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Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Unlikeliest Futurist (Simon Buckland)

Today's guest blogger is Simon Buckland. Fresh off my comments about Mark Osbourne's video "More" (see two posts below). Simon's post refers to one of the young and innovative thinkers listed in the links at the left-side of the page.
Simon and friend

Tim Ferriss (aka Mr. 4-hour Workweek) might be surprised himself to be listed among the Futures thinkers Marcus lists in his blog. Where people like David Loye - and Marcus himself - are thinking Big Thoughts about personal and social evolution, Tim Ferriss is from many perspectives the latest in a long line of fast buck merchants, with little thought for anything beyond maximizing personal gratification and minimizing the effort needed to achieve it. Reviewers on Amazon have accused Ferriss of "a jaw-slackening disregard for basic ethics, or of being "a 21st Century Snake-Oil Salesman".

For those who haven't read it, Ferriss describes how to "virtualize" the money-earning and routine administrative portions of your life – automating them or outsourcing them to $7-an-hour drones in India – so as to have the bulk of your time free to tango on a beach in Argentina, go paragliding in Montenegro, or whatever else floats your boat or lifts your wings. Nary a work about service to others, or creative satisfaction, or living your bliss – what about sculptors or writers who work, passionately engaged with their material, for 80-100 hours a week?

To make this criticism would be to miss the point of what Ferriss is saying, and the philosophical and spiritual import of his message (even though he himself is operating from a purely rational/materialist standpoint): Life is NOW, not in 20 years time when I have enough money, or a big enough house, or the kids are grown up. His critique of the work-fetishism that pervades Western culture (and increasingly, Asian too) is similarly pointed: for all that the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) and Parkinson’s Law are so well known as to have become clich├ęs, the 9-to-5 (or more likely 8-to-6) meeting-office-report-email machine grinds on, inexorable and unstoppable, turning people’s lives into dollars and funneling them up to the tiny minority who already have far more than they need.

Perhaps Ferriss has merely linked to the zeitgeist rather than coming up with an original insight; it doesn’t really matter. Disengaging from the machine-world and from machine-thinking is becoming an imperative not only for any individual who wants to lead an on-purpose and in-service life, but for society as a whole if we’re not to destroy the entire planet – and that realization starts with the awakening of the individual, especially of those who aren’t currently asking themselves these questions. Maybe Ferriss is talking to them more than to the readers of this blog (though his book contains a multitude of time-saving online resources which anyone would find useful); it’s nonetheless a valuable contribution to the debate on what the Buddhists call “right work”. This is a debate that doesn’t occupy nearly as much media space as it should.

Marcus' notes:
I also wrote a positive review of The 4-Hour Work week here:
Timothy Ferriss' web site:

Mr Ferriss uses his head... Why don't more of us give it a go?


  1. Thanks for your post Simon. I might point out that, having read the book, that Ferriss is not completely value free. Towards the end of the book he states clearly that one should follow one's bliss, which he refers to as your "excitement". He also makes it plain that he will only deal with honest people.

    But I agree, early in the book it seems like Ferriss is suggesting that you should just make money doing whatever you can make cash from, by passing yourself of as an "expert." Tim also works with various charity groups, as you'll note on his website. Personally, I think a lot of the hate on Youtube is because people are jealous, and too lazy and adverse to change to actually give his ideas a go.

  2. You're right, Ferriss does talk about "following your excitement" - but he's not implying that this has any necessary connection with how you earn your money. And what he calls the "muse" is just any money-making business that can be outsourced and automated to the max; the ideal of service (either to society or to Spirit) is scarcely referred to.

    But as I said, I don't think this matters - he's not setting himself up as a guru or leader, and the book is mostly practical.

    As you say, the critiques are mostly from people whose world-view is challenged by what Ferriss is saying (i.e. that they're more or less well-paid slaves).