Delivering Happiness — At Zappos and Beyond

I recently visited Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh in Las Vegas.  Sitting in his condo in a room lined with hundreds of plants and overlooking the Vegas skyline, we talked about his success and what’s next for Zappos. is an online retailer with a specialty in shoes.  It has branched out into other clothing lines in recent years.  It is known for its exceptional customer service.

A Very Different Company

Zappos is different in many ways.  Here are three:

Shifting Gears: Ann Patchett from Writing to Selling

Avid readers know the name Ann Patchett.  Her work—from Bel Canto to State of Wonder as well as many other books—has won numerous accolades and awards, and she regularly tops the New York Times bestseller list.

When Nashville recently lost its bookstores, Ann decided to do something about it.  She opened Parnassus Books, an independent store, with partner Karen Hayes.  I was there for its grand opening and watched the crowds swarm in to celebrate the return of a local bookstore.   The excitement over Parnassus quickly spread beyond the city’s borders—in fact, a bestselling author opening a bookstore landed Ann not on the book page, but on the front page, of the New York Times.

Ann recently gave an inspiring keynote address for booksellers in New Orleans.  I sat down with her to talk about her success as a writer and her new career as a bookseller.

The Magical World of Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern debuted as an author last year with a most creative book, The Night Circus (it’s also one of my favorite book covers of 2011).  In addition to receiving numerous rave reviews, the book was recently awarded the Alex Award by the ALA, which is given to the top ten adult books that also appeal to young adults.

As I talked with Erin about her achievement, I was struck by three success themes:

How Many Vlogging, Nerdfighting, Bestsellering Authors Do You Know?

Only a few weeks ago, I knew very little about John Green.  I was told he was a huge Vlogger, but that didn’t help since I had never heard of that either.  Vlogging, it turns out, is video blogging.  John Green and his brother, Hank, run an unbelievably popular video blog with over seven million views per month!  Years ago, they decided to give up all textual communications and launched a video conversation that soon went viral.  They also have an entire community of “Nerdfighters,” dedicated to fighting what they call “world suck” (apparently anything in the world that is the opposite of awesomeness.)

What Was So Great About Catherine the Great?

Catherine the Great was by any definition a political success story.  Baptized Sophia Augusta Frederica, she rose from a young German girl to later take the name of Catherine II and become the most powerful woman in the world.  Moving to Russia at just fourteen years old, with no knowledge of the language and no hereditary claim to the throne, she later ascended to power in a coup.  The people of Russia loved her and she became one of the greatest benevolent despots ever known.

How she achieved such power is a fascinating study in leadership whether you agree with her methods or not.  Robert K. Massie now chronicles her extraordinary life in his new book, Catherine the Great.  Massie is a superlative author, historian and biographer.  He won the Pulitzer Prize for Peter the Great:  His Life and World.  His many books are loved for his ability to bring his characters to life.

What were some of the personal qualities serving Catherine’s goals?