forward on this blogging/writing thing, producing downloadable tools, thinking that if I keep doing this, thing will get better and take care of themselves. BZZZT! That’s a losing attitude; it’s far better to DEFINE and then EXECUTE to a measurable plan. I’ve started to do that with my Groundhog Day Resolutions and Review Days, though I think a large part of my motivation might be due to my amusement with large prognosticating rodents. A return to the basics of the original Printable CEO Concrete Goals Tracker might be in order.
One of my personal hurdles has been the need for better time management; I spend way too much time doing stuff that’s probably not important in the grand scheme of things, and I procrastinate on doing the really important things because they’re boring. T4HWW doesn’t let me off the hook, but it does through a mighty wrench into the be more efficient path toward productivity. GTD fills that need very nicely in terms of an algorithm for processing tasks and information, but in my heart I don’t think I want to be just a faster data processor so I have more time “later” to do something. T4HWW emphasizes prioritization over processing:
- Apply Pareto’s Principle ruthlessly to everything, and eliminate the 20% that is causing 80% of the trouble. That could be troublesome clients, answering email, whatever. Evolve methods for dealing with them.
- Apply Parkinson’s Law to task planning, which is to not let tasks absorb more importance than they merit by swelling to fill all available time. There’s some similarity to 37Signals approach to less leading to more effectiveness, though T4HWW takes it further to its ultimate conclusion. Ferriss also notes how Parkinson’s Law and the Pareto Principle in conjunction form an interesting recursive definition of effectiveness: Limit tasks to just the important ones to shorten your working time, and shorten your working time to limit tasks to the important ones. Groovy!
- Cultivating selective ignorance means reducing the number of inputs you’re getting. More inputs leads to more distraction, and distraction is the killer of effective action. Most of them don’t add to your immediate goals of getting free; they just trap you where you are by sapping energy. This destroys your ability to effectively act, and Lifestyle Design is impossible.
Ferriss identifies three kinds of interruptions:
- Time Wasters — things that are unimportant that can be ignored. Ferriss has a lot of interesting ideas about how to get rid of meetings and unnecessary time spent answering email. He also discusses how to train the people around you; when I read this section, I realized that Ferriss had the mind of a master game designer, which is perhaps obvious in hindsight.
- Time Consumers — things that must get done, but take a lot of time. Personal errands, laundry, going to the doctor, etc. His solution is essentially that of GTD: batch and do not falter.
- Empowerment Failures — if someone has to ask you for permission or to get approval before moving forward, you’ve become a bottleneck. It also limits the scalability of your operation. Ferriss’ solution is to analyze the reason for the failure, then come up with a policy to handle it in the future. The example he uses is handling customer service complaints; by empowering the reps to fix the problem if it costs less than a certain amount of money, customer satisfaction went up and the time burden on him was vastly reduced. This reminds me of Joel Spolsky’s recent article on customer service and bug fixing.
MANAGING PEOPLE and PROCESSES
One thing I had never considered was hiring a personal assistant, or rather a virtual assistant (VA) through an outsourcing company. Apparently, they cost between $4 and $10 an hour from India, and after you find one that works well with you you can multiply your effectiveness. Ferriss provides two very powerful rules of thumb to make sure that you’re not just adding undue busywork:
- Refine rules & processes before adding people.
- Eliminate before you delegate.
Anything that makes it through that filter then must follow his GOLDEN RULE #1: be both time-consuming and well-defined, otherwise you’re not really doing anything. The presumes an ability to define well, of course, which may be the ultimate challenge in following all of Ferriss’ course of Lifestyle Design. A lot of people have difficulty defining things, because of a discomfort with writing, or because they don’t fully understand the nature of what they’re doing in context of other people. I’m not sure what can be done about that. However, GOLDEN RULE #2 also dictates have fun with it, as a reminder to not be so dire. So you screwed up the first directive…big deal. That’s how you learn. Ferriss provides an example of his first failed attempt to delegate a task to his Indian VA, and how he cleaned it up. It comes down to establishing metrics for success and limits; essentially, you are programming behavior in the most elegant manner possible.
CREATING AN INCOME MACHINE
This was the section of the book that got me to sit up straighter and take note, because it outlined what seems to be an excellent crash course in product test marketing, outsourcing, and fulfillment. The proof will be in my attempt to follow it, but certainly it’s given me a valuable reference case study against which I can compare my own product plans.
I hadn’t had the insight that the reason I wanted to create product was so I could spend more time doing something else; I was still half-clinging to the notion that my work would be my identity. Maybe instead it can be something I like that supports my adventurous lifestyle, to become an “ultravagabond” like Ferriss.
I was just thinking that this is the rare book that I am going to recommend to all of my friends. This is probably a reflection on the kind of company I keep: I like to be around empowered, positive-minded people with dreams they’re actively pursuing.
There are some challenges in implementing Ferriss’ plan:
- You have to define that end game unflinchingly
- You have to be be able to communicate solutions.
- You have to be a focused, hard worker when facing all the essential tasks.
- You need to be a discerning person, otherwise you can’t tell if you’re moving or not
At minimum, I think one needs to be able to define a dream, and be able to measure the distance from and progress toward the goal of being one of the New Rich. Then, relentlessly following through with elimination, automation, and liberation will be possible. If you even get through one or two of these phases, I think one’s life will be measurably more productive. And remember: if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count.
There are some very helpful Q&A—Question and Action—sections after each chapter of the book, filled with great exercises designed to jog you out of your old perspective of fear and complacency. The entire dreamlining process, for example, is particularly delightful; it guides you through the difficult “uh, so what is it that I want to do?” part of the Definition phase.
There’s lots of good stuff in the book, and I feel that my personal bar has been raised. You can listen to Ferriss’ SXSW 2007 Panel Podcast for a taste, and visit the 4-Hour Work Week website for more information. It’s has a kind of “marketing” vibe to it, but you can download sample chapters and order the book via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and 1-800 CEO-READ. This review just scratches the surface.
Great review Dave. And a great sounding book! ‘Flow’ is one away from the top of my reading pile, and I’ve added a sticky not that says ‘BUY T4HWW’ to the last page ;-) If you don’t stop recommending all this cool stuff, I’m gonna be flat broke by the end of the year ;-)
David, this is such an excellent “summary” of the book – you should post it to http://www.wikisummaries.org/
I sucked at Electrical Engineering too and decided to change my Bachelors to Computer System Engineering. And I sucked for the very same reasons; I dug deeper into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ part then was necessary to achieve results. For me, digging the actual ideas behind the abstract conventions just took too much time and effort and made me suck. I guess I’m not alone :)
Muhammed, you’re definitely not alone.
I asked myself ‘why’ all the way into entrepreneurship. Not that I’m complaining; I love the choices I’ve made. And my theories about work have been evolving as I go…
… and from what it sounds like, they’ve been evolving right into the Ferriss model.
I can’t wait to read this one; thanks for the amazing summary, Dave.
I suppose this is a question the book will help answer, but it sounds as if the “goal” is to build a 100% product-based business, so everything can be outsourced, and your time involvement becomes ultra-minimized, yes?
I never thought of seeing if there was a club of “EEs Who Ask Why”…awesome! We should create a “cautionary pamphlet” for EEs who ask why, and how to cope with it. If I were to do it again, I’d approach the EE field with an investigatory crime scene reconstruction attitude with a crack team of like-minded peers :-)
Adam: I might sum the premise of the book up as being able to “live your dreams” by identifying, defining, and quantifying what it will take to actually achieve them through focused action; creating the business is merely one of the steps along the way. To get there, we have to rewrite the rules of how we exist in the typical 9-5 world. Ferriss actually makes a distinction between business and what he calls it a “muse”; there’s lots of reasons to have a business…you might want to RUN one, for example, or you might want to effect some kind of social change through it. A muse, by comparison, is a business designed specifically to provide sustainable income to fuel your dream. For example, if you need $5000 to have some kind of adventure some place, there are ways you can quickly build a revenue generating machine. Since to live your dream you need the TIME to do so, the trick is to make sure the business runs itself through intelligent delegation and process design…you don’t want to be the sucker left watching the pot. Tim describes how he did it in the Automation section, and it’s quite a brilliant capsule description of an intelligent product research and development cycle. I’m looking forward to seeing the additional material that will be going live on the book’s site on the 24th.
Interesting take until I took a look at his web site and found he’s sweetening his life by exploiting lower-paid workers in another country.
Do you think those Indian workers with college degrees are able to buy into his “4-hour work week”?
Notice that he’s making money by running a “sports supplement company.” He’s identified the owner of “BrainQuicken.com, a leading developer and distributor of bioactive and pharmaceutical-grade neural acceleration.”
That’s shorthand for fake drugs / energy products. In other words, he’s a snake-oil salesman.
Here’s a review of his book from America.com that provides an interesting take:
Hmmm, I’ve been cruising various sites while writing this, and find that he speaks 5 languages and has studied 15, and he’s also “an adviser to more than 30 Olympic and professional world record holders.”
His press materials also claim that he’s “been featured in the New York Times.” A check of “Tim Ferriss” at the Times archive returns no hits, while “Timothy Ferriss” returns one story, in which he is identified and quoted in one sentence: “Because caffeine isn’t the sole stimulant,” said Timothy Ferriss, a neuroscientist who has studied the effects of natural stimulants on athletic performance, “maté drinkers don’t experience the rapid upward trajectory and then the quick crash of coffee.”
I believe that I was too hasty in posting my previous comments, and regret my characterization of the products Ferriss is selling. I tend to be cynical about any “performance enhancing” products, and I am not aware of what he’s selling. While I still think he’s a snake-oil salesman—his spiel is far too glib and I’m doubtful of his claims—that characterization shouldn’t be extended to his products. I apologize.
I was sent an advance copy of the book too, and so far I like it. You may have a point that he’s sort of a “snake oil salesman” and that he goes very far to promote himself and his accomplishments, but I think the core premise of reducing workload and developing automated income is possible.
Many will people will read this book, think it will change their lives, and ultimately end up disappointed. But I think there will be some who implement the principals and create a lifestyle like Ferriss’. I’m hoping to be one of the latter.
Bill: All excellent warning flags…you are a skeptic that takes after my own heart. You’re basically saying two things: “exploitation is bad” and “his credentials don’t stand up to scrutiny”. However, I think it would be a mistake to overlook the merits of the IDEAS and TECHNIQUES based on your value judgments. Do they not work just because you don’t like them?
I don’t think Ferriss is presenting his ideas as anything more than “This is how I did it to achieve my dreams.” He is quite candid about his position on this and questions regarding the meaning of life. What I liked about his approach is that he didn’t hide his techniques…for example, he actually describes the building credibility (what he called “credibility indicators”) examples you’re talking about…instead, he tells you what he does and why it works. The mindset with which I read this book was perhaps similar to when I read books like Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power. If the very existence of this kind of book bothers you, then T4HWW may not be up your alley. If you believe that doing good works, in the moral sense, are the path to fulfillment, this probably isn’t the book for you either. However, if you are comfortable with handling powerful truths about the human condition that could wield great harm or great good, I would certainly recommend this book. You could apply these same techniques to trick people, but that doesn’t make the techniques or ideas themselves bad or without merit.
John: I had a similar thought about people thinking that this book would change their lives, but faltering because what Ferriss describes is actually not easy. Conceptually, he lays it out as clearly as he can, using examples of what he did and where he went to find answers. But the initiative, research, and legwork have to come from the practitioner. I hope I can follow through with this.
Bill: I saw your second comment after writing my response…very cool of you to share your clarification publicly. I applaud you!
I have an enormous sensitivity, too, to snake oil salesmen…for much of my life, I’ve been involved in businesses which were essentially about manipulating perception: video game design, graphic design, marketing, and management, so I’ve seen what people who really understand perception can do. It’s enormous power, and a lot of people are not aware of this to the degree where they can actually escape their bonds. This is why I am probably so big on this book right now…here’s another person who knows this stuff, but instead of keeping it a trade secret, he’s passing what he’s learned to the masses. I think the america.com review came across as rather superficial; while it’s true that the book follows a pretty standard self-help book arc (the reviewer’s own book would be interesting to compare), it is largely a dismissal of a book based on surface impressions and easy comparisons. But perhaps that’s the role of a book reviewer, to assess whether they think a book is worth reading or not based on their prejudices. Mine certainly played a big role in my review: I think there are important, eye-opening ideas in here that people need to be aware of. Otherwise you will continue to be a victim of whatever monsters your exploitative work environment sics on you. And you will continue to do it because you don’t think there are any options. That’s a horrible thought. Here is, in my assessment, an alternative approach that is mapped out in actionable detail.
On a side note, I think that “outsourcing to india is exploitative” is a relative issue. There are plenty of people being exploited right here in exchange for lots of money; in return, they are ground down to stubs of their former humanity “because the boss said so.” I’m sure there are horror stories about exploitation in India, but there are the same stories in the West, and I think we need to be careful about projecting our expectations on other people’s lives based on simple math and assumptions. The difference between $4 and $400 an hour doesn’t mean much if you can survive well on the former and still retain a sense of personal dignity.
This book sounds great Dave! I have to admit I was intrigued by the title of the session at SXSW- but it was alas, my turn to watch the child.
Could I possibly borrow it from you some time?
Kelley: I’ll bring it next time we hang out. We should schedule some kind of creative meetup soon!
Hi Dave. This is my first post of a comment on your website. I too hail from Boston and have an environmental consulting firm here (not the same website I gave you by the way), and have been reading your blog/website for months now, having first come here for the CEO series.
Needless to say, the Ferriss concept of “4-hours a day” and “build a sustainable income that does not require you to be there,” are not really new ideas.
There is a bestseller out there called “Rich Dad – Poor Dad” by a guy named Robert Kiyosaki. While he does not use the same terms as Ferriss, many of his ideas attempt to get to the same endpoint – getting other people to work for you, so you don’t need to. In fact, Kiyosaki’s book, while very good in some aspects, also regales (my interpretation) in the fact that you should take advantage of people who will work for minimum wage so you can make money off their backs.
Scary as this sounds, there are also several people who promote these ideas on those late night infomercials for real estate and believe it or not, porn websites! The idea is to make money off other people.
Whether Ferriss is a snake-oil salesman or not is meaningless if people (stupid people that is) are willing to buy his products. But someone, somewhere has to make that product, and I bet you anything, that at the source of his success are a whole bunch of low-paid, down in the dumps grunts, who don’t have a chance to move up.
As for the Indian workers issue, you all need to go over there and experience it. These people who make $4/hour are not grunts, but some of the hippest and hottest people in India. We may think it bad by our standards, but they are excited as hell about it. We do work in India occasionally, and life and culture is very different there than here. At one level, hiring someone in India to do your chores is like helping less advantaged people, by giving them the chance to earn, what in there culture is, a fortune. The question is, would you hire someone here in the US, at life-comparable wages, to do the same here? What I mean by that is, would you hire someone here at say $15-25/hour to do the work these Indians are willing to do at $4/hr. Probably not. You are not taking work away from anyone, since you would not likely have done it here in the first place, and there are few people here doing it, save for a few savvy consultants. Since we are not hurting anyone here by doing this, i.e., we are not taking already existing jobs aways from people here, like in manufacturing say; then all we are doing is creating new opportunities for people to make more money than before. I say it is a good idea.
But at the end of the day, I too would love to move from having to do the work myself in order to make a dollar. But I have also resented those people in many firms, usually at the top, who pull in half-million or more dollars a year, doing little than making money off the thousands of line workers and cubicle slaves. How many recent CEOs have we heard about who got big payouts of millions of dollars the same year there company lost millions and took a plunge in the stock market.
I too will continue to look for ways to make a buck without having to be there to do the work, but at the end of the day, people will not buy your products and services unless you can demonstrate that it is you behind them. Of course, if you don’t mind selling crap to stupid people, then any of us could easily duplicate Ferriss’ life. frankly though, I have a little more moral fiber in me I guess. I believe that we should all make money the old-fashioned way – by earning it!
Thanks Dave. This is a very comprehensive review. I think I’ll grab a copy in a few weeks & see how it works out.
The headline caught me, as I mistakenly read “4-Day Work Week”—something I have been trying to achieve. I don’t think I can ever reach a 4-hour work week (nor do I want to), but this book might just help me achieve my goal.
Dave, thanks for the great summary!
I just wanted to address a few of the concerns that Bill brought up:
1. The outsourcing is definitely a multi-faceted socio-economical and political topic. I recently spoke at the keynote for Web 2.0 (www.web2expo.com) and was approached by a Swiss gentleman who works at UBS, the investment bank, in Zurich. While we were talking, another person walked up and asked if I felt bad about taking jobs from Americans to give to Indians, and the Swiss gentleman answered it for me. He said (I’m paraphrasing), “Tim, you’re actually in social development. In Switzerland, a recent study showed that for every white-collar job that was outsourced to India we were bringing 25 people above the poverty line.” He explained that five people could be paid the same wages as one Swiss, and five people depend on each of those five. The Swiss would be provided for by social services in Switzerland until he or she got another job, where the Indians did not have that provision.
I would add that the wages paid to these overseas workers are often the highest-paying jobs available in their countries. $5/hour doesn’t should like much here, but in India—even in a place like Argentina, where I used to live—it can go quite far. There are plenty of Americans overseas who work for $5/hour, and I’ve used them as well. It’s not underpayment; it’s just payment in another economic structure.
2. I agree 100% that most people in the supplement business are snake-oil salesmen, and this is precisely the reason that I’m migrating out of that industry. I never planned to be in it to begin with! There are a handful of reputable firms that do proper ingredient sourcing, QA, testing, etc., but the collective bad reputation is well-deserved. In our particular case, we’ve had one product for six years, and the return rate is less than 3% in an industry where the average is 12-15%. I’ve used PhDs from places like UPenn to do regulatory work and even had the product tested for sports compliance by groups like the ASDA, which is an international sports and drug testing agency. Unfortunately, most (not all) manufacturers and distributors do not follow the code of ethics that I do, and this is why I’m moving out of this business. Even if you’re a good guy, the stigma is just too difficult to overcome. I’ll be moving into language research next. Not much snake-oil in learning Japanese ;)
3. I am definitely a self-promoter and, like John mentioned, I actually destroy what I call “the cult of the expert” in one section of the book. I’ve spent a good deal of time with Drew Curtis, CEO of Fark.com, one of my favorite sites on the web, and he has a book coming out called “It’s Not News, It’s Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap As News” He and I talk about PR a lot, including the propaganda side, and I explain how “gurus” are manufactured in one chapter.
Self-promotion, used properly, is an incredibly important skill, but the key is framing your accomplishments in the best light, not fabricating them. For example, I studied Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and Korean at Princeton and have studied Spanish, German, and other languages since. I can legitimately claim that I speak 5 languages, as I can the other things I’ve done. I have been featured in The NY Times, albeit for one quote, but it was in a half-page feature piece where I was the only person cited. That is worth putting on the resume.
The students I speak to at Princeton (my next guest lecture in next Thursday) are the most skeptical people I’ve ever met, and rightly so. Much of what I claim I’ve done, and much of what I claim to do, seems impossible. But it isn’t. Like Dave said—and as I experienced for four years before having a complete meltdown in June of 2004—most people feel trapped because they don’t see the full menu of options. I’m hoping to present that.
4. Last, I just wanted to mention that the book is a manual for personalized lifestyle design. I never wanted it to be a “how to become Tim Ferriss” manual, and some might misinterpret it this way. Few people will want to just pack up and move to Buenos Aires to tango or run to Tokyo to train in cage fighting. I’m an extreme embodiment of the principles, and that’s my personality. The goal of the book is to help others create time and use it in a way that is most exciting and fulfilling for them, whether that’s cage fighting or just spending evenings with your kids instead of the Blackberry.
I hope this helps, and thanks for the discussion!
DiNitro: Hey, thanks for the thoughtful commentary. It’s interesting you mention Kiyosaki’s book, because that was the one that had come to mind when I started reading it…the two main things I got most out of it was the ideal of what wealth really means (this corresponds to Ferriss’ notion of “relative vs absolute wealth”), and that it’s far better to create assets that generate income for you (what he called “money working for you” instead of “working for money”). My focus on creating tangible things as being a focus for productivity is based partially on his writing about how to think about assets.
I’m glad you wrote about your experience visiting India…I didn’t have first-hand experience with this, and while I suspected this was true I couldn’t vouch for it personally. I used to live in Asia, and some inkling of how good/bad it could be.
I think one issue that’s related to this discussion of “exploitation” or “relative advantage” is the sense of entitlement that people can have. It goes hand-in-hand with being conditioned to think in the traditional educational-work environment: because I have done what is expected to the level that is required, I am entitled to a reward of a commensurate size. And when this doesn’t happen as expected, or we see people bringing in money through means that don’t seem as meritorious as what “hard working people” do, we can react with either resentment, resignation, or envy. At the end of the day, though, I think of it like this: if I could create a system that brings in money to allow me to do what I want to do (and that is to build cool things that other people can use), then the best thing I can do is put myself in a place where I have the resources to do that. There is a little ego in here too: I really want to do it my own way, with some pretty specific conditions on how we do it.
I think in your last paragraph, though, you’re assuming that Ferriss’ philosophy is just to dump junk on confused people by manipulating their perception. This is a natural assumption in a world that is full of loud-mouthed, name-dropping, claims-making, self-annointed experts that have a product to sell based on lofty promises and a formulaic informertial. But this is not what Ferris is advocating or promoting. He is describing how a successful business owner thinks and operates to achieve a particular goal: to make the most money for the least time commitment. That is not to say it’s easy either; you’ve got to put the energy and thought into building the machine in the first place, but once it’s built you have a mechanism that produces more energy than it consumes. And this isn’t his only point: he does say (and I’m paraphrasing) that if your product DOES NOT PRODUCE A BENEFIT FOR THE CUSTOMER, it’s not going to sell or provide long-term income.
It’s up to us to provide our own moral direction. For me, it was very instructive to read how someone outline very candidly how such a lifestyle can be achieved. Additionally, the technique of dissolve barriers through a shift in perspective is one that I’m personally very fond of. As someone who resents “do nothing” CEOs, what would YOU do if you had the resources to make changes on that scale? This book, and books like it, give us insight into how these people think. If I have a choice between feeling good about “earning my living the old-fashioned way” and feeling good about “building a revenue machine” that allows me to do what I want, then sign me up for the latter. I want to make products that move people, have the time to spend finding out what people are doing, and have the resources to fund interesting projects.
An analogous way of looking at the “building of a revenue machine” is to look at what programmers do. Programmers build programs that, once written, generate enormous leverage. Computerization has eliminated vast classes of workers who once made good money doing what they did the hard-earned way: draftspeople, clerks, accountants, newspaper staff, and so on. You write the program once, you reap its benefits forever. And, it’s cheaper. Within the world of programming there are also tiers of programming “hardcoreness”…this corresponds to “hard work” and “effort”. When I was a lot younger, I held EEs to be at the top of the chain, followed by machine/assembly language programmers, followed by operating system designers, then by application developers, then utility programmers, and lastly script programmers and macro users. Each type of programmer in the chain is leveraging the hard work of someone more esoterically skilled than themselves. These days I see them all roughly equivalent because my value equation is “what is provided of benefit for whom?”, another way of saying “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”. And I no longer judge (much :-)
Chette: Thanks for the comment! I’ve been enjoying your twitterings, incidentally.
Tim: Thanks for visiting and responding! And thanks for providing such an interesting and action-oriented topic for discussion. Good luck with your book launch!
Thanks, Dave. You said,
“Adam: I might sum the premise of the book up as being able to “live your dreams” by identifying, defining, and quantifying what it will take to actually achieve them through focused action; creating the business is merely one of the steps along the way.”
For that alone, it sounds like a very worthwhile read, whether the majority of the principles get put into action or not.
And Tim, thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation — it’s great to hear your own words like that.
Hi Dave and thank you for your response to my initial rant. I apologize for the rant as well. I don’t know Tim, nor can I say that he sells bad stuff to good people either – I was just reacting to some of the other people here who made those allegations. But I was also thinking in terms of people who do that in general, not necessarily Tim himself. Of course I plan to buy Tim’s book even if only to develop some new ideas for myself. I do like his concept, and if I only get one idea from his book, it would be worth it.
I like your attitude/approach to what you want to accomplish in terms of creating things that generate money so you can then develop more products that help people even more so. Many of your productivity ideas you have developed and shared on the web are truly wonderful, as well as your design and functionality concepts.
In my business(es) I am looking for ways as well, to create meaningful and useful products for other people and companies that saves them money and provides them with a service that they spent way more for in the past, freeing them and me to work on the more complex and more exciting projects. Products or services like this can then be provided via the web where they can access them when they want, provide me with an income, not requiring my presence every time they buy, and allowing me to go and develop new ideas and services; not unlike what you are trying to do.
PS – since you are in the greater Boston area, as I am, we should consider talking live and see what we can do together. I like your design ideas and my firm(s) might be able to use some help in addressing some growth, marketing and image needs. Let me know what you think. I saw some work you did for a competitor of ours and it looked very nice. I believe you will have my email address from this posting.
In the meantime, keep up the excellent work and ideas.
DiNitro: No need to apologize for ranting…you were expressing what you really thought, and that’s always a necessary component of an interesting conversation. I personally love a good rant :-) I think we can both agree that the issue goes something like this:
1) There ARE people out there who manipulate perception to create the illusion of value, for the express purpose of ripping them off. At best, these people just don’t care about who they are selling to…they see the market as “biomass”, not a collection of individuals.
2) The means to manipulate perception are therefore highly suspect, because we’ve seen them used for said unsavory purposes to shift wealth to people who we think are, to borrow from an episode of South Park I saw recently, “giant douches”.
3) When we recognize that these tools of manipulation are being employed, we automatically have to assess the character of the tool wielder: friend or foe? We all have different rulesets for determining this based on our own moral values and ethical principles.
It gets interesting for me when it’s time to shed light on what the underlying values and principles are behind a judgment. This would be an entire post in itself (I guess I’ve already put three of them in this thread anyway) :-)
Thanks for the kind words, too! I’ll shoot you an email.
Interesting book and an excellent review you’ve made. I hadn’t known Tim Ferriss except for that appearance in TV about his Tango world record but what you said makes for an interesting read. I’m not sure I’d be like Tim but I hope to learn a few ideas from him. I’m not exactly what you’d call the ‘adventurous’ type since I’ve always played it safe but I have to admit, the usual routine can get awfully boring at times.
Thanks for the review and more power to your blog!
Wow… I say several mention of EEs in the comments. Electrical Engineer here myself. Out of school for almost two years now and I’m asking the question why… heh… maybe I’m headed for trouble! Bought Tim’s book last night on Amazon, hopefully it will get here soon. Dave, enjoy your site, I’ve been visiting for close to two years now…
One thing I’ve noticed in all this discussion with Tim’s book and related discussions is the impact of economics. I loved economics in college, maybe I should have majored in it? Just interesting to look at the logic and discussion and how the flow of money impacts other people. Especially the concept of outsourcing your life. Very interesting…
Hi Dave, you have such a great and very comprehensive review of Tim’s book. Thanks for your review, I have an idea now what is it in “The 4-Hour Work Week”.
I hope I could have a copy of it and try to apply those (Tim’s) ideas.
I’m reading this book now and I can say it lives up to the hype. I’ve heard many of the concepts discussed in other places, but Ferriss manages to bring them and new ideas together well in this book. First time in years that I paid full price for a book rather than buying discounted online. No regrets so far.
FYI, i just want to share that I’ve seen Tim’ book out on Barnes & Noble. If you want to order (delivery is faster). Click directly to this link http://snipurl.com/1ilc1.
Classically, there are 5 time-tested ways to make a ton of dough:
(1) Rent property to others
(2) Taxation (e.g., create a product at tax-payer expense, then privatize it for personal profit)
(3) Profit margins (buy low, sell high)
(4) Give out loans and collect interest on them
(5) Dominate a necessary resource supply
Tim’s strategy seems to be that of eliminating all unproductive ‘energy drains’ (by cutting off wasteful information streams, firing unproductive clients, etc. ) and then taking maximum advantage of his status as a privileged (monied) westerner and outsourcing his business details to intelligent (non-monied) Indians.
Ok, so he’s got a somewhat ‘oily’ product that he’s paying others to push and then reaping the profits off their labor (and the ignorance of his buyers). I’d like to hear of ways to implement this kind of hassle-free lifestyle without pushing fishy products.
Stephen: Hi, I know you a have a good point. But I think there’s nothing wrong with ‘paying others to push and reaping the profits of their labor’, anyway they were paid enough. It’s not an issue of taking advantage.
Any comment about this? Let’s talk.
Just bought my book!
Stephen: The hassle free lifestyle he proposes has nothing to do with the product he sells. He happens to cell this brainquicken stuff, but it could just as well be any other service, not even necessarily a physical product. He also gives detailed advice on living a similar lifestyle as an employee of a company. This has it’s limits, of course, such as when your job absolutely requires your physical presence.
But I think the point is not to live just like him or be him. The book (and I just started, but have skipped ahead to a bunch of interesting sections) simply gives guides based on his life on living a little MORE hassle free. I think it’s totally dependent on you whether you want to go all the way and make it a LOT more hassle free or not.
My initial impression with the book is that when you strip off all the glitz and glamor it is a solid collection of personal experiences that has a lot of useful information on using the authors tricks of the trade to achieve similar results to your desired level. I certainly don’t regret buying it so far.
To all critics, better get a copy of this book, read the whole thing and find out what’s really in it. Don’t criticize just because of what you’ve read on some of the negative comments here, and in some other blogs.
You can buy this at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
(commented edited by Dave to add Antonia’s link to B&N)
That’s a fantastic article. I enjoyed the debate about socio-economics. I can’t see how Tims ideas can be utilised by the working class however a backlash against defering hapiness is one to be admired.
Thank you Dave for such a thorough review of Tim’s book. It sounds fascinating. Tim’s comments cleared up some doubts and he dealt with everything straight on. I will definitely look for the book at Amazon. No one needs the 20/80 rule more than I do.
This should be read in conjunction with James Thurber’s Let Your Mind Alone! and Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces, and see which one wins. My money’s on Thurber.
It’s interesting how many of the people in the comments here speak up for Ferriss, how sudden some of the changes of hearts of critics, and various other strange coincidences. An observer might be inclined to think there is some sock-puppetry of various forms going on here.
So, we should come up with some nice-sounding ideas that connect to existing external concepts and write a short book full of B.S. filler and get people to know about it by sending free copies to well-connected bloggers!
This is essentially how “Make millions before getting out of bed” people get their tons of cash; they sell a concise description of how to do the obvious (work smarter not harder), and convince people you need their money more then they do for this wisdom.
Ron: I had to double-check to see if that was the same James Thurber I was thinking of…very cool! I’ll have to see if I can find a copy of it. I imagine Thurber’s work would be more fun if you are highly-resistant to the language of self-help books.
Observer: Awesome, this is the first time I’ve been included in a CONSPIRACY THEORY :-) I could see how the casual observer might be skeptical, particularly given Ferriss’ style of self-promotion: every positive review is potentially a planted link designed to drive page rank or buzz on the Internet. If you were to slip out of casual observer mode into analyst mode, you’d have to go a bit deeper into the history of the players involved. In context of the alleged “sock puppetry” here, you’d look at the history of this website, then ask yourself “what is the potential gain for Dave Seah?” and “What are Dave’s connections with Ferriss”? that you can uncover. Then you’d correlate that with what’s known about the PR campaign behind Ferriss’ book, with dates and times, and what the expected payoff is. THEN we’d have something interesting to chew on! :-)
I can save you a bit of research time, though of course, you should consider words from my mouth with doubt as someone who does not know me, and is already suspicious of my motivations:
My site: It’s a peer journey through self-empowerment through design, writing, development, and productivity. Why? I’ve found that I like being around self-empowered, positive-minded people, and have realized that I’m far more likely to find them if I put that same vibe out into the world.
The dilemma: Can I make a living from it that somehow doesn’t poison the mission with crass commercial interests?
The Ferriss Connection: I heard about him first at South-by-Southwest, where he did a panel that I didn’t attend because, perhaps like you, I was interested but skeptical. However, Ferriss somehow found my blog a few weeks after the conference (I don’t know how, now that I think about) and emailed me to offer a copy of the book, no strings attached. He also said that he suspected that we “shared some DNA”, which was a statement that intrigued me, so I said “sure!” After reading the book, I was so-moved by it that I felt I needed to post an actual review of it because the ideas in the book were very relevant to what I was trying to do with my life AND was unusual in the amount of actual information that was contained within. Most books I’ve read of this nature do well on insight and motivational speech, but are think in the “recommendations and how to get started” side of things.
Controversy: The thought did cross my mind that the book might be a controversial one, because this category of book tends to draw a fair share of criticism from people who have highly-developed bullshit detectors. The way the book is written and promoted, plus the background available on Ferriss’ businesses and accomplishments with a little digging, does set off those bullshit detectors. I skimmed through most of that on my first read, looking for interesting ideas, and when I hit his outsourcing and business planning chapters I realized that he was not kidding, and that the information he was presenting was (in my estimation) highly credible. This is very much worth passing on. I was also impressed that he described the process of building credibility; this is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the author, because Ferriss’ insights (and application) of how “credibility indicators” work is a delicate subject, and prone to being dragged into ethical/moral debate. That’s not the point of his book, though, as Ferriss himself has commented. I might sum the book up as “how to start being good to yourself right now”. Different people will have different comfort levels with how they achieve that, but Ferriss doesn’t water down his content to appease that audience.
Advantage to Dave Seah: Since I write for an audience who generally believes in self-empowerment and straight talking, it was a good match. The process of writing the review also helped me absorb the material a little more thoroughly. I also liked Ferriss’ way of deconstructing the problems and his willingness to practice what he believes…he’s like an “Xtreme life hacker”, which is awesome. I could use a little more of that mojo myself. Finally, underlying the book is a philosophy of “questioning why”, and then taking action based on breaking old assumptions. This is very much at the core of my philosophy too.
On a personal level: while he is not currently more than an email acquaintance of mine (we’ve exchanged a few emails since this review went up), Tim represents a style of thinking that I very much value (and find rare in the world), and so his success in spreading the word helps pave the way for me as well. I was myself wondering why someone like Tim would write a book like this if he so successful already…fishy! In his words (via the SXSW Podcast I linked earlier), it’s because he wants to share. My interpretation is that sharing helps create a greater pool of like-minded, life-oriented people who will have the time to do those things they are truly passionate about. It feels incredibly good, and I would not have understood that rationale as being credible if I had never attended SXSW. To be surrounded by a few thousand people who are as excited as you are about creating tools to build community and empower people is just incredible. I thought Tim’s book was an excellent primer for developing the skills to continue the work.
I don’t know if this changes the heart of you as a critic, but if you feel that my directed response is a reasonable one, and you are a reasonable person as well, you might understand why some commenters have chosen to amend their earlier statements.
Neo: Your statement is very astute, but perhaps misapplied.
Let’s look closer:
(1) Bloggers develop an audience of regular readers if they create content that people like or find useful. They have their reasons, and the moment that my writing no longer meshes with them, they unsubscribe. The model that any good blogger follows is “trust through quality content”. If you don’t have quality content, you don’t have a platform to do anything with.
(2) There is a form of logical fallacy known as the appeal to authority, in which a statement made by “someone who is an expert” is accepted as truth without much question. Much of the time, this isn’t a bad optimization: I generally would trust a doctor’s opinion over my own regarding a medical issue because they have the background I lack. However, it would be a mistake to accept an opinion purely because the claimant uses “I’M AN EXPERT” as the reason. Nevertheless, much of society is conditioned to accept this because expertise is assumed to imply intelligence and benevolence toward society. This is what con-men use to prey on the weak; it is the violation of trust.
(3) Your statement shows a keen awareness of (2), but if used as an argument I think it’s a fallacy of association … you are rejecting the premise of an entire book because you see it following a pattern of deceit practiced by other book pitchmen. There is a likelihood you’re correct, of course, but you’re not doing anyone a favor by not getting into specifics. While you may despise those who package poor content and “fool” people into believing it, warning people away from a book based on an applicable but unverified classification is just as irresponsible.
My personal position is that a good idea is a good idea, no matter where it comes from or how it’s presented. It may be an old idea, or maybe one that’s obvious, but heck…if it’s a good idea let’s get the word out and get a discussion going.
People want good ideas, and if they’re presented in a way that appeals to them, that’s a GOOD THING. People also want ideas to be convenient and easy, and they sometimes don’t want to question why they work. That’s not as good, but as you’ve pointed out there’s ways you can make money from it, as others have done before.
Bringing this all home: I happened to like the book, so I said so and provided my interpretation so the people who read this blog can draw their own conclusions on whether to buy it or not. This is the foundation of the sort of trust I try to build here, and if anyone reads me regularly I would hope that this is the reason. I don’t expect people to trust that what I say or design is correct for their life, but I hope that they at least take me seriously some of the time :-)
David, I appreciate your site and visit regularly.
This comment thread should be archived and saved as an example of how people miss the point, subvert their own interests and create red herrings ofin their personal thought.
I read the Ferris book with great enthusiasm and never got the idea that I was supposed to follow his dream. I think he was quite persuasive in the notion I follow mine. I don’t seek a 4 hour work week, but I am determined to create some passive income. I don’t want to live in Buenas Airies, but found a lot of good ideas in the time management section.
The book offers insights that are useful to all, and the criticism of his product, flamboyant personal marketing skills and, surprisingly, his success, are unwarranted. As with any book, there are nuggets and gems that can be used to help one find one’s own muse, so to speak.
As an entrepreneur with nearly 25 years on Tim, I only wish I had read his book 30 years ago.
Amen to that Donald. I am bookmarking this page as a record of my actual thought process before during and after reading the book. After the deft PR storm has settled the book will stand on its own two feet, the theory works – you just need the product.
Dave, you have a very reasonable point: it doesn’t help anybody here to criticize the book based on an association fallacy.
So take his book for what it is: a story of how one man runs his life. That’s it. For the disgruntled employee shoveling away at his 9-5 in a tiny cubicle, Tim’s book may seem like the newest edition of the Bible, while a computer programmer at Google, whose latest innovation just sent their stock prices through the roof, could ignore it altogether since he thrives off of the 9-5 work atmosphere where he is able to realize his potential.
I personally don’t subscribe to his world view, but that’s not to say that it’s not a great book. Tim Ferriss is an extraordinary individual who has truly accomplished a lot within his 29 years; and while many of you may argue over whether or not he’s full of shit, Tim will continue to pursue his passions and achieve great things by adhering to the principles of his Lifestyle Design. It’s really that simple. The question is: Do YOU want to work four hours a week, outsource the grunt labor, and have a lot of free time to take up kickboxing or salsa dancing?
As I was typing this up, my little brother walked in to see what I was doing, so I told him about the book and asked him for his opinion. (He’s a 21-year old college student who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life when he graduates.) His reply? As a young kid with a lot of talent but no direction, he wants to find a job where he can learn more about the world and himself. His ultimate dream is to become a CEO. And while Tim’s lifestyle sounded very attractive to him, he knew it wasn’t going to teach him how to manage a team of professionals or market an unique product. Working 4 hours a week sounds nice, but it won’t give him the tools or the necessary experience to chair the Board of Directors.
And let’s be clear about one thing: it’s your life. There are more ways to live it than the Timothy Ferriss way.
Great, first L Ron Hubbard—and now Timothy Ferriss! How many times do you need to be fooled before you spot da phony? Did anyone even bother to do a background check on Ferriss or call his publisher to verify his claims? Highly recommend reading Bare Faced Messiah by Russell Miller, just google it—da full text is downloadable for free.
Ferriss needs to come out of the closet – South Park foreva!
“Ferriss Wheel”: You skepticism is warranted, but judge the ideas and resources that are presented, not the person, for merit using your own faculties of reason. The best ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, after all. I thought Ferriss’ accounting of what he was doing made sense, and appreciated his supplying of resources and examples.
How funny… I was reading a recent post, and saw that you had a 4HWW review… I read through it, and saw that I commented twice! How short-term my long-term memory is.
Okay, so I’m back, months later, to say that not only have I read the book, I’ve read it twice, and my first Muse is up and running, and I’ve got three more in the plans, the first in the works.
I’ve recommended this book to so many people, I’m frankly shocked when I mention it to someone and they haven’t read it. It’s fantastic.
And, now that I know what’s inside, I have even more respect for your review, Dave. Very thorough, very clear – love it. Thanks again.
Great review of a great book.
Although the concept of “muse” is not new, it’s in old books like “The richest man in babylon” and “Think and grow rich” and even in Kiyosaki’s works, I liked that Tim Ferris puts it clear for the niche of internet entrepreneurs.
For UK readers, these are called “order grabbers” here, not “check rails” – took some searching that did! I even visited several catering shops, none of whom knew the name for what I was describing!
The best deal I’ve found is 4 rails, 36” each for £26.93 + VAT. They do three sizes (18”,24”,36”) and were delivered FAST!
Note, I am in no way connected with Barmans.co.uk, I have just made my first order and thought the service and price were worth sharing!
I love this review, David, and also the discussion. The truth, to my mind, is that Timothy Ferriss is equal parts prophet and huckster, inspiration and nonsence. The “4 hour work week” does not exist (and who would want it anyway, isn’t our work a source of joy?). But the underlying principles for running your life and the pursuit of happiness are sound. For more see my own review:
I really love this part (emphasis mine):
The units, the processes, the conventions, the mathematics…these were merely convenient constructs that had evolved and/or stuck around out because of *inertia* and, in some cases, *momentum*
Tim is coming out with a new and updated version of the book on Dec 15, 2009. I just listened to an interview with him and there’s more!! Did you know he doesn’t even own a cell phone?
He elaborates on the old book and there is a new 100 pages.
Great review of T4HWW. I saw the book when if first came out and immediately thought, this guy is full of crap!
I bought the new revised book and wish I would have bought the original two years ago. It does provide a nice framework for those that are looking for “Lifestyle Design”. Does it work for everyone? Probably not but I know it can work well for small business owners to make them more productive.
You done a fantastic job synthesizing the information.