Book Report: The 4-Hour Work Week

Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by KNau, Jun 20, 2007.

  1. KNau

    Original Member

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    We haven’t done any business book reports on indiegamer in a long time so I thought I would try to get this going again…

    The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss is probably a perfect example of how you can determine the importance of your ideas by how many people you piss off. The reviews and comments aimed at this book seem to come in three varieties - glowing praise, agitated white liberal guilt or brainwashed “work ethic” diatribes.

    So if your response to outsourcing is “How dare you take advantage of poor people in other countries” and your plan for wealth accumulation is to “Work really hard” then you needn’t read any further. You’ll just upset yourself because my review is of the “glowing praise” variety.

    The plan advocated in “The 4-Hour Work Week” is really nothing new:
    1. Remove the time interruptions from your life
    2. Develop passive income so you don’t have to work so many hours (if at all)
    3. Automate your passive income source so you don’t make the mistake of creating a second “job” for yourself.
    4. Act on your retirement plans now rather than when you’re 65
    But the way the information is presented in the book does an excellent job of laying out the roadmap to liberate yourself from the 9 to 5 world and onto the beach (or wherever you prefer to go) in as little time as possible. I mean literally a step-by-step plan that covers tons of possible variations, all of it presented in a humorous and optimistic tone that I found very enjoyable. This isn’t a “business” book in the traditional sense since it approaches work and finances as the means to an end and not as the goal itself.

    The book advocates living the life of an ongoing series of mini-retirements that last months at a time rather than saving and waiting until your silver years before doing anything interesting with your time. It's a message that, as a lazy good-for-nothing Generation X-er, really speaks to me. A cubicle is a shameful place to spend your life.

    One of the most controversial aspects of this book is the author's advocacy of outsourcing executive tasks overseas. Many reviewers have bristled at the idea of outsourcing, I suspect solely because they’re conditioned to do so. Outsourcing must be evil, right? That’s what Lou Dobbs keeps saying!

    The author’s example is employing Indian MBAs to write proposals and do research on given subjects for as little as $5 an hour. There’s a particularly hilarious insert by an editor at Esquire who decided to try outsourcing. Here’s a sample:

    The other surprisingly controversial assertion this book makes is that work is not and should never be the defining factor of your life. Most people in Westernized countries lead lives where your job is your identity. To hear otherwise seems to upset many people and they fall back on the argument of “What happed to the idea of a work ethic?” and “I’d rather get rich the old fashioned way, by working hard!” It’s up to the reader to decide where the information takes them.

    The Good:
    The most important takeaway I got is that it’s not nearly as expensive as you think to achieve your lifestyle goals. The book includes a formula for figuring out how much your immediate lifestyle dreams over the next 6 months to 1 year would actually cost. For me it totaled just an extra $4,000 a month.

    It was a big kick in the nuts as I realized that I don’t need to make “millions” or even “hundreds of thousands” to live the lifestyle I wanted. I need roughly $50,000 and that makes excuses for inaction very difficult to come by.

    The Bad:
    The plan delivered in the later stages for earning an income is to become a middleman, selling products over the Internet. This causes a lot of consternation in readers unfamiliar with web-based businesses and the author’s own limited viewpoint adds to that.

    I don’t think he paints the passive income opportunities on a large enough canvas for readers to see that you don’t have to get into a business that you aren’t passionate about to start a passive income stream. No matter how much money is involved, I just can’t bring myself to sell crap like supplements online.

    Fortunately, as game developers we know that games and utilities, even freeware via advertising can provide as much of a passive income as any other business. Heck, you don’t even have to develop the games to make money off them (affiliates, ad networks). There is room to chase your “passion” while enacting the plan The 4-Hour Work Week provides, I don’t think the author does quite a good enough job explaining that.


    Overall I’m delighted that I read this book when I did. I’m in the process of re-launching my game development efforts and this book helped me realize that I was on the way to creating a second dead-end job for myself rather than a vehicle to live the lifestyle I want. A few minor adjustments in the business plan and I think I can finally see the light (and the sandy beach) at the end of the tunnel. I highly recommend it to indies.
     
  2. KNau

    Original Member

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    So what does the 4-Hour Work Week mean for indies?

    Indie development can be done anywhere.
    With a decent laptop there's no reason you can't develop and upload games from a beach, the deck of a cruise ship or from an internet cafe in Amsterdam. There's no reason not to go mobile and see the world while still chasing your indie developer passions.

    We're already half-way there
    Customer interaction in the indie world is a fraction of the hassle it is in the online sale of physical items like clothing or supplements. Our transaction providers take care of order processing as well as the delivery of the key code or download link. It's only once every blue moon that we even get so much as a chargeback to deal with. Most indie businesses (though I doubt we'd admit to it) would only require an e-mail check once, maybe twice a week to maintain. That includes people who sell thousands of copies a month.

    You don't need to spend your life behind a computer
    Since game development is in many ways my vacation, I don't take the 4-Hour Work Week requirement literally. But I also don't want to spend my life behind a computer. I think a 3-day, 18 hour work week would be my goal and I could still complete full games in roughly a 2 to 6 month timeline each, webgames in half that. That means plenty of games or traffic to monetize without sacrificing quality (or quantity) of life.

    You don't have to sell your soul
    Given how little it actually costs to maintain a semi-retired lifestyle it really isn't necessary to chase after the latest trend or where you think the hit market is.

    I like to reframe the argument as this: if you won the lottery and money were no longer an issue in your life how would it effect your game development?

    If I won the lottery I would absolutely still be developing games. The only difference is that:
    • I would only develop games on my own relaxed timeline - no deadlines, budget pressures or sales targets to worry about.
    • I would only develop games that I personally thought would kick ass, completely ignoring whatever the current trends and conventional wisdoms are.
    • Since money wouldn't be an issue I'd release my full, kick-ass commercial games as freeware.

    Now if you've read the book you realize that you don't need a million dollars or to win the lottery to live that lifestyle - so why not start with the end in mind? The whole point of the book is to stop waiting until some distant point when you're frail and grey to enjoy life. Start your retirement now.

    So what does your ideal "indie retirement" look like?
     
  3. Matthew

    Indie Author

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    I thought the best bits in 4HWW were in the beginning. It's essentially an essay on the philosophy of wealth. Phrases like "true millionaires do interesting things, not just own enviable things" make a lot of sense to me. His section on goal-making was great, too: Pick unrealistic goals. The rest of the world is busy pursuing "realistic" goals, so the mediocre stuff actually has the most competition.

    The second half of the book is the nitty-gritty walkthrough of setting up a "muse" company (a business which serves no other purpose except making passive money). There are some extractable tips there, too, especially with market research, but it's definitely way zoomed in on details.

    Still, I'd recommend the book!
     
  4. PoV

    PoV
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    I "retired" somewhere between 2 - 1.5 years ago (was still doing some couple days a month "contract" work on the side when I first left). I set myself up for about 3-4 years of living cheaply, that I could pull from if I found good places to pay to speed things up. I would have started a year and a bit earlier, but when a friend opens a startup studio and offers you a significant role, you're compelled to see what that's like. ;)

    I've been incredibly fortunate, more than I want to admit to, with everything related me and my still unreleased game. The latest in my long list being the Canadian dollar going up, making paying my American artist that much better. Thank you US economy. I could so make a killing after the election next year. ;)

    It's probably more useful to "avoid" current trends, instead of "ignore" them. As some people have sadly found out, hardcore SHMUPS aren't a flourishing market (outside freeware).

    Certainly not conventional wisdom. But there's something to be said for a model involving games like "N" or "Cave Story", and having paid for "Gold" versions or sequels. Alien Hominid I suppose is the classic example of this, though dated.
     
  5. Game Producer

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    KNau - very good review, thanks for taking time for doing this. I would also like to add that people might be interested to check out www.4hourworkweek.com where the author has put all kinds of calculators and stuff online.
     
  6. cybermonk

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    Sounds like a very interesting book, I just ordered it :)

    Thanks for the tip!
     
  7. KNau

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    As Polycount Productions mentioned there is exclusive content on the 4-Hour Work Week website. It's funny because he uses a "type in word x on page y, paragraph z" as the login. Very old-school.
     
  8. LilGames

    LilGames New Member

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    I just bought the book based on your report. I even paid full price in a book store. :-D IT BETTER BE GOOD!! ;)
     
  9. LilGames

    LilGames New Member

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    OK I just read the foreward and already I'm very skeptical of the author. His life history sounds made up for "show". Claims like [paraphrased] "I decided to learn kickboxing, and 4 weeks later I won the National Championship" are too grandiose and serve as big red flags to me. (Not even cheesey movies like the Karate Kid would try and be so contrived as to make us believe it's possible in 4 weeks :D ).

    His business endeavours leave an equally bad impression, as they are all the type of business that sell "quick fix" solutions that are difficult to disprove. ie: There's no proof speed reading actually works, but he sold training in it while in University. He built a business that sells nutritional supplements. Again, you can package all sorts of benign substances into a pill and claim some sort of benefits.

    Anyone can sell snake oil, but it takes a certain kind of person to actually do it. So I have to ask myself, can I believe and trust the writings of a man who's entire career has revolved around selling quick-fix solutions and "gaming the system"? This is his first book and what's it about? Oh yes, a quick-fix solution to something every man and woman hates: Working!

    I will reserve final judgement until I finish the entire book, as there may be some nuggets of useful advice in here, but I must say I feel like a sucker already. :(

    This Wikipedia page seems to validate my suspicions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Ferriss
     
  10. TimS

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    Reminds me of what Henry Ford reportedly said to Bucky Fuller, "You can make money, or you can make sense. The two are mutually exclusive."

    The certain kind of person is off toward the money end of the spectrum, though not quite so far as the person robbing banks.

    The author's definitely good at what he does though -- wouldn't be a NYT bestseller if he wasn't.

    [haven't read the book. might later.]
     
  11. LilGames

    LilGames New Member

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    Well, all it takes for that is an oganized book buying blitz. Sciento1ogists used to (and probably still?) have their book "Dianetics" as a best seller simply by requiring all members to buy the book over and over again.

    Anyways, I found this interview with him: He speaks mainly about daily distractions that reduce productivty (like email! And web forums!! ;D). In this video he seems very credible. So I'll flip flop again and reserve judgement until reading the whole book. ;-)

    http://scobleizer.com/2007/06/02/working-on-a-saturday/
     
  12. Diragor

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    I own the book and I like it, and although I'm not posting to necessarily defend him in general I'd like to point out a couple of things.

    First, that kickboxing thing was accomplished on a technicality that he explains in the book. He wasn't claiming that he became the best kickboxer in the world in four weeks, he used it to illustrate that you can win by not playing the game the way everybody else does (that's the lesson I took from it, anyway).

    Second, I don't see anything in that Wikipedia article that validates any suspicions, unless you feel that simply sharing a suspicion is validation enough. The article confirms one of his claims (the tango record) and then lists a bunch of claims that are considered suspicious because they haven't been proven. I agree that the Amazon comments thing is very suspicious, but I wouldn't be surprised if the publisher was behind it.

    Anyway, none of that should discount the value of the book. There are valuable ideas in there even if the author turns out to be a lying jerk. (And he could be, I don't know.)
     
  13. KNau

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    He admits the kickboxing thing was by abusing a loophole so, yes, you aren't too far off the mark in your assessment of his personality. Like I said in my review, his business is selling products over the internet (nutritional supplements at that). It's a legit business but it's not for me.

    The indie goal is the same as that set out in the book, a steady stream of passive income so you don't have to be stuck in the 9 to 5 grinder. The risk of game development is that we tend to create another 8 to 12 hour a day job for ourselves and that defeats the purpose. Adding Ferriss' concept of lifestyle design to the indiedeveloper mix just opens the possibilities of what to do with your free time. Give yourself permission to let your game development income feed a more interesting and exciting life so the highlight of the year isn't just the GDC.

    Other than the whole "champion of this" and "Guinness record in that" aspect, all of his achievements are within reach of the anyone reading this. I don't care about winning but I wouldn't mind trying mixed martial arts, I wouldn't mind taking tango lesson in Buenos Aires :)

    I honestly feel there is value in the message for indies so hopefully you can find something to appreciate in the book.
     
  14. Game Producer

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    I was thinking the same... what exact Wikipedia quotes "validate your suspicions"? I've exhanged couple of emails with Tim and he seemed like a cool guy... I don't understand what's the fuss all about?

    Just buy his book ;)
     
  15. Ricardo C

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    The best way to get rich quick? Write a book telling others how to get rich quick ;)
     
  16. Spore Man

    Indie Author

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    I was user "LilGames" above... I haven't finished the book but he makes lots of good tips that I just needed "reinforced". So, for example, I have an off-shore assistant now. His points on distractions to productivity are great too. So so far, I'm no longer skeptical that someone can actually benefit from at least some of the book.
     

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