The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, And Join The New Rich
by Timothy Ferriss (Crown 2007).
Most of us would like to work half a day a week, generating enough income to spend the rest of our time traveling.
Most of us would also like to live with ourselves.
Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek
explains how to do the former but not the latter.
Ferriss’ plan is basic: Identify a product that someone else makes. Sell it online to a niche market. Have the manufacturer ship directly to the consumer. Only accept payment by electronic fulfillment. Empower your surrogates to address customer concerns unilaterally. Your job, after the start up, is to let the money roll in, freeing time to take tango lessons in Buenos Aires.
Ferriss’ principal argument is that Americans’ lives are dominated by “time famine,” with people spending thirty years working with colleagues they don’t like in order to buy things they don’t need. Many people would be happier if they downshifted to a less consumptive lifestyle that allowed them to spend more time during the primes of their lives engaged in creative or spiritual or intellectual pursuits. While they’re at it, everyone should throw out or donate to charity the 80% of their belongings they haven’t used in the past year.
“The rules most follow are nothing more than social conventions. There are no legal boundaries stopping you from creating an ideal life,” Ferriss writes. He’s correct. I used to tell law students that, if they wanted to practice entertainment law, all they had to do was practice entertainment law. Same goes for sailing through the South Pacific or living in Africa for a year. Make the necessary preparations and do it. It’s that simple.
I agree with Ferriss’ ends, but I’m appalled by his means.
Ferriss’ book advocates the Taylorization of mediocrity. Ferriss has no interest in being good at something if he can merely be good enough.
“’Expert’ in the context of selling product means that you know more about the topic than the purchaser. No more,” Ferriss states. If you want to learn something new, “read the three top-selling books on your topic and summarize each on one page.” To improve your “credibility indicators,” go online and “join two or three related trade organizations with official-sounding names.”
I have a term for people who operate this way: bullshit artists. The world needs fewer salesmen who can’t answer questions about the products they’re selling. The market can do without more lowest common denominator products that pretend to be, but aren’t, specialized for the niche user. For once, I’d like to see the morning show anchor ask the expert guest what university degree entitles her to the prenomial “Dr.” and which peer-reviewed journal published her field work.
Ferriss uses the example of a friend who, after three weeks, was able to call herself a “top relationship expert who, as featured in Glamour
and other national media, has counseled executives at Fortune 500 companies on how to improve their relationships in 24 hours or less.”
That copy might fool a few people fresh off the plane from rural Moldova, but most of us can see it for the non-resume it is. No academic degree in the field. No significant work experience. No publications (that Glamour
piece could be a quote – not that there’s anything wrong with that
). Put it all together, and it’s another minimally qualified person passing herself off as an expert.
Ferriss appears to have approached his book in the same manner. His ideas are interesting if you’ve never encountered them before, but, if you know what he’s talking about, his advice is thin and his corner cutting is obvious.
For example, Ferris challenges the common American misconception that extended foreign travel is expensive (when, in fact, it can cost significantly less than living in the States). One of his examples is a person who allegedly said, “I’ll only work in consulting until I’m 35, then retire and ride a motorcycle across China.”
Memorable quote. So memorable that anyone who’s read Vagabonding
by Rolf Potts will recognize it from the first chapter. The quote is adapted from Charlie Sheen’s character in Wall Street
, and Potts pointed out that, to most Americans watching the film, the quote barely registered, it seemed such a truism. In reality, Potts noted, a janitor in Sheen’s office building could afford a Chinese motorcycle expedition after working six months.
I have no personal use for Ferriss’ advice. As a lawyer, I’m expected by my clients to have an understanding of the field that goes well beyond having read the three top-selling books (and you know how the bestseller lists are jammed with novelizations about the Copyright Act’s writing requirement).
Even if pressure to perform didn’t come from the clients, I would hope it comes from inside. The people I respect want to master their jobs, not perform at a level a touch above getting fired.
Ferriss’ methods might be a workable way to improve efficiency, but I doubt they're the path to happiness and fulfillment. Who wants to wake up every morning and say, "Today, I'll do the minimum."?
Labels: Book Review, Long-Term Travel, Non-Fiction