About the time I moved from Las Vegas, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh announced the ambitious Downtown Project which he is spearheading. His bold vision is to turn the languishing area into “Disneyland for entrepreneurs.”

New start-ups are moving to Las Vegas, co-working spaces with names like Work in Progress are buzzing and renovated apartments and condos are attracting entrepreneurial owners.

There’s another aspect to this project that is unique. Hsieh is determined to create a place filled with opportunities for serendipity which he calls meaningful collisions. I share his fascination with the phenomenon.

While the common understanding of serendipity is unexpected good fortune, I learned that it goes much further than that. The origin of the word comes from an old Persian fairy tale called The Princes of Serendip.

The story involves three young noblemen who traveled the world. They rarely found the treasures they were looking for, but continually ran into other treasures equally great or even greater which they were not seeking.

In looking for one thing they found something else. Even though their goals eluded them, they were more than rewarded with their wayside discoveries. When they realized what was happening, they got an entirely new slant on life.

As Hsieh explains, “I think you can create your own luck. The key is to meet as many people as you can and really get to know them. I think for most people, college was the last time it was normal to just randomly run into people all the time. As you get older, you drive to work, see the same people every day, then go home. But the best things happen when people are running into each other and sharing ideas.”

Want to have more serendipitous adventures? It does not occur when we are passively waiting for something to happen. We must be actively engaged in the pursuit of some goal and, yet, be willing for it to turn out differently than first imagined.

Although you may not be part of the Las Vegas Downtown Project, you can create serendipitous opportunities wherever you happen to be. Keep asking yourself, “When was the last time I did something for the first time?”

Engage in social media (don’t just open a Facebook account). Join or start a MeetUp group. Attend seminars where ideas will be filling the air. Investigate co-working spaces in your community. Or start one. Find a mastermind group or accountability partner. Create a quest to explore a new subject. Refuse to settle for predictability.

Specialize in meaningful collisions and celebrate them as they happen. Or, as Tony Hsieh advises, keep creating your own luck.

If you had lived in the neighborhood where Tony Hsieh grew up, you might have met an earnest little door to door salesman just discovering his entrepreneurial spirit. Now at the ripe old age of 36, Hsieh shows us the path that took him from selling earthworms and photo buttons to running the success story known as Zappos.

As highly publicized as Hsieh and his company have been, his new book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose  tells a far more complex story. In the first part of the book, we get to know Hsieh; in the second part we get to see the evolution of the unique culture that is Zappos.

Hsieh’s story is so captivating (and I assume that his youth contributes to his recall of details) that you may find yourself identifying with his ups and downs—and cheering for him even though you know how the story  turns out. 

To my delight, I discovered Tony Hsieh and I have a number of things in common.

1. We both became fascinated with mail order when we were kids.

2. We both adopted Las Vegas as our hometown.

3. We both believe that business is about much more than just making money.

4. We both look for lessons from diverse places (i.e. poker) that apply to running a successful business.

Much of his story is wonderfully unique, of course. From his student days at Harvard where he was more excited about building his pizza business than he was about studying to his partying days in San Francisco, Hsieh seemed to be perpetually looking for opportunities.

Although many people start a business because they fall in love with a product or an idea for a service, Hsieh is one of the ones who are fascinated and challenged by  the entrepreneurial journey. By his own admission, he isn’t all that crazy about shoes, but bringing them to the marketplace in an innovative way is the object of his passion. 

Happily, for the reader, you don’t have to dream of building an online empire in order to find the useful ideas in Delivering Happiness. There’s a stunning lack of corporate hubris and plenty of examples of how Zappos walks the talk every single day in each and every part of the business. 

Numerous Zappos folks share their stories giving us even clearer insight into how the much-quoted core values influence their daily lives. Even the story of how those values evolved shows us that this is not a business as usual operation. 

 Zappos Core Values

1. Deliver WOW Through Service

2. Embrace and Drive Change

3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

5. Pursue Growth and Learning

6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

8. Do More With Less

9. Be Passionate and Determined

10. Be Humble

While each of those values is described in great detail, it seems obvious to me that they provide a foundation for building a standout operation, even if you’re a one-person enterprise—or a school or nonprofit organization.

You’re going to be seeing Tony Hsieh and hearing a lot about Delivering Happiness in the coming weeks. There’s even a DH site to share in the festivities. I urge you to pay attention. This isn’t just a smart book—it’s a wise one as well.

After all, Zappos isn’t just a company that’s making it better; they’re also showing us how we can do the same.

When I think about my Dream House, it’s not a big glistening kitchen, high-tech family room or backyard swimming pool that catches my fancy. 

No, my perfect home has a library, a real library, with  floor-to-ceiling books, and aladder on wheels for exploring the top shelves. There’s a fireplace with a cozy reading chair and a good light.

I’m am not alone in thinking that would be exquisite. “When I have a house of my own,” said a character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, “I shall be quite miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Eda LaShan once said that middle age begins when you realize you won’t live long enough to read all the books you want to explore. According to that definition, I was born middle-aged.

Fortunately, I landed in a family that assumed reading was an important part of a well-lived life and we were always surrounded by books. As much as I love the library, I can’t imagine living without books of my own at my fingertips.

Libraries are as unique as the people who assemble them, of course. When I scan my own shelves, I see a record of my life as telling as a photo album. 

Creating a wonderful personal collection can be both haphazard and intentional. If you are serious about success, your library will reflect this. 

What kinds of books show up in libraries of the Joyfully Jobless?

Inspirational. We quickly learn the truth of the adage that you can’t outperform your own self-image. 

While we all have our own favorites, I know that on the days I feel stuck or frustrated or conflicted, I can get back on track more quickly if I spend time with an old friend like The War of Art. 

The books that inspire us the most are often those that stand up to repeated visits. They help us reconnect with our own best selves and nudge us to move past pettiness. 

Informational. Of course, we require different kinds of information all along the way as we build and grow. How-to books are hugely popular, although not everyone is keen about putting what they’ve read into action.

With the avalanche of  information which abounds today, there’s really no excuse for saying, “I don’t know how.”  You can fill in the gaps easily.

 Whether you need help with marketing or how to start a profitable petsitting business or how to write a killer book proposal, a book written by a reliable source can get you pointed in the right direction.

Heroes and heroines. A well-rounded library for an entrepreneur would also include some great biographies and autobiographies from successful self-bossers. 

I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, the upcoming story of the entrepreneurial evolution of Zappos founder. It will be taking its place alongside numerous stories of inspiring entrepreneurs in my library. 

If you’d like to see some other biographies that I’ve loved, check out my list, First the Business, Then the Book over at Flashlight Worthy Books.

And speaking of Flashlight Worthy, pay them a visit for hundreds of great book recommendations compiled by all sorts of experts and aficionados

“We are all pilgrims on the same journey,” said Nelson DeMille, “but some pilgrims have better road maps.” 

Fill your library with the best maps you can find and consult them regularly. Going places may just start in the quietest room of the house.


Did you know that May is Get Caught Reading Month? Participate.





Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has this advice:

Remember back when sending SMS text messages on your cell phone was a new thing, and it seemed kind of strange to use your cell phone to do that? And today, you probably wonder how you ever lived without text messaging.

Well, Twitter is the same way. It’s going to seem a little weird at first, but I promise you if you can talk your friends into joining it and you all use it for 2 weeks, it will change your life. You will wonder how you ever lived without it.

The problem with Twitter is that it’s a bit confusing to set up, and it takes a while to convince people to even try it out. And when they try it out, if they don’t have friends that are already using it, then it’s really hard to understand the value of it.

I know that I’ve been spending about half an hour every time I try to convince my friends to sign up for Twitter. At first, they think it sounds interesting but aren’t really motivated to sign up. Sometimes it’s been a multi-week long process. But finally they relent and sign up, probably just so they can shut me up. I walk them through the signup process, step by step, and then slowly but surely, they become addicted and their lives are never the same again.

So to save me from having to give the same spiel over and over again, I decided to create this page for anyone new to Twitter.

Read Tony’s get-started advice now.

Trader Joe’s was in a festive mood this morning. There were balloons and flowers everywhere and the employees were in costume. Alas, I arrived too early to sample the chocolate-dipped strawberries. I’m a raving TJ’s fan and not just because I love their food: I’m fascinated by the atmosphere. The other day, I was checking out and I asked the always-cheerful man helping me how he was. “Fantastic!” he replied. I pointed out that he always seemed to be fantastic and he said, “Having open heart surgery will do that.” Then he shared a bit about his philosophy of optimism.

Two other entrepreneurs that I love are Tom & Ray, the Car Talk guys. As I was heading home from the post office this morning, they were talking to a woman who called in for advice on buying used cars for her college-aged sons. She mentioned that she was also going back to college. Later in the conversation, they asked what she was going to study and she said business. Immediately, Tom lectured her about her decision saying, “But you’re an artist. You’ll be bored to death. After a week you’ll want to gnaw your leg off. Don’t do something just because you think it will make more money.”

My kind of guys.

They’re not the only self-bossers that I’m crazy about. My new love is Zappo’s founder Tony Hsieh who just made Fast Company’s list of the 50 most innovative companies in the world. Here’s a look at the foundation on which this company is built, in Hsieh’s own words:

At Zappos, we have 10 core values that act as a formalized definition of our company culture. Our core values weren’t formed by a few people from senior management that sat around in a room at a company offsite. Instead, we invited every employee at Zappos to participate in the process, and here’s the final list  we collectively came up with:

1) Deliver WOW Through Service

2) Embrace and Drive Change

3) Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

4) Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

5) Pursue Growth and Learning

6) Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

7) Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

8) Do More With Less

9) Be Passionate and Determined

10) Be Humble

The cool thing about the Zappos core values is that  I’ve used them as my own personal values as well. So it makes tweeting really easy for me… Whether I tweet about something personal or something related to Zappos, if I’m living my life through these 10 core values, it all goes towards building the Zappos brand while shaping me personally as well.

I urge you to add to your Valentine weekend celebration by viewing this Zappos’ video on What is Love? .

This week’s My Turn piece in Newsweek is by Ann Banks and is called Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One. She’s talkiing about traditional storytelling (as opposed to the way I talk about it in the Compelling Storytelling seminar), but it’s a wonderful reminder of the power of storytelling. She ends by saying, “We need again to imagine a future that is meaningful in the face of difficult circumstances. Listening to each other’s stories may grant us a sense of common purpose that money can’t buy.”

I’ve been wondering how I’ll explain to my grandchildren what it was like to take pictures before digital photography. Thanks to Bill Geist, I realize there’s a much longer list of things to show them that are new to our world. Last week on CBS Sunday Morning, he did a delightful piece in honor of the show’s 30th anniversary. Geist introduces his toddler granddaugther to everyday things that didn’t exist 30 years ago. Take a look. 

I’ve always liked Rick Steves’ philosophy about travel being an opportunity to be a voluntary ambassador of world peace so I was happy to read that he received a Citizen Diplomat Award this week.. 

He wrote about the experience on his blog and said, “NCIV promotes citizen diplomacy with nearly 100 community organizations throughout the United States. Working for the US Department of State, their mission is to welcome and enrich the experience of people (mostly education, business, and political leaders) who visit our country…There’s always something uplifting about getting committed, caring people with the same passion together in the same room. I enjoyed giving my Travel as a Political Act talk, and they seemed to gobble up the ideas. Even though I may have been preaching to the choir, there is a powerful, intangible value in such a pep rally (for me, as well as for my audience).” 

Finally, if you have unrequited wanderlust, read this story about Anne Estes who has become an international petsitter. 

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place. ~ Zora Neal Hurston

A couple of weeks ago, a story in my weekly suburban newspaper caught my eye. The title of the piece was “Hoisting a Business” and told the story of 18-year-old Anthony Waddle, a former high school pole vaulter who has set up a school in his parent’s backyard to train the sport to other kids. He charges $100/month with a $40 annual registration fee. His goal is to have 40 students and an indoor facility.

I’m always on the lookout for unique ways that people make a living without a job, of course. Another local favorite is a story about Dr. Michael Crovetti, who runs a sports medicine academy. Not only has Dr. Crovetti performed 8,000 surgeries, he started another business called Skeletal Metal, a jewelry business that sells bracelets, rings, earrings and pendants made from the same types of steel plates he used to pin together broken bones.

Examples of the entrepreneurial spirit are all around, but unless you’re tuned in, you’ll miss the good stories. If you’re going to be part of the revolution, it seems obvious to be curious and inspired by the things others are doing. 

A few years back, CBS Sunday Morning began a story about Chuck Leavell, a tree farmer in Georgia. I looked up from my crossword puzzle thinking his name sounded familiar. Since I don’t know any Georgia tree farmers, I was a bit perplexed until the story unfolded and we learned that Leavell has a second occupation playing keyboards for the likes of Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. A devoted environmentalist, he studied agronomy while riding on tour buses. The piece was a fascinating study of making room and time for diverse passions.

Just yesterday, there was Zappo’s founder Tony Hsieh sharing his business philosophy with Oprah (via Skype from his headquarters just down the road from me). I’ve been paying a lot of attention to him lately so I was curious to see what he had to say. He may be the most unassuming executive around, but he really got my attention when he said, “We believe in chasing the vision, not the money.” Chasing the vision has led him to design a workplace this is wonderfully wacky while being wonderfully efficient. 

That’s not Zappo’s only guiding principle, however. Here’s their mission statement. Feel free to borrow.

Deliver WOW Through Service

Embrace and  Drive Change

Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

Pursue Growth and Learning

Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

Do More With Less

Be Passionate and Determined

Be Humble