≡ Menu

The 4-Hour Workweek Fatal Flaw: It’s MLM

9 to 5 Rat RaceIt was only this past week that I found Tim Ferriss has naysayers. There are actually people who believe the 4-hour workweek model is just hype and hyperbole. Even while they validate what they call “the real point” — which is something along the lines of breaking out of arbitrary boundaries — they declare the title-theory itself invalid.

I disagree. There are varied lifestyle design lessons in the book, to be sure. But the fundamental idea imbued in the title is also completely possible. If the leader of the free world can spend two entire months golfing in his first two years in office — along with numerous other retreats — then maybe “the rest of us” can squeeze a few (or most) hours out of our “work” week as well.

Is Passive Income Real?

Passive income isn’t imaginary. It’s defined as “income received on a regular basis, with little effort required to maintain it.” It’s an official IRS income category. Most of us earn some. Here are possible examples:

  • Earnings from a business that does not require direct involvement from the owner or merchant
  • Rent from property
  • Royalties from a book, licensing a patent, or other intellectual property
  • Earnings from internet advertisements
  • Residual income from renewable sales
  • Interest and dividends
  • Pensions

Just expand this passive income notion until you have enough to cover your expenses. Poof! You have a minimal workweek and a financially-designed lifestyle!

If the idea of getting out of the 9–5 rat race really seems foreign and scammy, get Cashflow 101 and play it a few dozen times. Yes, the price is mind-boggling — and I’m no fan of the pants-on-fire tall tales of the author (talk about hype and hyperbole!) — but the underlying passive income message in the game is worth the price (especially if you can get a bargain).

Question Everything

When my oldest daughter — then seven-years-old — challenged me to homeschool her in 1994 I was appalled. Homeschooling was so weird, so freakish, so…well…wrong. What turned out to be one of the best things about our lifestyle came about only when I considered the words of a child and allowed myself to question all the things I thought were appropriate and normal and valid about education.

Most of the assumptions I held weren’t educational principles I’d ever analyzed. They were general memes I’d picked up along the way — based on what public school kids were required to do. Only when I was willing to look critically at what I had always accepted as correct, were the real educational possibilities open to me. And only then did I realize that most school policies were downright silly.

In the same way, looking at work and money with new eyes — questioning the assumptions you’ve accepted — will bring a world of possibilities into view.

At least ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do you work 40 hours per week? Why not 20? Why not 60?
  • Why do you take one two-week vacation each year? Why not three? Why not one?
  • Why do you work until you are 65 and then stop?
  • Why do you spend your healthiest years killing yourself with the goal to lie on a hammock for the last 20?

If you come up with some convincing answers to these questions, keep doing what you’re doing! It must be working for you. If not, read on.

You Decide

Can you see how arbitrary these timelines are? Who decided for the majority of us, that this is the way to live our lives? The very essence of our lives and the bulk of our time was co-opted before we were even born and dictated to us as we grew. Why do most of us accept these limitations without even questioning them?

Living your life on your own terms really is possible. Designing a life with less drudgery — even 36 hours less — can be achieved.

Overcoming the Fatal Flaw

So why do I say the 4-hour workweek idea has a fatal flaw? Because it has a built-in failure path. It has a downside that cannot be overcome. It has the same flaw multi-level marketing does: it requires someone, somewhere (in MLM it’s those at the bottom) to actually do the work, to spend the time, to sell the product for you — so you don’t have to — or the ponzi-scheme aspect of it all falls apart.

So why do I promote the 4-hour workweek model and not MLM? Because the 4-hour workweek model isn’t ever, ever likely to trigger the flaw. Why? Because so many millions of people are duped into believing that the only way to get ahead is using the old work-full-time-until-you-are-too-old-to-live model. So few even question the typical work model that there will always, always be plenty of people willing to do the work. Not just willing, but anxious, wanting, hoping, and applying to do the work.

Most people in the world won’t believe Ferriss. They’ll claim it’s a trick, snake oil, sleight of hand. They will say it cannot work. And so, while you find your muse and figure your way into a 4-hour workweek, they will be filling out an application for their 40-hour workweek, taking care of your business.

You don’t have to overcome the flaw. You have self-selected protection in the typical worker bee mentality.

Is the 4-Hour Workweek Ethical?

Many members of my extended family are involved in multi-level marketing. Some have been excessively successful. But aside from one, publicly skeptical venture into a relatively well-designed system, I’ve been an outspoken critic of the model.

Multi-level marketing structure generally favors “first-responders” over those who actually bring in the money, if any, even though they continue to promote the same benefits to those who join later. Add that to the fact that myriad MLM companies offer a mystery meat compensation model with mathematical impossibilities, and you end up with an industry that is rife with ethical failure.

The 4-hour workweek model depends on a similar willing workforce. The difference is that the 4-hour workweek model never sells its subcontractors or employees on a minimal schedule. Creating your muse never requires you to lie or misrepresent.

My freshman year in college I looked for a job to help pay expenses. I applied to work at Burger King — and happily landed the job. While I didn’t love the brown/orange/yellow polyester uniform with pull on pants, I was happy to be doing menial labor to make a few bucks. No one every said it would be otherwise.

Along with the part-time crew, there were managers for day and night shifts — who worked longer hours, made more money, and got benefits. Then there were the owners. They showed up at the establishment a few times a year to eat and see how we were doing. Of course, they did some work behind the scenes, but the day-to-day operations and headaches were in the job description of the managers — even though the owners got all the profits. (Trust me on this. My Christmas bonus was a free Whopper Junior and the manager got an amazing Burger King turtleneck. True story.)

Was it unethical that I was the one sweeping the floors and smelling like rancid grease at the end of every shift — for a paltry minimum wage — while the owner barely showed up in her designer clothes to rake in the dough? Of course not! I asked for the job! It’s what I wanted and, frankly, what I was prepared for at the time.

A few years ago, in a conversation about business, a friend said this:

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I just feel like I should work a little harder than that for my money. That’s probably a really archaic idea, but I just feel like if I get all this money for not really doing much, am I making an honest living?

To my friend money is earned and deserved by “working hard.” I don’t find that archaic, as much as sad and misinformed. Was writing Harry Potter harder than being a garbage man? Only in the sense that most people on the planet are capable of throwing some trash in a truck and not as many of composing an riveting novel.

The virtue of making money isn’t measured by longer hours. It’s not determined by doing more physically demanding work. It’s not about who gets the most sweaty or dirty. It’s not decided by whose work is ickiest. It’s about producing something good that has value to those who are free to choose — or not — what you offer.

If your value is in long hours of labor, so be it. Earn your honest living that way. But if your value add is singularity, excellence, innovation, knowledge, resources, creativity, leadership, risk — those are equally honest offerings.

What amazing things do you have to offer the world?

{ 24 comments… add one }
  • NVHC March 30, 2011, 12:26 am


    I found you through bloggers. Just wanted you tell you you have a great blog and very well designed. Simply vote for your blog.

  • INB March 30, 2011, 10:44 am

    Great analogy. Never thought about it, but you are right. They both need someone willing to do the grunt work!

  • Danny March 30, 2011, 11:46 am

    Wow, great post, Alison! There’s tons of research that shows that the more we stick to what we do best, the more we like it, and the less it feels like work – but the better a job we end up doing. I think that’s the part that people miss – it feels harder if you don’t like it and aren’t good at it – but if you don’t like it and aren’t good at it, what are the odds that you’ll make much money?

  • Marc Beneteau March 30, 2011, 11:51 am

    Well, no one is arguing that rich people can get away with “working” 4 hours a week (by living off of investment income and/or businesses with outsourced management), but the title of Ferriss’s book implies that anyone can become financially independent working 4 hours a day, which is contradicted by his own story (he worked 24×7 for two years and nearly lost his mind… but build-up equity in the business, in the form of customer goodwill and traffic) so I am afraid I need to agree with Ferriss’s critics. Although I find the idea of financial independence very attractive, he is not the first to have had this idea, and his solution isn’t the best in my opinion either.

  • SueBee March 30, 2011, 11:57 am

    I am one of the people you talk about. NOT in mlm, but because I’m really too scared to take the risk of being on my own. I WANT to have a job that has a regular paycheck. I guess the price for that security is that I probably won’t make the big bucks the owners sometimes do.

  • NoNamePlease March 30, 2011, 12:07 pm

    If the mlm crowd finds this post, they’re going to howl. They never recognize the flaw in such marketing methods, even though the statistics back it up.

    Anyway, I’m not sure I’m ready to jump in. I’m kind of a go to work and get a paycheck kind of person. Not much of a gambler.

  • Alison Moore Smith March 30, 2011, 2:12 pm

    That’s also an important aspect. If you rally hate what you do, the work is drudgery. If you love it, it’s hard to stay away. 😉

    Thanks for dropping by, Danny.

  • LoveChic March 30, 2011, 2:20 pm

    Great post in fact! Well i consider that 4-hour workweek idea can be possible after you have been working for 10 years about 14 hours a day and then you say:”It is time to relax”. Adn in general, it was supposed that people should work in different way and we should produce different things or be lazy, as this variety is life itself.
    The topic touched here seems to me to be endless as a lot can be said here about it. We are born people and we will remain people with all our vices and virtues.

  • Alison Moore Smith March 30, 2011, 2:31 pm

    Marc, thanks for your input. I guess that’s where we differ. I’m not sure which way you’re reading this, but either way we probably disagree.

    the title of Ferriss’s book implies that anyone can become financially independent working 4 hours a day

    The title doesn’t imply that you can become “financially independent” working 4 hours a week. The title is simply too vague to be taken to that extreme. Rather, it shows you a model to cover all your expenses by working that 4 hours week. And it’s completely doable within the parameters he sets. Of course, the method doesn’t preclude building the model on a less-than-part-time basis, either, but that’s never the emphasis.

    …which is contradicted by his own story…

    I think the claim that it’s contradictory is based on the assumption above, which I think is erroneous. First, he doesn’t claim to have created his businesses working 4-hours per week and, second, he doesn’t use his story as the main example. In the examples he uses, he shows the process — for example his friend with the sound clips business.

    More to the point, perhaps, the entire focus of DEAL is to move from where you are now to a lifestyle more to your liking. Progression. (Note the variation for employees.) It’s never presented as some kind of instantaneous, quit-your-job-and-work-four-hours-to-riches course.

    Although I find the idea of financial independence very attractive, he is not the first to have had this idea…

    Now that’s true! But he doesn’t claim to have invented the idea of financial independence! His is just a new approach to most people. Having hired our first employees about 15 years ago, it’s clear to me that the idea of entrepreneurship is foreign to most people. Not just foreign, but scary and undesirable. While many want the perks of ownership, they don’t want the risk and responsibility. So this entire idea that you might not have to work from 9-5 from college graduation until 65 is a really unusual idea to many.

    Heck, none of us would have blogs if we were required to be utterly unique. We’re all just pretty much regurgitating things, but through our own lenses. 🙂

  • Claire March 31, 2011, 11:37 am

    Thanks for such an inspirational article. You nearly talked me into MLM;) Frankly speaking, I have never succeed in MLM schemes, but I think I should revise my position, because I really want work less and get more)) Life is so short, let’s make it a pleasure;)

  • Alison Moore Smith March 31, 2011, 11:55 am

    Claire, thanks for stopping by! I hope you understood the point of the post. It certainly wasn’t to convince you to join an MLM! :-0

  • Alison Moore Smith March 31, 2011, 11:57 am

    Tanya, welcome.

    Honestly, I’m not sure I agree. Does making money always entire either lots of work or hard work — let alone lots of hard work? Nah. But let’s assume it does. Those hours of hard work could certainly be put in four hours per week at a time, right?

    If you want to have a 4-hour-workweek in one month, yea, this will probably be an insane month for you. But if you are working toward it, it doesn’t have to be that way.

  • Riley Harrison March 31, 2011, 12:36 pm

    Hi Alison,
    I think a lot of what Tim Farris’s book promotes is good. I’m all for working smarter as long as it doesn’t conflict with my ethics or integrity. And when selecting a way to make a living, my first priority would have to be doing something I enjoy and that would outrank the money making potential of the endeavor. I’m not advocating poverty but life is to short not to enjoy what you are doing. Wish you the best.
    Riley Harrison recently posted…ARE YOU STUCKMy Profile

  • Tanya March 31, 2011, 11:49 am

    I have heard lots about Tim Ferriss’ book the 4 Hour Work Week and it is something that I would like to have — one day.I definitely think its possible but there has to be a lot of hard work implemented upfront, you have to have a system that earns and you have to be able to leverage that system and have processes (and people) to put it all into place when you are busy sunning yourself on a desert island somewhere.
    Tanya recently posted…Looking For A Great Au PairMy Profile

  • Mitch Mitchell April 3, 2011, 8:50 am

    Talk about timing, as I just wrote about this same subject last week. My overall take on it is that the overall concept of working better and not harder isn’t bad, but he’s equating apples to oranges as it applies to many of us. He was already an entrepreneur and already making lots of money on something before he decided to outsource to the extreme. Most of the rest of us don’t have that luxury, although there are definitely things most of us could outsource to someone else, such as cutting the grass or helping to clean one’s home.

    Overall it was an interesting book, but I would never believe that every person in the world could actually end up doing it, unlike other theories on wealth, freedom, and a better lifestyle.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 4, 2011, 9:23 am

    Hi, Mitch, thanks for dropping by!

    You say it’s an apples to oranges comparison, but I don’t see that. He doesn’t suggest that everyone should dump all their work in a virtual assistant’s lap and run to the beach. He explains the process of moving from the workaholic extreme to more discretionary time. He even gives the alternative DELA model for those who are employed by someone else.

    We agree completely that everyone can’t do this. But it’s not because they don’t have the capacity or because there is some personal barrier or limitation, but because — as I wrote above — the model depends on someone doing the actual hourly-based work. If we all own the businesses, there won’t be anyone to stand at the cash register and take orders during business hours. 🙂

  • Anna May 22, 2011, 6:00 am

    Good post, what nobody tells you about their passive income is that they worked 16 hours a day for three years to get it.

    Don’t work hard, work smart.

  • Eric October 14, 2011, 10:54 pm

    i think in the whole, its also about life skiills that come into play. If u are a goood micromanager, u could be a good boss and work less your jobs are leveraged onto others such as managers.
    Eric recently posted…KOHLER K-596-VS ReviewMy Profile

  • Brid January 16, 2012, 7:54 pm

    MLMs and the four hour work can be similar. I’ve never really gotten into an MLM but both delegating your muse and getting others to sell for you in an MLM are two sides of the same coin. Of course, as you pointed out, there’s a ton of shadiness that happens in MLMs and promises of making millions working part time. Currently am doing $1/day in passive. I know it’s not much, but it’s a start for sure.

  • Alison Moore Smith January 16, 2012, 9:03 pm

    Brid, thanks for reading and understanding the point!

    $1 a day may not be much, but it’s $365 per year closer to your goal, right? 🙂 Good for you for getting started down that road. Please share what you’re doing if you’d like!

  • bfc September 18, 2012, 2:08 pm

    I’ve been very interested in this book. Now I just hope no one else reads it!

  • Mary October 28, 2015, 4:46 pm

    Hey Allison,

    I am in an MLM, and I have been very successful. It’s a LOT of hard work… it’s the most challenging thing I have ever done, and it took me years to make it work as a career. I’d never say MLM is easy, and people don’t do the work for you. It doesn’t just magically happen.

    My guess is that you joined an MLM, expected it to be easy… then realized it “wasn’t working” and decided to give up and start bashing it…

    Either that, or you’re incredibly jealous of your friends and family who are benefitting from all their hard work paying off in the MLM lifestyle.

    If you’ve never built a successful MLM business, you’d honestly have no idea how much work goes into it… Would you?

    Last time I checked, every business owner who hires people for these ethical 40-hour a week jobs is at the top of the food chain and having everyone below them do the grunt work.

    Only instead of paying them based on performance, they’re scammed into thinking that someone hire up than them is entitled to tell them their value… And then give it to them every week in the gracious gesture of a “regular paycheck”.

    Or am I wrong?

    I appreciate your opinion, however I do not agree with bashing MLMs. Especially with so many graduates in debt, and no stereotypical jobs available in their fields of study.. who will be working for minimum wage the rest of their lives because someone like you told them not to fall for one of those “MLM schemes”.

  • Alison Moore Smith October 28, 2015, 7:18 pm

    Mary, my guess is that you didn’t even read the post, have no idea what it’s about, saw the term MLM, and decided ad hominem was the way to go.

    If I’m wrong, try to respond to the MLM statements within the context of the post. OK?

    That said, your two paragraphs about business owners are erroneous. If you actually come back, I’ll explain. 🙂
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…An Open Letter to BYU Fans: 3-Step 12th Man PrimerMy Profile

  • Sheldon Nesdale February 29, 2016, 9:54 am

    Great book to open your mind a bit. I am not talking literally, but when you get to reading you will get some motivation and also some ideas will pop into your head. Great read overall

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge