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.


Al said...

I have to read his book again. It rubbed me the wrong way the first time and just came off as completely superficial.

D said...

I'm with Al on this one. I read it and felt that it was relevant more towards risk takers and towards those who are not already fairly successful. I could use some help with time management and will soon have to do an internship, so it might be useful there. Thanks for the push to revisit something I previously dismissed.

Gordon said...

My old socialist ghost wasn't troubled on the international front... Far from it. My company is covering the installation of an undersea cable (the first of its kind) that is running down the entire east coast of Africa which will turn Kenya -where under 25's at overwhelmingly educated to a degree level yet have 80% unemployment- into a 'new India' for ICT services.

No, my issues are far more domestic. The 'ease' of approaching wealth creation in this way is singularly middle class.

Studies on toddlers from both working class and middle class backgrounds show that even at the age of 3, working class kids are far more likely to defer to authority or unquestioningly accept expert opinions. They are not built with the sense of entitlement (in the good sense) that you need to actualise personal wealth creation.

So 4HWW has some good info in it... But it shouldn't be the first book for a lot of people. Hence my 'black hat' comment. I meant that in an SEO sense rather than a magical one.

For me, book 1 is Linchpin. Linchpin will improve your life if you are working the drive through at McDonald's.

Although, if you were the drive-through attendant lucky enough to be punched over some McNuggets, then you are about to become a millionaire, anyway. :)

Al said...

What is Linchpin?

I grew up poor with a welder dad but my mom's entire family was white collar middle class and even my dad eventually went to college. I'm not sure I buy that working class people (like my teamster leader grandfather) necessarily defer to authority naturally. Of course, this family is from Wyoming too.

Jason Miller, said...

@Gordon: There is a real problem with the financial "set point" in a lot of working class people. I know this because my family was primarily working class.

But again, I think people look at his book (and a lot of books for that matter) and judge it based on it not delivering things that it never promised in the first place AND on it not applying to all people everywhere at every stage of their career.

I had read a handful of books like Start Late and finish rich, and when I read them I always came away juiced to do something, I just had no idea what. 4HWW I walked away juiced to do the things on the list that I created during the reading AND had a clear picture of how to achieve every step.

Its now two years later and honestly I still have more ideas and opportunity than time to take advantage of it all.

I am ordering linchpin today. Thanks for the recommendation.

Jason Miller, said...

@Al: I think his tone, especially for the first couple chapters, is almost insufferably egotistical hype. After that though he threw out a lot of ideas that, if they were superficial to someone with a more business savvy than I, at very least were new to me and did it in a way that I could use it immediately.

@D: I think that his book is geared towards people who are not already financially successful OR are successful but are tired of working 80 hrs a week to be successful.

As for risk. I suppose that is true, though he gives quite a lot of tactics to minimize the risk of loosing money. Most people who make money outside of being a doctor or lawyer though do it through taking some risks. Every entrepreneurial venture has risk, every investment has risk, I think that if you are completely averse to risk, that you will probably not be looking at a book like this.

Gordon said...

@Al Linchpin is a book by Seth Godin. I actually just blogged about it if you want to check it out.

Also, you can find out more at

Gordon said...

@Jason I grew up very middle class in an extremely working class town.

Reading about the toddler experiment in Outliers literally rocked my world because it basically described exactly the different ways myself and my friends viewed authority and success.

And that's why I put Tim toward the end of the financial book game... Because the playing field simply isn't even. There is a bunch of mental untangling required before Tim can be of use.

Lycan said...

I agree with Gordon in that Linchpin should be your first choice. That book is brilliant, and might be Godin's best work. However, Jason is right in recommending the 4HWW. That book holds brilliance for those that are willing to use it.

That's the rub folks. Self help books fly off the shelves because people want the book to fix everything for them. When people fail to apply the principles, they cry and moan while searching for the next book. I would venture to say the same happens within the Occult world.

Try going through a book and actually using what you learn. It might just saving you a ton on amazon.

Critics of 4HWW should also check out the blog of the same name. If you find the book disagreeable, you'll still learn useful life hacks for all types ;)

Miss Sugar said...

Yay! My first blog disagreement! :) I have to say it's v. nice disagreeing with you and Dossy because you both are very into Tim and attempt to explain him v. well. It's because of the two of you, I kept banging my head against the brick wall.

I understand the notion of being a business owner and then letting things automat on an intellectual level but the thing is on an emotional level, that's not what does it for me in life. I will disagree that one *does* need money to launch a product as someone who has small scaled product launched. You need advertising, you need to buy goods for the product to be made, space to sell the product (internet or physical), etc. For me it also comes down to, I guess I could outsource my very teeny tiny yarn spinning business, but I love spinning. I love having things run through my hands, it's the way I ran my convention.

It could be argued that I learned to automate it by running a track for a larger con so that I could focus on the parts that I love and not focus on the parts I don't like (money, sound system boo), but honestly I figured that out on my own.

I will also disagree that the rewrite is supposed to focus (as per his introduction) on this craptastic economy and on people who don't have buckets of money to begin with. Even many of his arden fans gave him a two paws down on that in his Amazon reviews.

Also, I feel in general his tactics and ideas are much better suited to someone who is in management and sales verses someone in a support role. As someone in a support role (I've been an admin for 10 years now), your job is to be needed and to make your bosses feel lost without you, it's how you keep your job. Saying sorry, I'm only going to work 15 hours a week . . .not so much (also, I'm hourly).

Plus I think he comes from buckets of money and acts like a poncy douchebag and is one of Those Guys who needs to look important all the time and the idea of talking his way out of a grade while some poor TA has to put up with him and a bunch of other self entitled pricks rubs me the wrong way. They get paid a stipend but then that should suit him fine, after all he loves third world wages!

Miss Sugar said...

Also, for the record, I'm okay with working with third world economies but (a) he presents it v. distastefully and (b) it hasn't done our country a whole lot of good (though of course that's not TF's fault. . . I guess ;p), but yeah blahblah global economy cheaper labor, sure.

Jason Miller, said...


First, thank you so much for giving the book a chance based on my and Dossi's recommendation. I have also given things that others love a fair run before finally determining its not for me.

Like I said, when I started using the book I was in a job that I also needed to be at and thus could not use the "work from home section". I also cannot afford to outsource stuff to India just yet (but I am getting close).

That still did not stop me from launching a product using his tech, and automating or saving time on a service that I already provided. Not everything in the book is applicable to everyone at every stage of their lives. I guess the thing that confuses me is why anyone would think that it would be.

Even if you are in a career that you love, in this day and age you need to have a secondary source of income just to have something to invest and eventually retire on.

The financial freedom bit for people that cannot work from home as employees comes in being able to quit that job because you own several different revenue streams.

If you could get your Yarn business to where it takes up 10 hrs a week doing the part that you love, plus you own a website that advertises and drop ships specialty yarn products, plus are selling a DVD about Yarn Spinning - suddenly you will not need to only work 15 hrs a week as an admin - you wont need to work as an admin at all. Better yet, each of those branches feed off of one another: people get your products and want the materials you use and the DVD of how to do it OR people see your DVD and want you product. ETC

At the moment I still havent had time to do real advertising for my stuff. The reason I havent had time is because the Books, Course, Classes, and Services all interrelate and keep word of mouth coming. Soon I will be launching a series of Brass Talismans and such which will be yet another aspect of the whole.

Anonymous said...

@Jason Miller

Brass talismans?

Oh goody, just the thing for the magician, like myself, who has no metalworking skills.