Tag Archives: zappos insights

championing hope: a case study

yesterday i posted in my ‘leading without power’ series, suggesting a ‘new powerless leadership’ metaphor of “champion of hope”. and it made me think about some scribbles i wrote for myself a couple weeks ago, after my visit to zappos.com. i spent two days at the zappos insights bootcamp, learning with 25 other business leaders from around the world how zappos runs a very profitable business passionately anchored in 10 core values, with a vision of “delivering happiness”. yesterday, as i wrote that bit about how great leaders in this new world we live in need to be champions of hope, i thought of zappos, and how their leadership totally embody this kind of leadership, even while they don’t know the ultimate source of hope. on one hand, i find this beautiful and amazing, that the grace of god allows hope to so permeate an organization that doesn’t exist for the kingdom; but on the other hand, this makes me a bit meloncholy, realizing how few churches reflect the same.

my scribbles, written on my iphone while waiting for the plane door to close:

“Delivering Happiness.” Zappos is all about delivering happiness, to employees, vendors, customers.

I sensed some internal resistance to this idea during the two days of bootcamp. I wondered if – from my Christian mindset – joy would be a better framework than happiness. Happiness is, I reasoned, a nice-but-temporal feeling, tied to circumstances, whereas joy is deeper and more internal. But during the 2nd day, I decided I was just being arrogant and condescending, imposing my own self-righteousness on a thing of true beauty.

The Zappos employees DO seem happy. And the handful of customers I’ve interacted with, either during my visit, or in my own conversations, sure seem to be happy about Zappos.

Maybe that’s enough for a for-profit business like Zappos. It’s certainly more than any other business delivers!

But it has continued to nag at me.

Two weeks later, this idea came to me:
Happiness is awesome, a very wonderful and noble thing to deliver. It doesn’t need to be discarded for something else; but just as the vision of Zappos has “evolved” from “largest selection” to “best customer service” to “delivering happiness” (with more in the middle), I think there might be a natural next step, an evolution, something transcendent:


What if Zappos can deliver hope?

What if that’s what their already doing?

Certainly, on my 65 minutes of eavesdropping while Pat spoke with a lonely costumer from Appalachia, she delivered something more than happiness. Yes, she delivered happiness, but there was something spiritual, something transcendent about what Pat provided to this lonely man. She gave him hope. Her patient listening, validation and treating him with dignity – treating him as a person worth spending an hour with – had to offer him an internal, and not merely external or circumstantial sense of goodness in the world. Pat offered possibility and potential. And I’m quite confident that the hope that man experienced had some kind of refining, transforming, yes, even transcendent aspect to it. I think that man and his whole existence was – in some immeasurable way – changed. I think the trajectory of his life was, in a way that could only be measured in the tiniest of fractions, altered. But this fractional shift in trajectory could have significant long-term impact.

Some would quickly dismiss this as hyperbole, and suggest that it’s absurd to say that an online shoe retailer could offer something transcendent like hope. But what if it’s not an exaggeration? What if Zappos (and other companies, for that matter) could provide a sense that, out of our dissatisfaction with the way things are, something better is possible.

Hope isn’t wishful thinking or optimism: hope is longing wrapped in expectancy.

My fellow Christians might not think this is possible apart from faith. But if we (Christians) consider real hope to be much more than wishful thinking or optimism, but “a confident assurance of things to come,” how can we not apply that definition to the experience of the lonely man on the hour-long call, even if he is completely unaware of the hope he’s experiencing; even if Pat is only nominally aware of the hope she has dispensed?