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Applicability of the four-hour work week

Category : Getting Started

The more I read the book and think about how to apply it to my own life, the more I wonder about just who this four-hour work week is most appropriate for. For sure, if you have a product company that can operate on semi-auto pilot with subcontractors and outsourcers performing the responsibilities of fulfillment, order management, customer support, and sales/marketing then I can see how the automation possibilities easily lends itself to a shorter work week.

But how about businesses that require in-person delivery specifically by the person they are contracting with? For example, I have a hard time seeing how doctors or dentists can take advantage of four-hour work weeks. Maybe if they were simply office managers that had other doctors working for them, but if you were a doctor’s patient, would you want that outsourced? It certainly seems to be hard to apply the lessons learned in the book to those situations.

Service vs. Product

Basically it seems that the core challenge in applying the four-hour work week is that you have to be in a product business vs. a service business for this to make sense. A service business entails anything that is sold with the unit of work being delivered by a person rather than the unit of value delivered by a product. Furthermore, services have low repeatability. That is, if you deliver the service once and it takes a certain amount of effort, then delivering the service again will take a similar amount of effort.

On the contrary, with a product, the cost to build and develop the product is amortized across all the sales of that product. The cheaper it costs to build the product, the greater the revenue potential in sales. And if the product has no incremental cost once it’s built, then you can sell it literally millions of times without any additional cost (information products are a good example).

Now, this is something that Timothy Ferriss talks about in his book, so there’s no new ground discussed here. But the core is that most people are stuck in service businesses or in a service organization part of a product business. To change the work week requires either completely changing what you do for a living or structuring your work such that you no longer deliver the service, but either supervise others who deliver the service or productize the service offering such that there’s no longer an element of human delivery.

Buying People vs. Buying Brand

Another key issue is that is the value being bought from the company a function of the people who deliver that value (in which case, the cost of delivery is going to scale with the cost of labor), or is it a function of the brand (in which case, cheaper products and services can be offered at a premium given the value of the brand). To successfully become a four-hour work weeker, one needs to transition from becoming the sole delivery of a labor-driven value proposition to a manager of others who deliver the labor-driven value proposition to the sales of products that sell value based on brand, not on labor.

If you’re on the service side trying to live the four hour week, I see this as the fundamental challenge to face: either leaving the service business altogether, or productizing it in such a way that people buy the services at a premium based on your brand, and the labor is then outsourced to others who deliver at low cost.

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This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. For questions about this blog, please contact Rex at info [at] fourhourworkweekdiary [dot] com. This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation. The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog, including the article written above. That content, advertising space or post may not always be identified as paid or sponsored content. The owner(s) of this blog is compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. Even though the owner(s) of this blog receives compensation for our posts or advertisements, we often give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on those topics or products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the bloggers' own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider or party in question. This blog may contain content which might present a conflict of interest. This content may not always be identified.

Comments (2)

Rex,

Awesome post man. You obviously did some deep thinking on this and have presented it in a way normal people (like me!) can understand.

I am an example of your post. You can read me about it here: http://fourhoursupport.blogspot.com

You’ll see in one of my posts that I’m actually a support engineer but I have some freedoms where I’m not constantly on the phone. I do have some room to move about.

But you’re exactly right with everything you said. I agree that someone in the full-time service industry needs to consider whether or not they really want the 4HWW, and if so, make the drastic changes necessary. Be that talking to the boss and making changes or having the courage to go elsewhere.

I really enjoy reading this blog. I’m in the middle of reading T4HWW and ran into this problem also. I’m in the IT industry and my brain thinks in software, web applications, and websites.
All of these examples require time and money to produce (i.e. like a product/deliverable) and setup on a particular system (i.e. a service). This dichotomy, in the IT world, has created its own niche, the SAAS model. SAAS stands for Software As A Service. A client requests to use a piece of custom software (product) and the SAAS company must configure it to operate in their environment (service).
However, I don’t know how much this can be reproduced outside of the “technology” realm.
Just wanted to share what I was working through. Keep it up!

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