Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Success

conley - equation

This week’s guest is Chip Conley, author of the book Emotional Equations, which was a #1 Bestseller on Amazon as far pre-orders. He has brought together incredible information to bring this idea of emotional intelligence to emotional fluency.

Chip Conley started his own hospitality company, Joie de Vivre. As CEO for 2 dozen years he grew it into the second largest boutique hotel company in the United States. At the young age of 26, with no industry experience, Chip transformed what he says was a notel-motel into a renowned Phoenix hotel. He’s had all kinds of rock stars there; David Bowie, Linda Ronstadt, and Nirvana. He extended his collection into 35 award winning hotels each with a different theme and had more than 3,000 employees.

Each property inspires his guests to experience their, as he calls it, identity refreshment during their stay. Chip and his company have some time-tested techniques and transformation leadership practices. He has been featured in every major news outlet from Time, USA Today, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal.

This week we are talking about his book, Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success. It guides readers further down the path from Emotional Intelligence to Emotional fluency, using math of all things, as a better way to understand and manage your emotions. Chip’s going to be able to tell us about how you go from not only being intelligent but this idea of being fluent in your emotions.

Chip really has, as a CEO business leader, become a preeminent fault leader at the intersection of psychology and business and a successful practitioner of emotional intelligence at work. Cathy and I like to say that you have to name it to tame it. Chip not only names it to tame it he gives you a formula that allows you to move forward.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: After 24 years as the Joie de Vivre Chief Executive Officer, I guess now you see yourself as the chief emotions officer, which I love. What leaders or people in your life have most influenced you, beginning to end—that have really taken you from where you have been in life to where you are now?

Chip Conley: Thank you. First of all I’m really honored to be with both of you. I’m not a doctor like the two of you, I’m just a day-to-day CEO who did it for two dozen years. The reason I use the expression “Chief Emotions Officer” will become more obvious as our show goes on. It really is because after two dozen years of doing it I really could see in a practical way what Dan Goleman and others have spoken about for almost 20 years. It’s that the definition of success of leaders or the effectiveness of leaders quite often comes down to how they engage their people in ways that are not manipulative, are inspiring and they are great at team building.

For me the kinds of people who really inspire me and have helped me to be the leader that I am are sometimes people from afar. There’s Herb Kelleher who for 37 years was the CEO of Southwest Airlines. He was a guy who really did everything he could to put his passion and his heart on the line every day for his people. So, from afar I could actually watch him and I was able to communicate with him, but never met him. He stepped down as the CEO about 3 or 4 years ago.

My father and my mother though, I have to say and as obvious as it is, the two of them probably taught me more about leadership and about how to manage in an emotional way as possible. I turned out to be very different than my parents. My parents are relatively conservative and I’m a little bit more of a go-get-them kind of a person. What I was able to see is that over time they were able to adapt based upon what their original anticipation of who I was and what I was going to do in the world. They were able to adapt their perspective on me based upon what I was best at. So, instead of trying to fit me into a box and say this is what you are supposed to do, they were able really look at my talents and more importantly my passions, and usually those two are pretty well combined, and they were able to work with those and really encourage me to be courageous. Courage is part of the word encourage. So they gave the me courage to go out and be courageous about the path that I wanted to take, which was an entrepreneurial path and a very creative path.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Chip we want to touch base a little bit about the organization, Joei de Vivre, a French name. Tell us about the origination of the name, you probably have to explain it a lot.

Chip Conley: It’s not the most practical name in the world, but there are very few companies in the world who’s mission statement is also the name of the company. Joie de Vivre is a French phrase that means Joy of Life. It’s a very well known around the world as sort of an expression of someone who has Joie de Vivre is that they have sort of a bubbly sense of verve and a vivaciousness for life.

When I was 26 and I started the company. I was at a stage in my own career where I was having a mid-life crisis in my mid-twenties. I was wondering if I was cut out for business or not. I had gone to Stanford Business School and had been a big success there, but I really felt like a failure in my mid-twenties. So I decided to start a company that was about a subject that made me passionate which was the idea of boutique hotels which were just getting off the ground in the US. I decided to call the company Joie de Vivre partly because my mission was to create joy of life not just in my own life but to create opportunities to celebrate the joy of life with our employees and our customers as well.

Twenty-five years later, many of our employees—we have 3500 employees—wear wristbands that say, “create joy.” It’s sort of our mantra, to create joy in the world. It’s proven successful as a business strategy.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Tell us where your hotels are located.

Chip Conley: We are headquartered in San Francisco. That’s where I started the company. We are the largest independent hotelier in the state of California and we have about 34 hotels around the state of California, mostly in Northern California. We just opened a hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona. We’re opening a hotel in Chicago in a couple of months which is called the Hotel Lincoln. We’ll be opening some hotels on the East coast, and we just merged with a company called Thompson Hotels in New York City. Thompson has hotels all over the US as well as in Sorrento and London, so we are now going global as well.

My role, for 24 years, was being CEO. About a year ago I stepped down as CEO and really wanted to dedicate more of my time to what had become my new calling. It’s weird when you have two: I’ve had two callings in my life. One was to be the founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre and create a very mission driven, culture driven organization that could be a role model out there in the world. I’m really proud of that. We have had some tough times along the way, but I’m proud of what we were able to do.

That calling was starting to fall down in this last recession and the calling that was coming to the forefront was this writing and speaking which I have been doing for about 12 years. So this is my fourth book and is what I spend my primary time doing.

Dr. Relly Nadler: You have some great examples of your talks on TED. Tell us a little bit about writing a book about emotions. You are very clear, saying look, I’m not a psychologist, but you are lay expert about knowing about emotions and Chief Emotions Officer is a great way to redefine CEO. What was behind the idea of saying, well, I should write a book about this?

Chip Conley: This is really the tale of two downturns and two Jewish Shrinks. Ten years ago in the dot.com bust we were the largest hotelier in the bay area and the San Francisco Bay area took a big tumble. At that time I got really reacquainted with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and remade Joie de Vivre, my company, based upon a reinterpretation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We tripled in size and I ended up writing a book called, Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow. So I had some background in sort of looking out how you apply psychological principles to a corporate environment in my role as a CEO.

In this downturn, what I’ll call the great recession, I was in a really different emotional space myself. In that dot.com bust I sort of felt like a gladiator. You mentioned emotional thermostat, which is an expression which I think Relly, you put in your book before I put it in my book, so I think you get bragging rights on that one. We learn things from each other. So, in this downturn, my emotional thermostat was set relatively low, whereas in the last one I felt like a gladiator. This time I felt a bit like a prisoner. I turned to Victor Frankl’s book, the second Jewish psychologist after Maslow, and started reading Man’s Search for Meaning, which is a book that had always had some poignance and had always been profound for me. Now that I felt like a prisoner in this downturn—there was a lot of bad stuff happening, not just to the company but to me personally—I really read it with a new pair of glasses.

I distilled that famous book on meaning to an equation partly because I wanted a daily mantra that I could use. That equation was despair = suffering – meaning. Can I take a moment to tell you what that means?

Dr. Relly Nadler: Yes, please.

Chip Conley: So “despair = suffering – meaning” again, I’m not a math major that’s for sure, but what this helped me remember was that in many ways suffering is sort of ever-present in life. It’s the first noble truth of Buddhism, and whether you are in a concentration camp like Victor Frankl was or whether feeling like a prisoner in a bad marriage, a bad job, no job, in my case being CEO of a company I didn’t want to be CEO anymore of; I was in a place where I could always focus my attention on the suffering, but the variable in life was meaning. So if the constant is suffering and meaning is the variable, if I gave attention to meaning and grew the meaning it reduced the despair. That is literally how the math works. 6 = 10 – 4; if 4 becomes 7 then 10 – 7 = 3, 6 goes down to 3. So despair goes down when meaning goes up.

I started using that and it was my way of trying to ask, “what is the lesson here? What am I going to learn from this?” Or most importantly what was valuable to me to ask was “what are the emotional muscles that I’m starting to use that will serve me greater in my life at a later time?”

I used that very privately for about 3 or 4 months and then one day at our annual management retreat with our top 80 executives in the company, in November of 2008, I saw that there was a lot of suffering in the room because it was quite clear that we were going into another major recession after going through the dot.com bust a few years earlier. So instead of giving a speech, the rah-rah cheerleading speech I was supposed to give, I threw it away and I just said I want to talk to them about my favorite equation that I was using in my life and I thought this fear = suffering – meaning, which is an odd thing for a CEO to do, but that level of vulnerability and authenticity led to a lot of teary eyes and an awful lot of people started coming forward and saying, you know, gosh, this is what I’m going through. That opportunity for people to express themselves was what I call psycho-hygiene, a phrase from Maslow, that said, basically, you are going into the worst of times, you need to take a shower together. Most organizations don’t. The form of taking a shower together is just getting authentic, being vulnerable and in my case being the CEO talking about it. After the speech a few people came up to me and said, gosh, do you have an equation for jealousy, or how about for anxiety, or maybe happiness?

So I started thinking, well maybe I’m on to something here with equations because they are very memorable, they are easy to remember, they are easy to text and tweet. So I spent the next two years going out and studying a collection of emotions with some of the worlds psychology luminaries.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: That’s fascinating and you know it does really bring down to earth for the average person, what they are doing. Because most people would say, depression is created when someone’s reality is out of sync with their expectations and what is happening to them at that point in time. When you make it so simple for people, right, it’s so much easier for them to get it than to be trapped in their own mental and emotional struggle. When you can put it into a formula or explain to somebody, well, depression is coming from the fact that you have expectations about what reality really is and they are not in sync. Or to say to somebody, your despair will decrease when you find meaning. That is so helpful to people. That gives them a breath. It gives them an  opportunity to take a break from the pain. That is very powerful, Chip.

Chip Conley: Victor Frankl once wrote, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. Our response lies in our growth and our freedom.” I think that it one of the key lessons of emotional intelligence and what I would call emotional fluency, which I’ll probably talk about after the break. It’s that we can respond to life as opposed to react to it. When we are reacting to things we tend to be using that Amygdala, that sort of caveman part of our brain. Dr. Matt Lieberman at UCLA, has proven that when we are making decisions from that part of our brain, we have a few less IQ points, in fact Relly, you and I talked about that too.

Listen to the complete discussion on Emotional Equations with Chip Conley, without commercials, above.



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