Spending 3 days with Chip (@ Anubhui Retreat) is like a decade in experience! Chip is one of the best transformative business leaders of our time. He is legendary for taking an inner-city motel and turning it into the 2nd largest boutique hotel brand in the world with a few thousand employees. After hearing his near-death heart attack experience and his company’s struggle through one of the worst economic crisis of our time, it reminds us all the importance of seeking for meaning in life. It is so easy for us to get caught up with the hustle and bustle of everyday life that we lose sight of what’s important to us until we inevitably hit a crisis.
Top 10 Key Learnings:
1. CHIP CONLEY’S RELATIONSHIP TRUTHS BASED ON MASLOW.
If there is one important takeaway from the retreat, it would be Chip Conley’s relationship truths based on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. It impacts everything we do and every relationship around us.
People join a company and they leave their boss. The number one reason people leave a company isn’t inadequate pay. It’s the day to day relationship with their immediate manager. Looking at the employee pyramid (see picture), recognition is critical in addressing people’s success needs which creates loyalty, while money is necessary to meet their basic needs of survival. When employees moves up to the transformational peak of the pyramid, they have found meaning at work. There is no better feeling than being part of an organization making a difference in the world.
2. LEADERS ARE THE EMOTIONAL THERMOSTAT IN THE ROOM.
As leaders, it is so important to be aware how our emotions affect others in the organization. When his company experiences a once in a lifetime economic downtown after 9/11 and dotcom crash, his company was struggling to make payroll for his employees. His emotional thermostat was running low as you can imagine and his team was in fear of losing their jobs. Instead of giving a typical inspirational speech as if everything is going to be fine, he decided last minute before a company-wide meeting to open himself up and shared a set of emotional equations that he derived from studying Abe Maslow and Victor Frank in helping himself to get through the struggles. If this speech was't done properly, every employee would have ran out the door in fear en masse. Instead of fear, he gave them hope. Instead of suffering, he gave them meaning.
3. THE BEST LEADERS ARE VULNERABLE.
At that time, Chip didn’t have the deep pocket to weather the economic downturn and he certainly didn’t have all the answers. By showing his vulnerability, he was able to get his team to work collectively in the interest of the company. As with any challenging turnaround effort, it needs proactive cooperation of everyone in the company. It takes genuine authenticity from leaders and it means being vulnerable. Think Sheryl Sandberg vs Marissa Mayer. Who is a more effective leader? In Silicon Valley, we don’t like to talk about feelings. Perhaps, it is important to share feelings especially during difficult times.
4. THE MEANING OF LIFE IS TO FIND A LIFE OF MEANING.
After spending time with Chip, we don’t feel like our struggles are that difficult now. We are very fortunate that he came back from his near-death experience to remind us all to seek a life of meaning in everything we do. Victor Frankl’s Man’s Searching for Meaning is now on my reading list.
5. DESPAIR = SUFFERING - MEANING
If you believe in Buddhism, the first noble truth is that suffering Is a constant in life. Meaning is the variable where it is what you make out of it. Whenever we experience difficulties, meaning is the fuel that can help us to persevere. For those of us in doubts, this concept of meaning has been well tested by Victor Frankl while he was in concentration camp in 1944.
Emotional Equations by Chip Conley:
Despair = Suffering – Meaning (Despair is what result when suffering has no meaning)
Anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness
Happiness = Wanting what you have/Having what you want
See more from Chip’s book, Emotional Equations.
6. HAPPY EMPLOYEES | CUSTOMERS | INVESTORS = SUSTAINABLE SUCCESS
When the going is tough, it is often easy caving in to focus on near term profits at the expense of future growth. It is understandable because the effect is immediate and tangible for investors. However, it is subtly chipping away the future. It is like taking medication, instead of exercising, to stay healthy. As a company, the healthy and sustainable way is to first focus on employees’ happiness, which would naturally lead to happy and loyal customers. Profits would follow as a result of happy employees and customers. Ultimately, this is what investors want but it takes some patience. In the high tech world of hyper growth, we need to be aware whether we are growing sustainably or going totally out of control.
7. DIFFERENTIATIONS COME FROM INTANGIBLES.
At the top of Chip’s pyramid are the intangibles. How do you measure meaning to see if we are doing the right things as a company? It is much easier to measure things like money, profits, or return on investment. It is also possible to measure the middle of the pyramid – recognition, desires, or relationship alignment. In Silicon Valley, we tend to focus on the bottom – faster, cheaper, and better. The second most common question from high tech investors: how is this better than competitions? The first most common question: how do you monetize this?
8. THE CASE FOR MODERN ELDERS – MULTI-GENERATION TEAM PRODUCES BETTER RESULTS!
Chip was 52 years old when he was invited by Brian Chesky to help turn Airbnb into an international giant. He had never worked in a tech company, he didn’t code, and he was twice the age of the average high tech employee. For a good part of his previous life, he has been running his own company. Now, he is reporting to Brian who is 21 years junior. What an experience!
This experience has given him a unique perspective to look across generations. As a non-tech person, he noticed that most high tech people are better at reading the face of their iPhone than the person sitting next to them. How do you expect young leaders to develop relationship wisdoms without much training? Modern elders can play a very important role in an organization by offering their wisdom, which comes from pattern recognition. Pattern recognition improves over time with more data and more age!
9. STAY CURIOUS AND STAY RELEVANT!
Most of us knows Peter Drucker as the top management guru. But, little did I know that he continued to thrive to age 95 by diving deeply into different subjects from Japanese flower arranging to medieval war strategy.
Research indeed shows that curious minds exhibit increased activity in the hippocampus, which is involved in the creation of memories. This is the circuit of our brain that lights up when we get rewarded. When we get excited, our brains release a chemical called dopamine which gives us a natural high. This high helps us to engage and to learn.
Chip embodies the very spirit of staying curious and staying relevant! Not only did he build the 2nd largest boutique brand in the world, wrote just a few bestselling books, gave a few Ted talks on Maslow and business, helped Brian and his team with Airbnb, he still found time for Burning Man!
10. THE OUTCOME OF MY LIFE CAN BE SUMMED UP IN 3 WORDS: “RAW, COOKED, BURNED".
“I was raw and unripe; I was cooked and matured; I was burned (in love and into nothingness)”
— Rumi, one of the greatest poets in classical Persian (1207-1273).
Chip gave us an updated version for modern time: “raw, cooked, burned” and then “raw” again!