4-Hour Guru, Tim Ferriss: “Don’t Focus on Personal Branding”

Tim Ferriss

Here’s an excerpt from an interview of Tim Ferriss conducted by Herb Schaffner for BNET (March 10, 2011), The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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Tim Ferriss‘ first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, hit the bestseller lists in its first weeks of publication in 2007and has remained an influential and talked-about phenomenon ever since (as has Ferriss’ blog).

Memorably dubbed “part scientist and part adventure hunter,” Ferriss developed his manifesto for productivity and personal freedom from his early success as an entrepreneur, angel investor, traveler and athlete.

The 4-Hour Work Week exhorts readers to tap into their passions and establish passive income streams so they escape the 9-5 rat race and live a life full of meaning, pleasure and wealth.  He explains how to take “mini-retirements” and work remotely so you can incorporate a globe-trotting lifestyle into any job.

Four years and one global recession later, Ferriss followed up with another #1 New York Times bestseller, The 4-Hour Body, his guide to radically improved health, stamina, athletic performance, and sexual satisfaction.  What has Ferriss learned in his development as a self-described “lifestyle design” guru? We caught with Ferriss recently, right before he was taking off for Austin to appear at the SXSW Film Festival.  In an interview, he explained everything from what’s on his strict media diet to why “personal branding” is a dumb concept.

Given that people still boast about their 60-hour work weeks, why do you think your book caught on so quickly?

I was most pleasantly surprised by how large companies like Google and Microsoft embraced the book, especially within high-end engineering groups.  Fundamentally, the book is about multiplying your per-hour output, which a lot of the literalists miss if they judge a book by its title alone.

Since 2007, it’s become clear that our basic tenets — devoting 80% of resources to the most productive 20% work activity, batching repetitive, low-importance tasks — apply to Fortune 500 companies as much as start-ups or individual careers.

The 4-Hour Workweek advocates going on a strict low information diet.  Practicing discipline in what and when we read sounds very good, but can be hard to do.  What have you read that you found valuable, and why?

First and foremost, Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. Lucius Seneca, who was effectively Rome’s wealthiest investment banker, one of the most famous playwrights of his generation, and an advisor to the emperor, penned this volume as a collection of letters to his student, Lucilius.  It’s almost 2000 years old, but it could have been written today.  The letters cover pragmatic and philosophical solutions to just about everything: business negotiations, mourning, lawsuits, avoiding interpersonal politics, and much more.

I’ve re-read portions of this book at least 30 times over the last four years.

Since 60-75% of my audience is male, I feel like I can learn from Esquire and Men’s Journal (where I am an editor). I also subscribe to Hacker Monthly.

What about online reading–blogs, Twitter?

For blogs, I’d tell people to keep it simple and read the archives of (venture capitalist) Marc Andreessen’s blog and essays of Paul Graham. Mobile makes the web more ensnaring. The potential for permanent distraction, for chasing the latest shiny object in lieu of priorities, is greater than ever.  Create a “not-to-do” or a “to-ignore” list– as opposed to a longer “to-do” or “pay-attention-to” list.

Even though social media has been a valuable tool for me, I believe most [leaders] should focus their resources elsewhere before jumping on the bandwagon.  If Steve Jobs doesn’t feel compelled to use Facebook or Twitter, it’s probably makes sense for most executive teams to focus on improving operations first.

For national brands, both FB and Twitter can be valuable for customer service, yes.  But both FB and Twitter are more routinely used to avoid doing things that are more uncomfortable and more important.  If you’re considering dedicating staff to social media, ask first: “Am I doing this to put off doing the uncomfortable?”

What advice would you offer executives and entrepreneurs interested promoting their personal brand?

First and foremost, don’t write a book unless you like to write! The successes are rare, and a good book will take at least one full-time year of your life.

Second, don’t focus on “personal branding.” Focus on building and sharing great products, services, or actionable content.  The personal brand is a side-effect, a natural result, of doing something valuable for others.  It’s not the objective.

Making the world a little better off, a little happier, is the goal, at least for me.  That doesn’t happen if you’re focusing on yourself.

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To read the complete interview and check out other material, please click here.

Herb Schaffner is president of Schaffner Media Partners, a consultancy specializing in business, finance, and public affairs publishing expertise, and is found on Twitter and Facebook.


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