myths from the four hour work week

Anyone who knows me, or has read more than a few posts on this blog, will know that I love Timothy Ferriss‘ book “The 4 Hour Work Week“. The strategies are awesome, and the book is inspiring on many levels – The D.E.A.L. strategy is a fantastic model.

But it’s not the full story. Here’s a few myths that I’ve heard other interpret from 4 Hour Work Week that I’d like to address. I post this because I know many people who are reading it at the moment, and some of the expectations the book can set are almost certainly setting many up for disappointment if you don’t go in with your eyes open.

(CAVEAT: Yes, I made all of these mistakes I am about to write about and learned the hard way. Hopefully you won’t have to.)

Note: Most of these points aren’t explicitly stated in the book. It’s more the unsaid that creates the impression…. That which is implicitly communicated to the reader.

Implied Myth Number 1: Everyone has the same natural skill set as Timothy Ferriss: If you read the book carefully, a lot of the advice is predicated on the idea that the reader thinks, acts, and has the same skills as the author. Most don’t. Timothy Ferriss is a genius at marketing, gifted at business systems, and carries a level of natural charisma that certainly supports what he has managed to do. Granted, there is a fair amount of practical info in the book about things one can do to market test, to systemize their business, and to increase there natural leadership skills. But many people I speak to who’ve just finished reading the book assume it will be as easy for them as Tim makes it sound in the book. Don’t forget, before he went through the process of systemizing and outsourcing Brainquicken LLC he was working 80 hours per week. As I said at the start, I love this book – It was one of the key drivers that got me started in business – But I wonder about the expectations it can set in the readers mind about how simple and easy the process is going to be.

Implied Myth Number 2: Setting up a business is easy: The reality is that it isn’t always easy. One of the things the book doesn’t mention is that following the heady and adrenaline filled startup and idea phase of a business, there usually comes the hard yards. These is the period where stuff goes wrong, exception handling gets worked out, and it generally represents some pretty hard work. It’s all worthwhile mind you – it’s what I want to do my my life…! But if you go into this thing expecting it to be a cakewalk you’re more often than not going to be sorely disappointed.

Implied Myth Number 3: Act now, think later: I’ve heard it said by many successful entrepreneurs that “1 hour of planning is worth 10 hours of unplanned doing”. Look at what you are thinking of doing, count the cost, and work out the best strategy. Ready, fire, aim is a business plan that is bound for failure, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. (That said, the opposite – paralysis by analysis – is just as counterproductive and probably more common… I like the idea of setting time limits to your planning, then acting regardless of where you up to.)

Implied Myth Number 4: Outsourcing is easy: It’s not. It’s definitely worthwhile, but teaching someone how to understand what you want is difficult enough without a cross cultural barrier, not to mention a language barrier. Again, it’s not impossible, but I’ve heard enough people say “I’ve read 4HWW and I’m going to get a VA and that’ll make everything easy” to want to address this.

Implied Myth Number 5: The cashflow source you set up will set you free for your whole life: This isn’t so much said in the book and it is assumed by the reader. Things change. Businesses that are viable one moment fall victim to market shifts and competitive pressure. Even property, touted as the be all and end all for setting yourself up for life, needs to be maintained and managed to stay viable as a cash source. The proof here is in the pudding: The vitamin supplement business Tim Ferriss set up (the main source of the income for him that facilitated the stories in the 4 Hour Work Week) was sold to a private equity firm in 2009. Most of the money he now makes (I would assume) would be from the book. Brilliant strategy, but do you see what I am getting at here? Nothing last forever in business. There attrition, obsolescence, competitive pressure, margin erosion… on and on and on. It’s safe to assume that if you are first to market with a good idea that someone will devote their life to knocking you off your pedestal (a la Myspace… The same thing WILL eventually happen to Facebook given enough time.) It’s not a reason not to do it, it IS a reason to plan an exit.

I hope this helps at least someone. I am NOT discouraging anyone from taking the advice of the book and going on the journey it spruiks. I am. It’s important though, to manage your expectations as you head into something so as not to be dissappointed when you find that they were set too high. In all of this, if you haven’t read the 4 Hour Work Week yet, go out and get it. It’s a great read.

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