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Monday, December 1, 2008

Book Review: The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss

Dec. 01 (Jakarta Globe) I have a confession: I enjoy my job, at least most of the time. But as someone who has often quit or turned down “desirable” positions on little more than a whim, I felt Timothy Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Workweek” might have something to teach me. It did, but not in the way the writer intended.

The front cover blurb on this best seller reads “Escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich,” and the writer is a proponent of lifestyle design — envisioning your ideal then enabling its reality.

Ferriss is obviously a fan of sound bites and acronyms and uses them to structure the book’s chapters and his step-by-step process for becoming one of the “New Rich,” or NR: DEAL, which stands for Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation.

Among his other achievements, Ferriss has won gold at the Chinese Kick-boxing National Championships, he was the first American to hold a Guinness world record for tango and he is a former actor and host on TV programs in mainland China, Hong Kong and Thailand — all before the age of 30.

Ferriss’s genius for self-promotion has also seen him featured in the most prominent media outlets, invited to speak at symposia worldwide and at organizations like Google, Princeton University and the CIA.

And let’s not forget he’s the author of a book on best-seller lists of The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek.

As a read, “The 4-Hour Workweek” is a bit of a slog, par for the course with the self-improvement genre. Ferriss does his best to make the book flow with copious amusing anecdotes and inspiring quotes.

Despite that, I felt an essential emptiness to this book and Ferriss’s advice. Ferriss promotes beating, not playing the game, which may work for the individual, but recent world events have shown that strategy to be a danger to the group.

Reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” at a time when America’s economic house of (credit) cards is tumbling down, and taking the world along for the ride, I saw Ferriss’s focus on “I” rather than “we” as symptomatic of much I consider wrong with the world today.

A good example is his explanation of how he became champion at the 1999 Chinese kick-boxing event after only four weeks of preparation. He looked for, and found, loopholes. He found that if his opponent fell off the platform three times in a round, he would win by default. In his own words: “I decided to use this technicality as my single technique and just push people off.” Sure, it was legal, but to my thinking, it was neither honorable nor sporting.

Much of Ferriss’s advice is useful for freeing time you may currently be wasting. He advocates weaning yourself off any addiction to e-mail or your cellphone, in addition to outsourcing most of your work.

“The 4-Hour Workweek” is an interesting read. The thought of a world filled with its followers, however, is a dystopia too similar to the current global economic crisis for my comfort.