Business Leaders: Timothy Ferriss

Growing Business looks at the successful entrepreneur, Guinness World Record holder and author behind The 4-Hour Workweek

Name: Timothy Ferriss
Born: 1977
Expertise: Entrepreneurship, writing, public speaking and investment
Known for: Writing The 4-Hour Workweek, successful investments in technology companies and health and fitness activities
Best-known titles: The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5; Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich (2007); The 4-Hour Body (2010)

Who is Tim Ferriss?

Tim Ferriss is an American entrepreneur, public speaker and author. He describes his teachings as ‘lifestyle design’, applying the Pareto principle and Parkinson’s Law to business and personal life.

Before publication of The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferriss was largely unknown to the public but his book has changed all that. In the book he challenges people’s fundamental assumptions about how they live their lives: he appears as a living case study. Through his application of the principles and techniques proposed in the book he hit the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists.

What is Ferriss known for?

Ferriss is known for applying his ology to give himself ‘the luxury lifestyle’. His book shows readers how they too can follow a step-by-step process to do the same. Ferriss, aged 23, set up Brain-Quicken, a sports nutrients company, and subsequently sold it in 2009 to a London-based private equity firm. He holds the Guinness Book of Records world record for the most consecutive tango spins in one minute; he became the national champion in the 1999 USAWKF Sandshoe (Chinese kick-boxing) championship; in 2008 he won Wired magazine’s ‘Greatest Self-Promoter of all time’ prize and was named as one of Fast Company’s ‘Most Innovative Business People of 2007’.

The 4-Hour Workweek was published in 2007. The book was a manifesto for the mobile lifestyle and Ferriss was the ideal ambassador. In a world of increasing technological complexity he advocates using the available tools (that usually tend to actually complicate things) to become more effective and filling your personal time with the things you really want to have. Clinical goal-setting meets time management and effectiveness in the real world!

The concepts

The book offers a step-by-step guide to ‘luxury lifestyle design’.

The back cover states: ‘Do not read this book unless you want to quit your job: Forget the old concept of retirement and the rest of the deferred-life plan – there is no reed to wait and every reason not to.’


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Ferriss uses the acronym DEAL to describe the four main chapters, standing for Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation.

D is for definition

Ferriss turns misguided common sense upside down and ‘introduces rules and objectives of the new game’. He replaces self-defeating assumptions and explains concepts such as relative wealth and eustress (beneficial stress). The focus is on figuring out what a person really wants, getting over fears, seeing beyond society’s past ‘expectations’ and figuring out what it will really cost to get to where the person wants to actually go. This section explains a lifestyle recipe before adding the next three ingredients.

E is for elimination

Ferriss ‘kills the obsolete notion of time management’. The Pareto principle (80/20 rule) is applied to focus on those tasks that contribute the majority of the benefit: increase per-hour results tenfold with counter-intuitive ‘new rich’ techniques such as cultivating selective ignorance, developing a low-information diet and generally ignoring the unimportant. Parkinson’s Law is applied to limit the actual amount of time spent working on a task. The challenge is to be clear about the difference between efficiency and effectiveness – and The 4-Hour Workweek is all about effectiveness. This section of the book provides the first of the three luxury lifestyle design ingredients: time.

A is for automation

Creating and building a sustainable, automatic source of income. A turnkey, repeatable system. Using geographical arbitrage, outsourcing and rules of non-decision, Ferriss puts cashflow on autopilot. Techniques included are drop-shipping, automation, Google Adwords, Adsense and outsourcing. This section provides the second ingredient of the luxury lifestyle design: income.

L is for liberation

The successful automation of one’s life and the liberation from the geographical location and job. The idea of ‘mini-retirements’ is promoted as an alternative to the ‘deferred life’ career path where people work their 9–5 until they get to retirement in their 60s, when they are too old to enjoy all that the world has to offer and ambition and enthusiasm has been diminished. This is the mobile manifesto: concepts such as flawless remote control and escaping the boss are introduced. Liberation is not about cheap travel but about breaking the bonds that confine the person to a single location (if the reader has a ‘regular’ job then the order of the steps should be DELA). This section delivers the third and final ingredient for the luxury lifestyledesign: mobility.

Ferriss asserts that technology such as email, instant messaging, internet-enabled digital assistants and other handheld mobile devices actually complicate most lives rather than simplify them. At the time this was a revolutionary reaction to the clamor around the latest ‘time-saving’ technologies. He advocates hiring virtual assistants (from developing countries) to free up personal time.

He concedes ‘much of what I recommend will seem impossible and even offensive to basic common sense – I expect that’. Statements such as ‘everything popular is wrong, be unreasonable, cultivate selective ignorance, interrupt interruptions, management by absence, filling the void: adding life after subtracting work’ these are scary challenges for some. His assertion that you can achieve whatever you want but most people don’t know what they really want in the first place is one that has liberated some readers but threatened the basic assumptions that others have had. He is, and it is, not everyone’s cup of tea!

The thesis is a blueprint for freelance, independent thinking and living.

How real companies use Ferriss’ concepts

Ferriss is his own best case study: a self-confessed self-publicist who wins awards for his art. His books and blogs positively brag about how he has succeeded by using the very tools he advises others to use.

Ferriss is the best-known exponent of the ‘new rich’ lifestyle and there are now entire communities following similar principles of living the life of an ultravagabond.

The 4-Hour Workweek book, blog and associated website (which contains bonus chapters) give numerous examples and mini-case studies, such as:

• How to get $700,000 of advertising for $10,000.

• How to learn any language in three months.

It also provide templates and an online round-the-world trip planner. He not only talks about what to do but he also shows you how to do it.

In the book, Ferriss tells how he went from $40,000 per year and 80 hours per week to $40,000 per month and four hours per week, how blue-chip escape artists travel the world without quitting their jobs and how to eliminate 50% of your work in 48 hours.

For freelance, independent business owners, The 4-Hour Workweek manifesto is really an extension of Gerber’s E-Myth. What Ferriss succeeds in doing is getting anyone in business to challenge whether there is a simpler, more effective technique for them to get out of their business what they really want. The book rattles cages and tends to haunt people till they either ignore the call for freedom or start to take on some of Ferriss’ key ideas.

Validity today

A recent author, there had always been a question about whether Ferriss was ‘all sizzle and no steak’, whether his work was a triumph of style over substance. Business schools find it hard to celebrate an unashamed self-help book. His unscientific approach has been forgiven because of the exuberance and enthusiasm that he writes with. And if attitude is such an important attribute then The 4-Hour Workweek certainly challenges how people do things. The publication of his second book, The 4-Hour Body (2010), received more conflicting reviews, despite its bestseller status.

Ferriss has never denied being a self-publicist; he openly and willingly admits to it. The 4-Hour Workweek arrived on the book scene like a breath of fresh air when most contemporary books were over-pompous or over-complicating simple ideas. He told a great personal story, demonstrating proofs and evidence that his blueprint can work. For many The 4-Hour Workweek and its associated literature has become a lifestyle choice.

Business Gurus, edited by Ian Wallis and published by Crimson Publishing, is available to order now.

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