Fun for Some, and Some for Fun

In the Harvard Business Review this week, Grant McCracken takes on the concept of “forced fun” in a corporation, using the way Zappo’s treats visitors as an example. Here’s an extract of Mr. McCracken’s post:

Visitors touring the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas are greeted noisily. Staffers blow horns and ring cowbells to bid them welcome.

This sort of thing puts my teeth on edge. Call me a grinch. Call me a humorless, life-hating, stick in the mud, but commandeering personal emotions in the interest of forced conviviality seems to me wrong. I believe emotions are mostly a private matter and should not be controlled by the corporation.

I have never met Grant, and have no idea whether or not he is a grinch, but one thing I can say: his logic is flawed.

I get the point – who wants to be subject to inauthentic displays of emotion, either as the giver or recipient? But as many of the commentators point out, people choose to work where they will and do business where they will, and corporate culture is one of those aspects that draws or repels.

As our grandmothers would tell us, honey works better then lemons.

By using terms like “forced fun” and “commandeering personal emotions”, the author tries to portray the issue as one where employers are infringing on private freedoms, or encouraging insincerity, a place where an employer should not tread. But the freedom issue is really at the point of decision to work within a company that has a certain culture. And some companies choose to have a culture of fun, and excitement, and engagement.

People are complex and holistic beings, and emotions are woven into us, impacted by our surroundings, our co-workers, our behaviors, and yes, even our expectations and the expectations of others. Any business owner should not only own the tangible and financial aspects of the company, but also own the responsibility to develop (and model) a positive culture. Unless lemon juice is preferred. Take your pick. As a customer, I’ll take my pick as well. Guess what kind of climate I’ll seek out?

Mr. McCracken says, near the conclusion, “When we commandeer the emotional lives of our employees we waste a valuable resource.” I respectfully disagree (PLUS – read this article just published by WSJ Online, regarding happiness in the workplace). When we FAIL to commandeer the abilities of our employees, and don’t encourage self-control and productivity in all areas (including imagination, task performance, and emotional engagement), then we leave the company culture to drift. Leadership of people is not simply addressing 70% of who they are. It’s tapping the entire potential of each individual and making a much greater “whole” in the process.

I’m all for personal authenticity. And for corporate authenticity. If someone wants to be sour, moody, or emotionally fickle and/or disengaged, I’m sure there are plenty of places to go and be “authentic.” Please, however – don’t go to Zappo’s, and don’t try to work with me!

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Zappo’s “heels” the Barefoot Executive

zapposUPDATE: See end of this post for a major news update. The REAL reason why Zappo’s was acquired by Amazon!

In a masterstroke of brand protection, Tony Hsieh of Zappo’s, the Internet’s most famous shoe store, has bought out his main competitor, The Barefoot Executive for an undisclosed sum and a social network to be named later.

“Our shoe sales have been growing like crazy!” stated Hsieh, who measures corporate results via bottom-line profits and top-line Re-tweets. “However, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend among our ‘executive’ customers – a drop-off in sales like nothing we’ve seen before. Market research indicated that Carrie Wilkerson – the Barefoot Executive – was clearly the influence causing many Presidents and CEOs to walk around shoeless. And they’re key influencers – clearly a trend we couldn’t allow to continue. Can you imagine entire companies loaded with barefoot people trying to emulate the boss? Ewwww!”

Calling a company brainstorming meeting on Twitter using the #stopcarrie hashtag, the consensus was reached that no other shoe retailers were, in fact, worthy of competitive mention. Problem #1 was actually the Barefoot Underground – about to get worse with the release of Carrie’s upcoming business/networking/barefoot fashion book – and there was only one method that could be employed to stop this anti-footwear phenomenon.

“We bought her out,” exulted Mr. Hsieh, refusing to go into the financial details except to say that it was in the “high five figures” of pairs of stylish executive shoes over the next 10 years. “Plus, her impending book will now be re-named ‘The Well-Shod Executive,’ and will feature her discussions of the relative merits of heels, pumps, flats, and bling-blingy boots in each chapter.”

Barefoot smA quick bump in shoe sales was already recorded when Carrie, using her famous Hypno-Eyebrow Webcam Method (HEWM), recorded her first video extolling the virtues of wearing the latest fire-engine red spiked heels while blogging from home.

The surprise move may be a portent of a new trend to come. Rumor has it that @themarketingguy, Jay Ehret, is in discussions with a hair-growth company to trade in his bald pate for something more lush. Not to be outdone, Jason Falls was recently spotted pouring his favorite bourbon down the drain while talking earnestly to a marketing rep for Tab cola. Even Twitter founders Ev and Biz, famous for going against the money-making tide, were recently spotted with AOL t-shirts.

Carrie could not be reached for comment, being tended to in a local hospital after twisting her ankle rollerblading with a pair of spiked purple PamelaMartins.

UPDATE: It was announced this week that Zappo’s has been acquired by Amazon. Beneath all the congratulatory blah-blah about synergy and growth, the REAL reason has now emerged (with thanks to @techcrunch for hacking into Zappo’s computer network and unearthing secret files…).

It turns out that the announcement of the Barefoot_Exec acquisition sent the shoe business into a sudden tailspin, as thousands of former customers began returning shoes in order to join the Carrie Cult and go barefoot. The only way to halt the slide, secret documents reveal, was to “be acquired by a major book retailer and seek to quash the release of Carrie’s upcoming book.”

The documents also reveal, in conjunction with Twitter documents already purloined and published, that Twitter has finally decided on a monetization strategy and plans to acquire the new Amazon/Zappos combo, since “this 140-character market is proving blasted hard to make a profit from! Let’s sell some other stuff!”

It is not know if @barefoot_exec will be allowed to tweet on the new Twamazapp platform. Stay tuned to TechCrunch for further details…

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