Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review: The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

You spent two weeks negotiating your new Infiniti with the dealership and got $10,000 off? Great. Does your life have a purpose?

If you identify with the Infiniti buyer in the above sentence, don't bother reading The 4-Hour Workweek--it will be beyond your comprehension. In fact, do yourself a favor and stop reading this review right now.

However, if the above sentence resonates with you, get this book and read it carefully. It will be an immensely helpful resource for handling problems and challenges ranging from time management to dream management, and it might give you the kick in the ass you need to completely change your life for the better.

Let's get a few minor criticisms out of the way first. Admittedly, there's little truly original thinking in this book. Anybody can ruthlessly use the 80/20 rule to be more effective in life. Anybody can batch-process emails, cut back on reading the daily news and set personal deadlines to defeat Parkinson's law (meaning: tasks grow to fill the time allocated to them). The originality of this book is how it synthesizes and combines these ideas to help readers become more effective and efficient in their daily lives.

Moreover, it's a genuine pleasure to be reminded of useful ideas in tightly written and colorful prose. Being told that something "is about as fun as head-butting a curb" is an amazing incentive to avoid doing that something.

This book is admittedly glib in some parts, arrogant in others and even insolent on occasion. (I'll give two examples: First: one segment of the book, written with the unintentionally ironic title "How to Become a Top Expert in Just 4 Weeks," simply cries out for satire--and yet it still contains extremely useful advice. Second, Ferriss' personal story of subverting the rules to become a champion kickboxer will annoy many readers, but it is an exceptional example of outrageously creative thinking.)

These are all unsurprising, perhaps even necessary, qualities of a book written by a slightly insecure, slightly defensive twenty-something kid who hopes to be deliberately provocative. With that in mind, here is a piece of sincere advice from this reviewer: Don't let the glib parts misdirect you from the value packed into this book.

The rules of conventional life have always stood on a fairly shaky foundation. This book will help you subvert those rules so you can live a more effective, meaningful life.

Reading List for The 4-Hour Workweek:
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz
How to Make Millions with Your Ideas: An Entrepreneur's Guide by Dan S. Kennedy
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Pitts
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by Achieving More with Less by David Koch
Less Is More: The Art of Voluntary Poverty ed. by Goldian Vanderbroeck
The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living by Randy Komisar

A final note: I'd be doing readers a disservice if I didn't tackle a fundamental flaw in Ferriss' idealized internet-based, fully outsourced, location-independent business model. Unfortunately, Ferriss ignores the crucial factor of barriers to entry, which are essentially non-existent in this model. Any well-run creative business idea can make money in the short run, but if the idea can be easily copied, then your fate leaves your hands and falls into the hands of your future competitors. They will have little difficulty replicating your business and undercutting your prices. I don't want readers to become glassy-eyed optimists about this easy-entry business structure.

Once again, don't let this flaw divert you from an otherwise insightful and valuable book. And I'm not saying it's impossible to find success with this kind of a business. But if you can find a business that can be operated from any location, allows for outsourcing of all functions, can be automated to the point where the owner doesn't even need to bother himself with it, and has sustainable and meaningful barriers to entry, please call me. I'll send you all my money. Until then, don't bother me. I have an outsourced unicorn breeding business to run.

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