Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week has been around for a few years now. But I only recently got around to reading it.
It was a good read. I can see why it was so popular – making a number of prominent best-seller lists and being credited with inspiring a bunch of people to change the way they work.
Ferriss covers a lot of great concepts. He has an ability to articulate some of the big questions that lie at the heart of the work-life balance quandary.
He introduces his readers to a number of powerful concepts such as Pareto’s Law* and Parkinson’s Law**. He does a fantastic job at encouraging them to think and apply those concepts at all sorts of levels through their lives.
He also challenges the most common, archaic and damaging myths about the Western work culture – work needs to be done in the office, Monday to Friday, 9-5, until your 65…and then you can have some freedom…
There’s a lot to be valued in this book.
But I wouldn’t want Tim Ferriss on my team. And I certainly wouldn’t want to work for the guy.
Ferriss is of the mind that in order to take control of your life, to work less and spend your time in interesting places doing things that you really enjoy – life-style design – you have to become a rude jerk.
He councils his readers to see co-workers, and their attempts to communicate, as time-wasting interrupters.
He provides a number of scripts through his book to help his disciples learn how to be as rude and as dismissive of the human condition as he is.
He coaches his readers through the process of eliminating ‘chitchat’ when you have the misfortune of a team-mate wanting to talk to you. He provides advice on how to train such time wasters to get to the point so that communication is kept at a bare minimum, completely transactional, devoid of any human element.
He seems completely oblivious to the kind of cultural damage one might do in the workplace by fostering these attitudes.
Ferriss’ book is what Dave Logan from Tribal Leadership would describe as classic ‘Stage 3 – I’m great (and you’re not)’.
The 4-Hour Work Week is the story of a lone warrior, scuttling all before him in pursuit of his dreams of the perfect life-style – because I know what will make me happy, god dammit.
Perhaps it’s a maturity thing.
Logan makes it clear through his model that in order to transition through the stages of leadership, you must ‘own’ each stage before you can move on.
Ferris, at least when he wrote this book in 2007, is clearly at the point in his life where he is ‘owning’ stage 3. He’s great, and everyone else is an inconvenience on his path to ultimate awesomeness.
He’s is not trying to take other people along on the ride with him. He’s determined to use and abuse any outsourced help, co-worker and boss to get his way – at whatever cost to the human condition.
Stage 4 of Logan’s Tribal Leadership is ‘We’re Great.’ It’s a stage where people support those around them, people are fully themselves and everyone is happy. They share core values and they achieve things that can only be done through collective effort.
People who have ascended to Stage 4 aren’t burdened with taking people with them. It doesn’t slow them down. Their journey is enhanced by the presence of others in their success. It’s a shared success. The type of success that is impossible to achieve, or even imagine, to those who are in Stage 3.
Don’t mistake Ferriss’ writing this book as a mature desire to take others along for his ride. It’s just one of his plans for a passive income and to spark speaking engagements. He is not developing Stage 4 thinking. He’s spreading Stage 3 thinking.
A classic Ferriss example of Stage 3 (I’m great, you’re not) thinking is that he advocates getting out of team meetings because they are time wasters that act as speed-bumps on his way to the perfect life-style.
Sure, we all hate meetings that are neither efficient nor effective. But wouldn’t a more mature, self-assured, human-minded approach to the problem be to try and help the team design a meeting routine that is better.
Nope. Not in Ferriss’ version of life-style design. He’s more than happy to let his team-mates drown in a problem that he understands and has the skills to change.
He’s unwilling to use his powers to save them.
Save yourself Tim – if you get far enough away you won’t hear the screams of your team-mates drowning!
Sadly, according to Logan, not everyone makes it from Stage 3 to 4. ‘Owning’ it, while a prerequisite for moving on, doesn’t ensure it.
So no, for all Ferriss’ great ideas, his ability to make sense of and apply important concepts, and his ability to challenge myths, I wouldn’t want him on my team.
But to be fair to Ferriss, he doesn’t want to be on my team. He wants to be a golfer, not a cricketer.
He was on a cricket team once and hated it. He resented having to run when the batsman at the other end hit the ball into a gap.
Why should I run, it doesn’t go onto my score?
He loathed mid-pitch conversations.
Time-waster. Get to the point.
But most of all, he hated fielding.
I’m not bowling or batting, but you expect me to stand here while other people bat and bowl?
No, cricket wasn’t his game. He prefers individual sports like golf.
But he doesn’t want to have to go to tournaments. He wants tournaments to come to him.
And while he certainly doesn’t want to carry his own clubs – are you serious? – he definitely doesn’t feel the need to talk to his caddy either. He doesn’t want to provide any instruction or guidance. But if they should ever mess up, and give him the wrong club, he’s got three other caddies walking behind, ready to replace them.
Ferriss’ version of life-style design reminds me of a time when, as a young man, I was living in the UK and travelling intermittently through Europe. In that ‘scene’ any gathering of beer drinking antipodes was tainted by the presence of a travel snob. They would listen to tales of travel, waiting for their chance to pounce and denounce a certain route or destination as ‘just too mainstream for me. I like to get off the beaten track’.
Every gathering of travellers had at least one of these too cool for school-ers
It occurred to me as painfully obvious, even back then, that in their desperate attempt to be different, original and deeper than everyone else, they were doing the opposite. These travel scoffers were a caricature of themselves.
They were mainstream in their attempt to be original.
Ferriss, in his frantic efforts to design the life that is perfect for him – a life that is full of meaning and depth – is ignoring the greatest opportunities at that very thing – the people around him.
Ferriss describes a world in which he can have it all his way – and he encourages his readers to think they can too.
What he fails to realise is that a world in which everyone has it all is a world in which everyone has nothing.
Get the hell out of my way… I want to be happy!
*Pareto’s Law – or as it’s become know the 80/20 principle. It’s the idea that for many events 80% of the effects come from roughly 20% of the causes – 80% of your enjoyment comes from 20% of your activities. 80% of your painful interactions come from 20% of the people you know…etc
**Parkinson’s Law – dictates that the time a task takes will expand unnecessarily to fill the amount of time allotted for it. If you give yourself two weeks to finish that report, it will take two weeks. But if you have a 48-hour deadline, it’ll get done in that time too.