Inspired in Las Vegas

I know Moses found inspiration in the desert but I didn’t think I would.

Vegas can be inspirational
Vegas can be inspirational

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s keynote speech was the most inspirational keynote I’ve heard. He focused on:

  1. Figure out what brings you happiness. Don’t start a business thinking about the money.
  2. The main things that brings happiness are feelings of connectedness, meaning, and purpose.
  3. Focus on bringing happiness to your employees and customers. He loves when Zappos is described as Happiness in a Box.
  4. He sold his first company (to Microsoft) because in their rapid growth they had lost their company culture, and he stopped looking forward to coming to work. He was determined not to repeat that mistake with Zappos.
  5. Zappos has 10 values that they use for decisions about hiring, firing, and everything in between. They include “create a little fun and weirdness” and “be humble.”

Bob Brisco’s keynote was very down to earth, and sometimes seemed like a rebuttal. Key points from his keynote and subsequent session:

  1. Most brilliant, innovative, inspired and dedicated entrepreneurs fail.
  2. “I’m amazed at how many people don’t think we look at profits when valuating companies.” I guess one of the things that differentiates the Web 2.0 from Web 1.0 is that traffic, growth, and awesomeness aren’t enough. As Brisco says, there’s too much unknown if you’re trying to think 20 years out. There needs to be a clear path to being very profitable in the 24-month period.
  3. He did say that the 6th “transcendental” feature of a great company was passionate leadership. But he made clear that this was in no way a replacement of the first five, which involved building a business based on building a unique, focused site with great content, community, and monetization.

Though Hsieh was far more inspiring, Brisco’s might have been the better keynote. When leaving Las Vegas I picked up Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Quick points from it and from Dennis Prager’s ‘Happiness is a Serious Problem’:

  1. The expectations that we all be positive causes us to deny and ignore our real feelings and what they’re trying to tell us.
  2. Paradoxically, it’s not at all clear that expecting good things makes us happier. The ideal is striving for success within the knowledge that failure is more common. (See In Defense of Negative Thinking)
  3. The best thing to do is often nothing, and positive thinking leads us to IMO disastrous overreach in Iraq, Stimulus Packages, Health Care, etc. All noble endeavors but I think we’d have more success had we gone in with a more realistic view of how our actions could backfire.

I was glad to hear both Hsieh and Brisco. Between them they gave me a nice view from both sides. I then started reading Rick Smith’s ‘The Leap’ which helped put things together for me. He argues powerfully for making important changes, but for making them slowly, incrementally, carefully. He’s talking about career change, but the same applies for any strategic issue.‘s worst changes were the dramatic huge leaps into new products and markets. Its best were ultimately as dramatic but more cautious and incremental.

I’m with Hsieh that we need to focus on happiness, meaning, and doing great things. I’m with Brisco, Rick Smith, Ehrenreich, and Prager that we need to be making our changes with care, discipline and conservative expectations.

Finally, Shabbat in the Young Israel of Las Vegas was more inspirational then I expected, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Image courtesy of / CC BY 2.0