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.