Monday, August 16, 2010
Tim Ferris and the Four Hour Work Week
By pure coincidence this week I bumped into criticisms of two authors that have really helped me out in my life: Tim Ferris and Robert Kiyosaki. More importantly, these are two people that I list as recomended reading to Strategic Sorcery students as purveyors of ideas that are easily combined with magical methods. In this post I will talk about Tim Ferris. I'll talk about Kiyosaki in a later post.
For those that do not know, Tim is the author of The Four Hour Work Week and the blog of the same name. Though I had read books on productivity and business before, they mostly all dealt in generalities and vague notions. Lots of "You CAN DO IT!" and not a lot of "Here is exactly how". 4HWW was different. Tim is very specific about how to accomplish anything that he puts out there. As I see it there are three aspects of the book: Business, Time Management, and what we will here call Cheats.
It is the business end where I think that the book really stands out. Instead of just assuming that you had a product in mind, Tim went through steps about how to come up with products, why you might not want to deal with a product that did have in mind, and how to run a business without a product of your own. By the end of the first "Income Autopilot" chapter I had a list on a napkin of 9 different business projects. Among them was the Strategic Sorcery Course. In addition to that, I have used information from the book to get one friend set up with Guthy Renker to market a product she invented, and helped another friend start a website drop shipping a product that he discovered while traveling.
In addition to this, the book has a lot about time management. Maybe I was not well read enough before, but I had never heard of the Pareto principal before reading 4HWW. It has changed my life. Without that principal, and many other time saving tidbits that Tim throws out there (and a healthy dose of David Allen as well), I would not be able to raise twins, run a course, write books, and serve clients. It just would be impossible.
The last aspect of the book, what I call the cheats, are basically strategies that exploit the rules of a given situation and turn them to your advantage. Want to have a little cred behind your name before you sell that DVD on Yoga for Geeks? Tim has a Four step plan to establish yourself as a credible expert. Want to work from home? Tim has a system for getting your office to let you do that (which I have seen work BTW). Want a little help managing your life and business? Tim has advice on using 3rd world personal assistants. Want to boil an egg without having to work at peeling the shell? Tim has advice for that too.
I have used parts of the book myself, and I have helped other people apply parts of his advice in the course of my work.
So, now let me address the criticism from the blogs. Specifically Gordon, Deb, and an older post by Penelope Trunk that I just read this week.
Gordon, has mixed feelings because he feels his advice only works well for a very specific demographic. He feels that: "There is a definite class barrier to his suggestions which doesn’t sit well with whatever is left of the socialist student in me". I have to say that I just can't see it. Is Tim from a privileged upbringing? Yes, probably, but most of the advice in the book is totally applicable to most people. Do you need to have a certain amount of success before you can afford to outsource? Yes. So that is something that you may not get to use. I haven't used that portion myself. You do not however have to be privileged to find yourself working in an office where you can leverage yourself into working from home. You do not have to be privileged to come up with a product, market it, and sell it.
In fact using todays technology, and a lot of the tech that Tim throws out, you need less money than ever to start a company and start doing business. I forget where I got the statistic from, but something like 60% of the billionaires in America have only a High School Diploma.
I can see how the socialist thinker might get upset if the idea of geo-arbitrage doesn't sit well with you because you feel that you are exploiting people in poorer countries, To that I would just say that business needs to be done using facts on the ground as they are. Also, people in Bangalore do quite well in these call center jobs. Having once lived in Nepal and paid $60 a month in rent I can tell you that a little money goes a long way, so what may seem like exploitation here in America, amounts to a pretty good living elsewhere.
Deb has no mixed feelings about Tim. She hates him. She has not been able to apply any of his teaching because she feels, like Gordon, that the book is disconnected from most people and that Tim "has *no* clue what it means to be really honestly middle class though the re-write claims to". Before I deal with her specific objections, I want to point out that I don't care whether Tim Ferris knows what it is like to be middle class as long as his tech is applicable. He also doesnt claim to know the middle class in the re-write. In fact rather than pretend he has that insight, most of that material in the re-write is stories from other people who have had success with his advice.
The aspects of the teaching that Deb had specific problems with are that she could not afford to outsource small projects. Neither can I, unless you count the graduating college student that built my website as a way to finish his required work for school and now uses it in his portfolio while looking for work. Still though, the outsourcing bit gets a lot of attention, but it is a small portion of the book. I do not expect to be able to practice every last bit of advice in a book myself, but does that mean it shouldnt be there for those than can? Including myself when I CAN afford it?
She also mentions that in her work she is paid by the piece and doesn't see how she would be able to work less. When I read the book I had a job involving installation of high end window treatments at the beach, I also could not get to work from home. I used to have an office job though, and you do not need to be privileged to get one. I worked for AIG and for Net2Phone and if I stayed in that life I could have used that info. Should that advice not be in the book because not everyone can use it?
In a way Deb is missing the whole point of the book. Even the bit about working from home for an office is actually just a tool for eventually moving yourself from being an Employee to Self-Employed to Business Owner. The difference between being self-employed and being a business owner is all about whether you actually work at the business you own. I am friends with a Fire Chief in north Jersey who owns a chain of Bagel shops. He cannot work from home as a fire chief, but he used the principals in 4HWW to open a chain of Bagel stores that will provide for him when he retires in a way that his pension alone never would. How long does he spend working for the Bagel chain? Actually, about four hours a week.
The last blogger is Penelope. I am not going to spend a lot of time on this one because honestly, while Gordon and Deb have specific criticisms of his work, Penelope seems to pretty much be trying to parlay her personal dislike for him into that kind of criticism. Do I believe that he had employees pose as reviewers and posters? Yes, seems like something he would do. Do I believe that he hornswaggled her into a one on one sit down? Yep, if that is what he thought his business required. Personally I couldn't give a shit whether I like him or not. Its the advice I care about and that has worked wonders for me.