As We See It


Tony Hsieh, African penguins and Jedi mind tricks

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, gives a keynote address at the South By Southwest V2V tech conference for entrepreneurs at the Cosmopolitan Monday, Aug. 12, 2013.
Photo: Steve Marcus

This week, 200 Zappos employees are slated to move into Las Vegas’ former City Hall building. Before the year is through, another 1,800 or so could follow. It’s an exciting time for Downtown Vegas and an exciting time for Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

Last week I hung out with Hsieh at the Gold Spike—that’s the casino Hsieh transformed into a 24/7 workspace/shuffleboard court/health-conscious restaurant. Turns out Hsieh isn’t just a dedicated CEO and bestselling author and local hero ... he’s also a Jedi mind trick master.

He was telling me about his fondness for penguins, explaining that a while back he had some roaming around the Gold Spike. I pointed out the penguins probably didn’t care for the Vegas heat.

“They were African penguins,” he claimed.

“Ha ha,” I said.

“African penguins are real,” he insisted.

“No way,” I said.

“We can bet on it if you want,” he offered.

“I’ll bet you a dollar that there are no such things as African penguins,” I said.

“Well if we’re going to do it,” he countered, “we might as well make it worth our while. Let’s bet $20.”

As soon as he said that, I realized that African penguins must be real, or else he wouldn’t have been willing to wager so much. So I backed down.

At which point he said something that blew my mind: “Tell you what: If you believe me now—if you think African penguins are real—then I’ll let you take the other side of the bet.”

“Wait,” I said, “You’re willing to switch sides and let me bet me that African penguins do exist?”

“Right,” Hsieh confirmed.

At that point, I was so convinced that they did exist, the bet looked pretty good. I was strongly considering it. I had to reason my way through what was happening:

The whole conversation must have been a setup, a setup to this very moment. First he convinces me they do exist. Then he bets me that they don’t ... which is what I thought in the first place! He’s almost got me to bet on something I don’t even believe!

I declined again, proudly, having reasoned that African penguins don’t exist after all, as I originally thought. Then I checked my phone and learned that African penguins indeed do exist and that the $20 had been mine for the taking.

Well played, Hsieh, well played. And good luck with the big move.

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