Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels
Chip Conley is the founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, which he began at age 26 and built to more than 30 properties in California alone. In 2010, Joie de Vivre was awarded the #1 customer service award in the U.S. by Market Metrix (Upper Upscale hotel category).
Conley has also been named the “Most Innovative CEO” in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times, and I’m proud to call him a friend.
We’ve shared many glasses of wine together. He doesn’t know what I’m about to tell you, but it’s true (Hi, Chip!). When we first met, and after reading his first book on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I wondered “Is this Chip dude for real? Implementing self-actualization in a company?!?” My curiosity drove me to visit a few of his hotels, including Hotel Vitale, where I eventually concluded: these are the happiest employees I’ve ever met.
He has figured out what makes people tick.
The following post is a guest post by Chip and based on his new book, Emotional Equations. Be sure to read to the end, as there is a chance to win an expense-paid trip to SF to spend an entire day training with him.
Deal-making? Empire building? Self-fulfillment? He’s your guy.
Enter Chip Conley
I graduated from Stanford Business School at age 23 with Seth Godin.
I remember talking with him and others about my aspirations as an entrepreneur and my desire to become a CEO some day. Back then, I thought in order to become a successful CEO, I would need to become superhuman, leaping tall buildings in a single bound. But, after 24 years of being a CEO (I founded Joie de Vivre Hospitality, what’s become the 2nd largest boutique hotelier in the world, and sold a majority interest to a billionaire in 2010), I’ve come to realize that the best business leaders aren’t superhuman, they’re simply super humans as they’ve learned how to become Chief Emotions Officers.
Chief Emotional Officer?
Leaders are the “emotional thermostats” of the groups they lead. If you want to dig into the support for this, read this compelling piece by Daniel Goleman, the man who popularized the idea of “emotional intelligence” in the 90s and proved that 2/3 of the effectiveness of business leaders comes from their EQ rather than their IQ or level of work experience.
There are multiple metaphors I use to describe how emotions work in our lives. One that feels very familiar to me is baggage. Our luggage in life is an apt metaphor for me – a guy who’s been a hotelier for a quarter century. Countless times I’ve seen people show up at our hotel front desks with all kinds of baggage, and only some of it the physical kind. Most of us have emotional baggage that may seem invisible to the untrained eye or invisible to the person carrying the baggage. But the results of lugging that baggage around for years is noticeable in how that person shows up at the metaphorical front desk of life. If you are a Chief Emotions Officer, you are more aware of all the bags you’re carrying and how to open your luggage up and make sense of what’s inside.
Opening up a bag, you may find a truly messy interior with things in complete disarray. But, these emotional equations create a certain logic to how you pack and unpack your bags and, in fact, being a little more conscious of what’s in your bag may allow you to discard a few heavy items that have been weighing you down. Creating your own internal logic regarding your emotional baggage will allow you to carry a lighter bag…one that’s eminently easier to unpack.
4 Emotions to Unpack
We’re going to focus on four emotions that you can start unpacking (i.e. mastering).
Think of emotions as existing on a color wheel. Isaac Newton created the color wheel long ago and helped us understand that red plus blue equals purple, for instance. I learned in my research for Emotional Equations – which allowed me to spend a couple of years with some of the world’s psychology luminaries – that there’s an emotional wheel with primary and secondary emotions: the Plutchik wheel. In my book, I evolve this wheel further so you can imagine that Disappointment + a Sense of Responsibility = Regret. And, once you understand the emotional building blocks of Regret, you can turn it from a downer into a lesson. Regret teaches. Fear protects. Sadness releases. Joy uplifts. Empathy unites. Think of your emotions as messages that give you the freedom, rather than the obligation, to respond. One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Now, let’s unpack and master the emotions of Despair, Happiness, Anxiety, and Curiosity.
DESPAIR = SUFFERING – MEANING
I am very proud of this equation.
It’s the one that started my exploration of emotions through the lens of equations. I took Viktor Frankl’s book and distilled it down to this useful mantra at a time in my life in 2008, when I had a series of friends commit suicide, had a flatline experience myself while giving a speech in St. Louis (literally: my heart stopped, and I dropped), and the rest of my life felt in disarray. If you consider the words “despair” and “meaning” to be abstract or off-putting, consider “sadness” as a tamer version of despair or “learning” as a more concrete version of meaning.
First off, in order for the math to work, “suffering” has to be a constant. This is the first Noble Truth of Buddhism, but it’s also true, and not just in a recession. You can always find the suffering if you want to look for it. I had no idea when I started writing this book that this decade would come to resemble the 1930s in that our near Depression-like economic conditions would persist as long as they have. But while the Depression was a very difficult time for so many people, interview-based research studies show that it indirectly prepared young women for losing their husbands later in life. These women learned self-reliance, independence, and courage early in life, which served them (and perhaps saved their families) when their husbands passed.
So, consider “meaning” in the following way: many of us go to the gym to exercise our physical muscles to ensure that our physical body doesn’t bloat or atrophy. If you’re going through a difficult time right now, maybe – unwittingly – you’ve signed up for emotional boot camp and you’re being asked to exercise emotional muscles that haven’t had this kind of workout for years. But, this isn’t meant to be just agony. It’s meant to prepare you for later in life. The emotions you may be mastering today – humility, resilience, persistence, a sense of humor – will serve you well at some later point in your life, maybe in the not too distant future.
For me, having my long-term relationship end in the midst of my train wreck of a life in 2009 was the last thing I was looking for. Suffering felt ever-present, like the fog during a San Francisco summer. The foghorn that cut through this opaque time was the question I asked myself on my most sad, self-pitying days, “How is this experience going to serve me in my next relationship? How is this going to make me a better partner when I find my true soul mate?”
These weren’t easy questions to ask when I felt radioactive and couldn’t imagine anyone loving me again. But I kept the exercise metaphor in mind. The fact that I could joke with friends about my emotional boot camp helped me realize that great rewards – or meaning – could arise as a result of this painful experience. So, just know that there are fruits to gather in the valley of Despair.
HAPPINESS = WANTING WHAT YOU HAVE / HAVING WHAT YOU WANT
People often have a love-hate relationship with this equation. The proper definitions of the numerator and denominator are what create the magic. “Wanting what you have” can be translated into “practicing gratitude,” having a reverence for what is working in your life. The more tricky definition is in the bottom of this equation. To “have what you want” is an act of “pursuing gratification.” I want something and it’s my job to go out and pursue it or “have” it in order to satisfy that want.
Don’t get me wrong. The act of pursuing something can bring us a sense of accomplishment and take us into that focused “flow” state. But, the risk is that “chasing something with hostility” (some dictionaries’ definition of “pursuit”) or even with just focused attention can completely distract you from what’s in the numerator, what you already have. Socrates said it best, “He who is not contented with what he has would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
As a type-A guy who’s spent more than my share of time on the hedonic treadmill, I can tell you that it’s very difficult to simultaneously practice gratitude while also pursuing gratification. Some mystics are able to take the bottom of this equation down to zero, which may give them infinite happiness. But, for the rest of us mere mortals, the risk is not in lack of pursuit, as this is part of what modern society demands of us. The risk is that we completely diminish the power of gratitude.
So, the true power of this equation is in keeping your attention on the numerator.
Someone once said to me that feeling gratitude without sharing it with someone is like wrapping a present without giving it to the intended recipient. So, what are the ways you can show your gratitude in such a fashion that it becomes a habit or practice for you that’s ingrained in your everyday life? For me, I needed to start by having it on my conscious “to-do” list each day. I had a rule that I had to give two face-to-face expressions of gratitude each day at work, preferably to someone who found the thank you unexpected. In fact, I wrote about this in the Huffington Post after one of my recent trips to Bali. What if you thought of your expressions of gratitude like a devotional daily offering?
Let me give you a suggestion about a Gratitude Journal as well. They’re not for everyone, just like personal journals resonate with some while repelling others. The purpose of a Gratitude Journal is to help you be conscious about “wanting what you have.” An alternative means of accomplishing this purpose is to have a Gratitude Buddy. Make it a point to meet with your Buddy once a month (or more frequently if you wish) in a location where there are no distractions and ask each other, “What gifts do you have in your life that are easy to take for granted?” and “What was a recent gift that may have been wrapped up as a pain or punishment?”
For those of you who’d like to explore this equation a little further, I have two suggestions.
1. Check out a research article by Jeff T. Larsen and Amie R. McKibban where they literally put this equation to the test (with inconclusive results, but really interesting findings).
2. Watch my 2010 TED talk, in which I share my key learning from my trip to Bhutan to study their Gross National Happiness Index.
ANXIETY = UNCERTAINTY x POWERLESSNESS
After reading more than a dozen books and 50 research studies on anxiety, I was struck by the fact that 95% of the causes of anxiety seemed to be distilled down to what we don’t know and what we can’t control. You may have heard of the study that demonstrated most people would prefer receiving an electric shock now that’s twice as painful as receiving some random shock in the next 24 hours. This is why, as leaders, we need to recognize that hiding the truth, especially when it’s going to come out at some point in the near future, is a futile mistake that can often just increase the amount of anxiety your employees are feeling.
If we know that the combustible product of uncertainty and powerlessness creates anxiety, we can create what I call an Anxiety Balance Sheet to turn this around. Take out a piece of paper and create four columns. Then, think of something that is currently making you anxious. Regarding that subject, the first column is “What Do I Know” about this issue. The second column is “What Don’t I Know.” The third column is “What Can I Influence.” The fourth column is “What Can’t I Influence.” Spend enough time doing this so that you have at least one item per column but you may find that you have a half-dozen items in some columns.
After you feel complete, what do you notice with respect to the four columns? About 80% of the people I’ve worked this through with are surprised that they have more items listed in columns one and three (the “good” columns) than they do in columns two and four. The reality is that when something is making us anxious, we tend to fixate on those elements of the problem that feel mysterious (what we don’t know) or uncontrollable (what we can’t influence). So, there’s some liberation in just outlining what’s making you crazy and realizing that there may be many balancing positives to those issues that are vexing you.
Now, spend some time reviewing the items in column two (what you don’t know). Is there someone you can ask – your boss, your boyfriend, your doctor – who can help you with some needed information that will move this item from column two to column one? Maybe it’s just doing a Google search? I know it’s scary to ask your boss whether your job is in jeopardy, but remember the electric shock example I mentioned earlier. Anxiety can be more painful and debilitating than bad news. Now look at column four and truly ask yourself, “Are you completely powerless about the items on this list?” I’ve found that having a smart friend sit with me can sometimes help me uncover ways to move items from column four to column three.
In sum, just the act of unpacking your anxiety bag and knowing what’s inside can have a profound effect on reducing your fear of the future.
CURIOSITY = WONDER + AWE
We’ve had a subtraction, a division, and a multiplication equation so far. Now, we’ll finish with an addition equation around the experience of curiosity. Recent studies have shown that curiosity is one of the most valuable emotional qualities people can leverage during periods of crisis. Fear and most negative emotions train us to narrow our scope. “Fight or flight” reactions are evolution’s means of helping us avert danger. But, oftentimes, we need to move from narrowing our attention to the “broaden and build” way of thinking that Barbara Fredrickson talks about in her book on Positivity. Getting through your own emotional recession may require bigger thinking rather than narrow execution.
When you’re living in a place of fear, it is hard to be curious. But, I’ve found that so much of it comes back to defusing my natural tendency toward reactivity. In other words, it’s learning to pause. Curiosity is not a reactive emotion. It’s one that takes a certain amount of reflection and a willingness to admit what you don’t know. So, ask yourself, “What habitats allow me to be more curious?” I first had to make a list of which habitats made be less curious: the office, any conference room, investor meetings, and spending time with people who I wanted to impress.
So, I knew that these were not places that were going to help me stoke up bigger thinking. Ironically, when I made my list of curious habitats, I found my list to be longer than I expected: anywhere in nature but especially near a beach with crashing surf; hanging out with kids; museums or other experimental spaces with art; zoos; places with a big night sky and lots of stars; my backyard cottage; and any place where I felt comfortable laughing from my gut (it’s hard to be full of humor and full of fear at the same time).
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that seeking the sacred in life opens up my sense of awe and my ability to connect with curiosity.
I’ve recently made a decision to seek out a sacred festival somewhere in the world each quarter as a means of committing to finding habitats for curiosity. As Tim F. knows (he was a fellow citizen of my camp Maslowtopia), I’ve been an aficionado of Burning Man for many years and some of my best business ideas have come out of my time in the desert marveling at transcendent art and having non-linear conversations.
So, if you’re feeling “on empty” creatively, know that curiosity is the fuel you need to seek. In author Liz Gilbert’s 2009 TED talk (TED is another habitat for curiosity), she shares the fact that the genesis of the word “genius” comes from “genie” and that the most creative people in the world are able to become vessels for the genie to inhabit them. My experience is that these genies prefer inhabiting curious places in the world and that’s where they’re most likely to tap you on your shoulder and give you the gift of inspiration that may change your life.
In sum, the more the external world becomes chaotic, the more we rely upon internal logic. This was true in the 1930s when Nazism and political and religious fundamentalism rose. But, that decade also sprouted new thinking from people like Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Viktor Frankl, and Reinhold Niebuhr (who created the Serenity Prayer).
I hope that you find these emotional equations help you to think differently, live better, and truly become the Chief Emotions Officer of your own life. It’s worth the introspection.
Chip is offering an exclusive to readers of this blog: the chance to spend a full day with him in San Francisco.
He’ll cover economy airfare from anywhere in the US (if you’re international, you’ll need to get yourself to the US), and he’ll also cover two nights at Hotel Vitale on the water, or the best alternative if they’re sold out. The usual legal stuff applies: must be older than 18, void where prohibited, no purchase required to enter, etc.
No later than this Friday (1/20/12) at 5pm PST, leave a comment below and answer the following, in order, and in no more than 300 words:
1. What is your favorite inspirational or philosophical quote?
2. How could you apply one of the equations in this post to your life for maximum benefit?
3. What would you like to change or build after a day with Chip in SF?
Only the first 100 entrants are eligible, so the earlier the better!
Odds and Ends: The Crunchies, Winners, and More
The Crunchies, something like the tech Oscars, are currently in the finals, and quite a few of my start-ups have made the cut (I’m honored to be involved with all of them). If you like these products or people, please click through to give them a vote! All of the candidates, many of them friends, are outstanding.
CEO of the Year – Phil Libin (Evernote) and Dick Costolo (Twitter)
Angel of the Year – these folks are all incredible, but I have to vote for my man, Kevin Rose.
Founder of the Year – Leah Busque (TaskRabbit) For the story of how Leah and I met, as well as how she got me to be an advisor, see this article: “How to Turn $750 into $1,000,000″
For all of the categories and finalists, go here.
Posted on: January 19, 2012.