David Coveney

Tim Ferriss and why I don’t like his emotional blackmail

Four minute workweek would be too much for some... (picture of Vicky Pollard from Little Britain courtesy of the BBC)

Four minute workweek would be too much for some... (picture of Vicky Pollard from Little Britain courtesy of the BBC)

If this is actually just a small-minded rant, feel free to tell me in the comments.  I need to know if I’m just an idiot who hates somebody doing well and raising money for charity….

I appreciate, right away, that by writing about Tim Ferriss I’m going to give him the oxygen of publicity.  That in discussing him we all encourage him to continue to use attention seeking devices to increase his influence and marketability.

And boy, does he know how to market.

Here’s a guy who’s written a book with an interesting concept.  It’s titled The 4-Hour Workweek.  Very interesting it may be.  But I haven’t read it.  Nor will I.

Because to read it would mean giving money to someone I find incredibly irritating.  I mean, the guy gets everywhere.  But he’s a fascinating study in popularity.  Just like the most popular kids at your school probably weren’t the most capable or interesting, neither is he.  Let’s go through some things:

1. Use of emotional blackmail to increase influence

Basically, the more people who follow your tweets on twitter, and the more people who follow your blog, the more influence you carry.  Tell 100,000 people what you think about something, and you’ll influence them.  Some will blindly take on-board your opinions, while others will be a little more cautious.  But 100,000 people who treat you almost like a God?  That’s power, that is.

Anyway, his latest way to build followers is to use a not-so-subtle form of emotional blackmail.  He will raise for charity $3 for everyone who follows him on Twitter with a limit of 50,000. Now, you’d have to be pretty mean-spirited not to click that Follow button.  That’s all you have to do to raise $3 dollars to help educate some US children.  I mean, if you hear about this initiative and don’t click then you must be a truly horrible person.  For five seconds work you can raise $3 dollars.  That’s, like making $2160 an hour for charity!  Wow!

I believe this guy is using the tricks religions use to gain followers.  The upside of following their instructions may not be massive, but the downside could be huge.  And he uses this approach All The Time.  It’s horrible to see.  See, in religion you can say things like “follow the guidelines in this book in order to receive eternal salvation” and “if you don’t follow us you could be cast into eternal damnation.”  It’s like Pascal’s wager – if the religion is correct, then a small amount of investment of time and effort leads to a massive pay off (ie. eternity in heaven) but if you’re wrong and death is just death… well, you haven’t lost much, have you?  Ratio of cost to potential gain is ridiculous.

2. Four hour workweeks don’t appeal to me

I mean, I enjoy my work.  Simple as that.

3. But perhaps one of the things that turns me off is the overbearing air of smugness

Look at the guy’s header pictures.  You can tell he isn’t English.  You couldn’t go into an English pub and face your mates if you had a picture of yourself striking a sort of zen-style karate pose on your website’s header (carefully revealing your muscles, of course) unless perhaps all your friends were just like you.

4. In the end though, it’s the emotional trickery

The promises are high.  The headlines beguiling.  And you know, to someone working a dreary job or with difficult people what he discusses sound attractive.  But a lot of it reminds me of me when I’d discovered I could make lots of money as a PeopleSoft developer.  I really had it all – I could work moderately hard for short periods, taking plenty of breaks between contracts, travelling, fast cars, and sleeping with beautiful models.  Ok, forget the bit about models, but really, life looked good.

And boy was I happy to let people know this.  But when I thought about it, I got into corporate systems because at 18 I wanted to get a job coding and the only suitable job I could find around here was at a corporate.  I trained up and, one day, took my skills out onto the open market.  But the truth is, I was just lucky.  How was I to know, in 1987, that ERP developers would be highly sought after in highly paid roles that the universities were failing to train for?  I’d much rather have been a games developer – but truth be told, I wasn’t that good… Good for my wallet and lifestyle, because game coders typically earn less than ERP coders, but this was all pure chance.

In summary, Tim Ferriss is probably little further ahead of the curve than a lottery winner releasing a book called “How To Choose Lottery Numbers and Become Super-Rich Like Me.”  That would be patent nonsense, but no more or less manipulative than his own lifestyle guruness.

So when this rich young man tries to pressure me into trying to find more people who can learn about him and adore him by tweeting about his new scheme, I find myself feeling ever so slightly sick.  The idea sounds, initially, excellent.  But why doesn’t he just give the money directly to charity?  Why does he make it into conditional love?  Why does he make it feel like a psycho girlfriend or boyfriend who says “if you loved me you’d do it.”

Maybe I’m Wrong

In a way I’d like to be.  But I always want to look at the motives behind people.  Maybe I’m just an idealist.  But if I’m right, it might just dissuade people from posting some of the self-promoting junk that clutters up Twitter, forums and blogs.  Not just his junk, but other people’s.  There’s a growing tide of the stuff.  It’s annoying.

Anyway, just a final call to action – you can follow me on twitter too if you like.  I just won’t pay anybody anything.  I also promise to try not to sell you anything, or retweet marketing gumph, competition announcements and so on.  I may however, complain vehemently about whatever random irritation that cropped into my head that day.

Edited to add a link above to the Tim Ferriss’s blog post on the matter.  And tags.

  • Dan Morelle

    The way we communicate and influence is changing as should our model of how things work in a transaction, be it a commercial or charitable one.

    I think the idea behind what Ferriss calls ‘karmic capitalism’ is that you get rewarded for your contribution, what is wrong with that?

    Tim doesn’t hide what he is doing, correctly labelling it in marketing terms as the ‘ethical bribe’. He is using his knowledge of these techniques to benefit himself and others. It is a win-win. He’s not hiding anything. Why is it wrong to benefit from helping others? That sounds like the perfect arrangement to me.

    I also think you should reconsider reading his book or at least rethink how you came to your decision. You don’t have to like a person to consider their ideas – you don’t have to like the band to enjoy their music.

    At the end of the day Twitter is about trading value; how you choose to measure that value and whether you wish to reciprocate in that game is up to you – there are no rules, us kids are making it up as we go along.

    • http://davidcoveney.com Dave

      Dan – I really appreciate the time you’ve taken there to respond to my posts.

      In essence it’s this idea of an ethical bribe that disturbs me. A bribe is a bribe is a bribe, if you see what I mean. And the exchange is an unusual one – do something very simple and easy in return for feeling a little better about yourself. And I must admit, it’s clever – if you like Tim Ferriss then it’s a good thing that he’s doing, and if you don’t like him it’s a chance to deprive him of a small amount of his money. Win win.

      And that’s why I don’t like it.

      I suspect a big part of my discomfort in this is that my father was a very charming, and highly manipulative person. People loved him… and some people hated him. I couldn’t understand the latter, but as time passed I saw the damage he did to people’s lives. By manipulating people to do things your own way you can often make them weaker rather than stronger people because they’re no longer true to themselves.

      If I can borrow his book, I’ll try and read it. But no way am I going to pay for it. Unless it changes my life, of course ;-)

  • http://eh.com eh

    I wasted 3 minutes of my life. OMG. No value whatsoever

  • Sarah

    My comment is a more general one about Ferris than it is about the whole Twitter thing. I actually mostly agree with you on what you said about Tim. I’ve read his blog, but don’t really want to read his book; I did want to read it once, but so many of his ideas simply seem recycled and re-packaged in a young, hot gift to the world known as Tim. Sort of appears as though he got lucky with some marketing ideas and thusly gets to travel the world and be cool. Some of his blog posts are kinda neat, like the one about the Bourne Identity, but others just scream, “Look at me! I’m AWESOME. I will share so you can be awesome, too.”

    What used to really turn me off were the legions of yes-men on his blog. However, I am seeing more and more people telling him his ideas are crap, like the post he had about eating as much red meat as possible for nutritional purposes. I mean, sell a marketing idea all you want, but when you start telling people to eat stuff that is scientifically proven to be detrimental to most people’s health, just because you read a book on anatomy once, I have a problem with that.

    Don’t get me wrong; I don’t object to his lifestyle. I work at a lucrative, yet un-rewarding job, so I pretty much get to take time off whenever I want to do whatever I want. If I were him, I’d probably be a slightly arrogant, self-centered guy, too, but yes, I do have an issue with the podium on which he has been placed.

    • Madhu

      You clearly have superficial view of everything and jumping to conclusion.
      Like, most of the world says red meat is bad and causes horrible stuff. I don’t know about the ‘science’ you see on oprah or what generally people talk about on the interwebs,tv,etc. Most people do and talk this stuff do it must be right. Right!. Like a sheep.
      Science has never $proved$ red meat is detrimental. Only half-assed statistics assert it.
      If you say the cave men ate red meat most of the time and they had average life span at arnd 40. and life span has increased due to lean meats and vegetarian diets to 100 yrs. It’s like saying that you can provide the best possible diet for a dog and make it live for 50 years. It just won’t happen because dogs evolved to have a lifespan of 20 yrs approx at best possible conditions just like our cave man habits of eating fatty red meat and consuming other vegetation has enabled us to have lifespan of 100yrs. That kind of leap from 40 to 100yrs doesn’t happen even in 1000 years. It takes hundreds of thousands to bring about an evolutionary change. Check if what you read is science in the first place.
      Oh, It was not a post about Bourne Identity or how to kill a person in 4 seconds it was about travel with multiple passports/visas.

  • http://www.thepeopleschemist.com Shane

    Finally someone said it! Great blog.

  • oh-

    yup, your just a douche.

  • http://www.getintoenglish.com/ David Sweetnam

    Sounds like sour grapes, especially if you haven’t even read his book

    I’m sure he’s a little smug, and I don’t find him that much of a guru but in the end we all have the choice to switch off or not to buy his products

    Me, I liked the idea behind 4 hr work week, but the second in the franchise was just self indulgence.

    Good on him though for doing something

    • http://davidcoveney.com/ David Coveney

      Well… maybe :-)

      I almost certainly wouldn’t write this blog post today. I still don’t like the guy, nearly four years later, but today I just wouldn’t bother telling anybody. But the post still gets traffic and the odd comment!

      I get his ideas, and perhaps I’m an idealist who’d like people to come up with ideas that make the life of a Tuk-Tuk driver more tolerable, rather than something aimed at the aspiring lower-middle classes who are experiencing a touch of ennui.

      • http://www.getintoenglish.com/ David Sweetnam

        I just did a google search, found this blog and then thought “hmm, this is familiar.”
        Since I wrote that comment above, I can see why you’d write that post.
        What began as a cool idea – living your life on your own terms – has turned into a so-called movement of everyone telling us to smile, be positive and live a kick-butt, like, truly awesome life of awesomeness where if we fall sick it’s because we asked for it one day when we let in a negative thought.
        I think you know what I mean.
        This is a very nicely designed site, btw…