“Rarely has a CEO bared his soul in a book as Chip Conley has in Emotional Equations. This powerfully authentic story and the resulting emotional building blocks that define how we can understand our internal weather make for a compelling read and a valuable operating manual for life.” —Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ CEO , author of Delivering Happiness

“Emotional Equations offers a splendid menu of rules-of-thumb for a satisfied, meaningful life. Chip Conley has tried what he advises; his equations to live by are clever, useful, and profound.” —Daniel Goleman , author of Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence

“If you want to understand (or persuade) your boss, sister, neighbor, or teenager it helps to have an emotional equation. Chip Conley built one of the most innovative, customer-inspiring businesses of the last 20 years. He’s a leader who clearly understands the value of analyzing emotions.” —Chip Heath , author of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

“In this remarkable book, one of America’s finest entrepreneurs shares the wisdom that’s helped him find personal and professional renewal in the face of some devastating life events. Chip Conley’s equations are powerful tools for helping to make our emotions work for us, rather than against us, in business and in life.”–Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive

“Emotional Equations is a fresh, original guide to an authentic and fulfilling life. Every line is based on good science and lived experience and rings truthful and invigorating. There ought to be a law against successful CEOs writing such good books…where does that leave the rest of us?” —Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow

“Chip Conley makes the case that great business leaders don’t have to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Rather than superhuman, the best leaders — at work and at home — are simply super humans who know how to use their internal resources effectively. Emotional Equations offers practical advice so you can make your emotions work for you rather than against you.”–Marci Shimoff, author of Love for No Reason

“You may scoff at the idea that all the complexity and subtlety of human emotion can be reduced to a handful of arithmetic operations. Scoff all you want, but read the book. There is something important to be learned from every chapter. Chip Conley has written a book that is both welcoming and challenging, simple and complex, abstract and concrete. Read this book and take it to heart and your emotional life will never be the same.”–Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice

“Emotional Equations” is a masterpiece by a master teacher. Philosopher/CEO Chip Conley peels away the thin veneer of let’s pretend organizational life and introduces us to the very raw and tender emotional core of our human experience. While reading, I felt joy, delight, curiosity, insight, inspiration, amazement and, most of all, a much deeper understanding of my own inner life. Simple, yet profound…you really must read this book.–Jim Kouzes, co-author of The Leadership Challenge

“If you’ve struggled to understand how to get control of your emotions, Chip Conley’s Emotional Equations is the book for you. Conley makes elegantly objective the subjective realm of feelings through the prism of simple mathematical formulas that offer fresh insight into how we can more effectively manage our emotions.”–Anne Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace

“Emotional Equations reveals the rich tapestry of relationships among emotions which heretofore existed as isolated feelings within each of us. Chip’s book is required reading for every executive who wants to lead others effectively in today’s organizations that aspire to create opportunities for people to find and live out their callings.”–Dr. Tommy Thomas, CEO, Opposite Strengths, Inc., PhD mathematics & psychology

“Emotions are a mystery to many of us. Chip Conley provides insight into how different emotions operate, what consequences they can lead to, and how our proclivity for happiness is shaped by our emotional states. This book gives a practical framework for getting the most out of work, defining who you are, and finding contentment. It is an emotional tour de force.”–Jennifer Aaker, General Atlantic Professor of Marketing, Stanford GSB

“It’s incredibly rewarding to see one of my former psychology students evolve first into a very successful businessperson and then into a thoughtful observer of human nature. Emotional Equations is challenging, thought-provoking, insightful, and, ultimately, very practical.”–Phil Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University, author of The Time Paradox


Forbes (link)

Executive Travel (link)

Big Think – The Mathematics of Happiness? (link)

TrendHunter Business (link)

Stanford Magazine – To Conquer That Woe? Divide (link)

Voice of America – Leading With Emotional Intelligence (link to radio interview)

Overcoming fear with Emotional Equations in INC (link)

Dylan Ratigan Show on MSNBC (link)

Bob Sutton – Chip Conley’s Emotional Equations: A Leadership Self-help Book You Will Love (Even If You Hate Self-help Books) (link)

The Guardian – This column will change your life: emotions as equations (link)

New York Times – Best Sellers (link)

Wall Street Journal – Best-Sellers (link)

Tim Ferris guest blog – Chief Emotions Officer (link)

CEO READ – Jack Covert Selects – Emotional Equations (link)

USA Today – Four new self-help books to start year off right (link)

SF Chronicle – Conley’s formulas for adding to happiness (link)

Mindful.org – (Despair = Suffering – Meaning) (link)

Inc. – Your Feelings? Surprisingly, They’re Based on Math (link)

Forbes – How Emotional Equations Can Change Your Life. – Q&A with Chip Conley (link)

Chip Conley’s appearance on KQED’s Forum (podcast)

Publisher’s Weekly – Emotional Equations is #1 (link)

Daniel Pink interview (link)

Guru Review on American Express Open Forum (link)

Mindful.org – Excerpt on Anxiety (link)


Best Seller

Using brilliantly simple math to explore and articulate the one thing that challenges and connects us all — our emotions — Emotional Equations takes us from emotional intelligence to emotional fluency, offering a new way to manage our internal world.

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Video: Chip's TEDX Talk
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About the Author
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Anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness

Authenticity = Self-Awareness x Courage

Curiosity = Wonder + Awe

Despair = Suffering - Meaning

Jealousy = Mistrust / Self-Esteem

Joy = Love - Fear

Emotional Equations


With its brilliantly simple formulas that illustrate universal truths, Emotional Equations is an exciting, new, and immediately accessible visual lexicon for mastering your life challenges. Award-winning entrepreneur and bestselling author Chip Conley created this invaluable new self-help paradigm in order to break down life’s toughest obstacles into manageable facets that you can see clearly – and influence.

When Conley suffered a series of tragedies in the space of just a couple years – and his heart inexplicably flatlined after a speech – he began using what he came to call “Emotional Equations” (like Joy = Love – Fear) to help him understand and articulate what was going on in his internal weather system. These simple formulas helped him focus on the variables in life that he could deal with, rather than ruminating on the unchangeable constants (the bad economy, death, taxes) he could not.

Now, this veteran CEO shares his profound insights with the rest of us and shows how we can all become Chief Emotions Officers. Emotional Equations will give you a new perspective on your life and lead you beyond the concept of emotional intelligence and into an emotional fluency that enables you to identify, name, and manage elements that can define, hurt, and help you. Equations like “Despair = Suffering – Meaning” and “Happiness = Wanting What You Have ÷ Having What You Want,” have been reviewed for mathematical and psychological accuracy by experts. With compelling real-life stories, Conley inspires you to work through these equations and to formulate others to address your own circumstances. Whether you want to overcome confusion and uncertainty, fear and anxiety, or add more pleasure, joy, and meaning to your life, there is an Emotional Equation for you.

In these turbulent times, when so many are trying to become “superhuman” in order to deal with life’s speed bumps, tragedies, and setbacks, Emotional Equations guides you toward becoming a “super human being.”

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Chip Conley


Chip Conley

Bestselling author, hospitality entrepreneur, disruptive business rebel, and social change agent, Chip Conley is a leader at the forefront of the sharing economy. At age 26, the founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality took an inner city motel and turned it into the 2nd largest boutique hotel brand in the world. Inspired by psychologists Maslow and Frankl, Chip’s books, PEAK and the New York Times bestseller EMOTIONAL EQUATIONS, share his own theories on transformation and meaning in business and life. Chip was CEO of his innovative company for 24 years. In 2013 he accepted an invitation from the founders of Airbnb to help transform a promising home sharing start-up into what is today the world’s largest hospitality brand. As Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy, Chip taught his award-winning methods to hundreds of thousands of Airbnb hosts in nearly 200 countries, and created the Airbnb Open that brings thousands together in a global festival of belonging (he transitions to a part-time role as Strategic Advisor for Hospitality and Leadership in January 2017). Chip founded Fest300 in 2013 to share his passion for travel and the world’s best festivals (the company merged with Everfest in 2016 where he is part-time Chief Strategy Officer).

Chip has received hospitality’s highest honor, the Pioneer Award, joining industry icons Marriott, Kimpton and Wynn. He is the founder of the Celebrity Pool Toss, which has raised millions for the Tenderloin neighborhood where he opened his first hotel, and San Francisco’s Hotel Hero Awards that shine a light on the unsung heroes serving hotel guests every day. Chip holds a BA and MBA from Stanford University, and an honorary doctorate in psychology from Saybrook University. He serves on the boards of the Burning Man Project and the Esalen Institute.

Visit www.chipconley.com for more.

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Chip’s Ted Talk
Emotional Equations



Chapter 1


On August 19, 2008, my heart stopped. Just minutes after my business presentation on stage, I passed out. Flatline. My memories of that day are opaque, but I can still see the image that was swirling around my brain as I came to in the emergency room: thick, sweet, fragrant oil slowly dripping down a set of dark wooden stairs. My version of “seeing the light,” this was the ultimate wake-up call for me. The doctors could find no medical explanation for my heart failure.

Over the preceding few years, a series of wake-up waves culminating in my heart failure had hit me like an emotional tsunami and tested my sense of who I thought I was: a business I had built was sinking; a family member had been wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to San Quentin State Prison; a long-term relationship had ended painfully; and I had lost five friends and colleagues to suicide.

I know I’m not alone in experiencing these tragedies and set-backs. Many people have felt either out of control or stuck in an emotional logjam. At times, our emotions are crystal clear; we know what we’re feeling and how to respond. At other times, we need guidance. And my heart failure, besides being a medical emergency, was also an emotional emergency. I felt as if I were treading water, gasping for air, my emotions acting like enemies instead of intuitive allies.

I had tried my best to put on a good “game face,” because we CEOs like to portray a strong, steady image to everyone and a lot of people were relying on me. After all, my company is called Joie de Vivre (French for “joy of life”), so dour didn’t really fit the profile. I’d started the company in 1987 and grown it to more than three thousand employees, the largest group of independent boutique hotels in the state of California, and had been adept at creating healthy “psycho-hygiene” at the company. I’d also written Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow about adapting for the work-place the theory of motivation created by the psychologist Abraham Maslow.

During the momentous days of the decade’s first economic downturn, this mixing of psychology and business had let Joie de Vivre defy the general trend and nearly triple in size. It had also led me to lecture all over the world on how to become self-actualized—to become everything we’re capable of becoming at work.

When the second economic downturn hit in 2008, however, I retreated to my home—once my sanctuary but now a place filled with beautiful things and ugly thoughts. I would take off my game face and wallow in an emotional darkroom where all my negatives were developing. I had a certain emotional awareness about what was going on inside me but little means to make sense of it, let alone find meaning in it. I felt almost paralyzed by a psychological fog.

As I was waiting for some revelation, one of my friends, Chip Hankins, took his own life. He was my best “Chip” friend in the world and my insurance broker for more than a decade—a force of nature whom I deeply admired and, at times, emulated. We had more in common than just our names: we were both publicly extroverted but had an introverted, melancholy side as well; we both went for long periods of sobriety, even though we both owned bars. And we were both spiritual seekers who enjoyed throwing a frivolous party; we’d been planning to throw a “Chip” party someday to which we’d invite Chips from the around the world to share stories of “The World According to Chip.”

Instead, there I was at Chip’s memorial service, where I listened to person after person get up and tell “Chip stories.” It was surreal. The truth is, up to this moment, my mind had occasionally veered toward images of my own demise—by car crash or cancer—some-thing dramatic that might help me escape from the mess of emotions my life had become. Clearly, I needed to push the reset button on my mind, and my life, and make some fundamental changes. The terror and despair I felt over this profound loss gradually gave way to a renewed sense that I could remake my experience here on Earth and a budding gratitude that I would have that opportunity even though others would not.

During that time, as four other friends also chose death over life, I learned more about the nature of emotional depression and suicide. Nearly a million people try to commit suicide annually in America; about 5 percent of them “succeed.” Men are four times as likely to commit suicide as women, and suicide attempts by middle-aged people have spiked during the economic downturn (all five of my friends were men in their forties).

Shining the light on these sobering statistics gave me the incentive to look for a healthy way to make sense of my emotions.



I was compelled to revisit a book I’d read years before, the psychologist Viktor Frankl’s landmark memoir Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl’s book was a spiritual salve for me. I figured that if this man could withstand the agony of a Nazi concentration camp, I could probably deal with the challenges in my own life. I was acutely aware that my company needed a new solution to its problems, but I was more focused on turning around my own life. Maybe if I could do that, a company turnaround would follow.

I would recount the story of Man’s Search for Meaning to friends and colleagues, yet most couldn’t understand why I was so fascinated with it. In spite of their blank stares, I kept reading Frankl’s book and began to distill its wisdom down to one simple equation:

Despair = Suffering – Meaning

In other words, despair is what results when suffering has no meaning. In a recession (or, in Frankl’s case, in prison), suffering is virtually a constant, so it’s best to place your attention on growing your sense of meaning in order to decrease your feeling of despair.

This little mental rule of thumb or mantra became my lighthouse. Throughout the day, especially when I was feeling particularly tested, I would quietly recite this equation to myself as a reminder not to get caught up in the suffering and instead to place my attention on what I was supposed to learn. Because the worldwide hospitality industry was hit particularly hard by the Great Recession, the leaders of Joie de Vivre (JdV) were living lives of “quiet desperation”—in some cases, not so quiet. One day, as I facilitated a leadership series for senior managers, knowing that they were suffering, I decided to discuss my own vulnerability and worries and introduced my “meaning” equation to the group. The managers really responded to it—they started texting and tweeting it to their staff, and, next thing I knew, they’d asked me to teach a whole class on Emotional Equations. To this day, I teach employees at JdV how to use Emotional Equations to create insight and perspective as well as happiness and success. Here are a few of the most popular:

Disappointment = Expectations – Reality

Workaholism = What Are You Running From? / What Are You Living For?


Authenticity = Self-Awareness × Courage

Joy = Love – Fear

Though most people today aren’t locked in a concentration camp or acting as CEOs of companies in distress, many people are prisoners of their own minds. So in this book I ask you, “What’s your prison?” and I offer you some keys to unlock the door. Frankl’s meaning equation gave me a sense of freedom that liberated me from my habitual, fearful ways of thinking. Fear is a straitjacket. It incapacitates and isolates you. Yet the ancient root of “fear” is the word “fare.” Passengers pay a fare to take a ship from one point to another, so perhaps in these rough economic seas our fare of fear will take us to a new place in our lives.

As Winston Churchill advised during World War II, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Today, too, we all need to come to understand that we can use our seasons of darkness as a means to find new reservoirs of strength—strength we didn’t know we had.

You are no doubt faced today with situations that are testing you to be bigger than you’ve ever been in your life. Those challenges require you to become conscious of your emotions. As the poet Kahlil Gibran put it, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” As I navigated my way through my treacherous time, the question that kept emerging from my work with the meaning equation was “What is breaking open in my life that is meant to evolve into something new for me and those around me?”



In most of the Emotional Equations in this book, we’ll stick with basic math formulas—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—to get a handle on how emotions work together and how you can work with them. I want to note, however, that calculus is actually known as the mathematics of change. After inventing calculus, Sir Isaac Newton also crafted mathematical expressions of the laws of motion, capped off by the famous equation Force = Mass × Gravity (to be more precise, gravity is a form of acceleration).

Gravity is a universal force that affects the physical world, but you may not have considered how it also affects the human condition—and not just by keeping us on Earth. Gravity shapes our physical bodies; we often get shorter and closer to the ground as we age. Gravity can also shape our emotional selves. Emotional bag-gage, for instance is a form of gravity; we acquire more of it as we get older, and it weighs us down. The more emotional gravity we’re fighting, the more force we require to move forward. And force moving against gravity creates a lot of friction.

On the other hand, having a frictionless life is like being a rower gliding over the surface of the water—in rowing circles, this is called “swinging.” Abraham Maslow called it “self-actualization,” and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it “flow.” It’s a way of defying gravity.

When I went through the most difficult period in my life, I did not feel “in the flow.” On some level, I felt as if mysterious natural forces—such as gravity—were conspiring against me. As one friend told me at the time, “Your internal math is haywire.” That’s what it can feel like when you are out of sync with the world—you feel trapped, heavy, full of friction and chaos.

Chaos is a math theory, but it also describes how many of us feel in troubled times. As one who has spent my life doing the left-brain/right-brain tango, I have often grasped for what I now understand to be an Emotional Equation to give me insight into what I was going through at home or at work, to distill some basic truths in life. Emotional Equations provide a new, visual lexicon for mastering our age of uncertainty.

When I was a teen, I suffered through algebra with its constants and variables, and somehow I seemed to always get the answer wrong. Today, many of us feel as though we’re getting the answer wrong in life, and so we use prayers, mantras, and affirmations as a sort of adult form of algebra. The Serenity Prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”) is an example of a kind of equation for serenity that defines constants and variables in life.

When I was at my lowest, the meaning equation gave me the knowledge and conviction that if I placed my attention more on the meaning of this disparate collection of painful events, as opposed to the suffering, I would likely have less despair in my life. During my most troubled weeks, the equation felt as if it was my instruction manual for deactivating my emotional explosives. I didn’t need to be a math whiz to figure out the emotional truth of the meaning equation, I just needed to use it as my daily mantra and map to help me climb out of the deep well into which I’d fallen. In spite of my allergy to algebra, my solution to my personal inner chaos was to become an emotional mathematician.

Of course, there’s no perfect formula or spreadsheet for solving the mysteries of life. Even so, the world and our emotions are filled with relationships, and that’s what this book is about: the relation-ships between your emotions and how they can help you better understand yourself, your purpose, and your relationships with others.



Here’s one major relationship that most of us can use some help sorting out: your mind and your wallet. They are inextricably linked. It’s no coincidence that the word we use to describe the worst of economic times also describes a serious psychological disorder: depression. Economic gloom lightens your wallet while weighing down your spirit. Five of the ten most stressful life events are related to whether you are employed and whether the quality of your work experience is good. Your work does more than affect your self-esteem; it organizes your day, connects you with others, and can give you a sense of purpose.

Not since the Great Depression have we seen such a perverse connection between work and our psyche as we do today. We are more familiar with the kind of recession that comes and goes like a brief winter storm, and our capacity to handle it has a lot to do with knowing it won’t last all that long. But what if this economic toilet bowl we’re in lasts longer than any other recession in history? How do we find the internal resources to cope with that bad news?

It’s encouraging to remember that some of the greatest American literature, such as The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, came out of the Depression era. During the same decade, Napoleon Hill wrote the runaway best seller Think and Grow Rich (1937), which urged readers to adopt a positive mental attitude and channel the power of their minds to improve their lot in life. And the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr created the Serenity Prayer, which was adopted by the USO during World War II and subsequently by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs.

Why do misfortunes embitter one person while motivating an-other to become resourceful? What valuable coping skills can you acquire during difficult times that you would never have developed during a more tranquil phase of your life? Are there ways you can train your mind so that you don’t waste so much time and energy on emotions and tensions that aren’t serving you well?

Those questions are very personal for me. They’re part of the reason I created my initial Emotional Equation about meaning, then more equations for the people I worked with, and now this book for you and others. In researching these equations, I reached out to psychologists and mathematicians, who generally welcomed me (and even gave me an honorary doctorate in psychology). Heck, one well-known academic told me that I’d clearly had a fascination with emotions going back to when I named my company after the French expression for “joy.” And, I was reassured to find that the psychology community was already using equations that defined happiness, positivity, and even the likelihood of a stable marriage.

In the next chapters, I ground my storytelling in the math and science that supports Emotional Equations, to provide you with a shorthand means of correcting yourself emotionally—to get clearer perspectives and more control—during both good times and bad. One way to think of Emotional Equations is as a grown-up version of finger painting. If you mix two primary colors, say, red and blue, you get a secondary color, in this case purple. In fact, psychologists believe that our primary emotions work together to create secondary and even tertiary emotions that have subtle distinctions. An Emotional Equation is like having a flash card that you can raise in front of you to remind yourself that emotions are related to one another and that you can cultivate your perfect emotion potion.

Certain Emotional Equations will likely be more meaningful to you than others, and one section of the book may be more relevant to where you are in your life today. It’s a bit like an encyclopedia of emotions, so there’s no need to read the chapters in order. In fact, I recommend that you read a chapter at a time and think about it for a while, letting it seep into your subconscious. Or consider selecting one equation to focus on for the week and incorporate the “Working Through the Equation” section into your daily life.

The last chapter of the book provides a practical framework for deconstructing your own emotions and creating Emotional Equations that will be personally meaningful to you. I invite you to participate in the growing, emotionally fluent community on the Emotional Equations website, www.emotionalequations.com, where people are sharing the equations that work for them.



We all want a fully functioning heart and mind. Why shouldn’t we want the same for our emotional state? I’m not a therapist, but I can still help coach you through your emotions. During the most challenging of times, these Emotional Equations bolstered my leadership skills and our company’s performance. In fact, in 2010, Joie de Vivre was awarded the top American award for customer service in the Upper Upscale category of hotels by Market Metrix, beating Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Westin, Kimpton, and Peninsula. I believe the best CEOs are truly “Chief Emotions Officers,” since great companies have great cultures and at the heart of a great culture are healthy emotions. You may not think of yourself as a leader, but you are already leading yourself—and maybe others—on a daily basis.

This is a very different attitude from when I graduated from business school. Then I believed that in order to become a successful CEO, I needed to be i. But after nearly two dozen years of being a CEO, I’ve learned that the best leaders in life aren’t superhuman; instead, they’re simply super humans.

So just think of me as your emotional concierge. Or as your “street shrink.” Even though we use the word “shrink” to de-scribe an emotional counselor, I believe life isn’t meant for shrinking. It’s meant for stretching, and I’m hoping that Emotional Equations will stretch you and create a better life for you and those around you. After using Emotional Equations, you will find that your emotions will no longer get the best of you. Instead, your emotions can represent the best in you.

This is my operating manual for being a super human. I hope it serves you well.



November 7, 2012

First posted on Huffington Post 11.6.12

Self-actualization? Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid with “being all you can be” at the top (co-opted by the U.S. Army as a marketing slogan) was a wake-up call for Americans in the 1950s when personal behavior and goals were so influenced by predominant societal ways. Abe’s humanistic psychology theory was made for the 60s with the advent of hippie culture and the idea that we should all “follow our bliss.”

Unfortunately, Maslow died young in 1970 at age 62 and the “Me Decade” turned “self-actualization” into “self-absorption.” His legacy got lost in the academic psychology world and, for some, the Hierarchy of Needs represented more of a Tyranny of Wants. I was fortunate to be gifted with Maslow’s journals written in the last ten years of his life. In his writing, it’s very clear that Abe’s desire was to see how his iconic theory could apply to the collective, not just the individual, as he pondered, “Can an organization or a society actualize?” And this is partially why, later in his life, he introduced a seven- and an eight-level pyramid with “self-transcendence” at the top.

It’s been more than five years since I wrote PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow where I outlined how my boutique hotel company reinterpreted Maslow’s theory to transform our organization at the bottom of a deep economic downturn. I’ve had the good fortune of introducing my theories in PEAK to diverse groups on five continents. And, as I spend more time with younger leaders – and more time in Asia – it’s clear to me that it’s time to change the language at the peak of this pyramid.

I see just how important Maslow’s theory was in reaction to the stifling social rules of mid-20th century America. And I deeply believe that all of us aspire on some level when we’re trying to be all we can be in our lives. But, the times and the calculus of how the world works have changed.

I propose we start imagining “social-actualization” at the top of the pyramid. We’re moving from an era when “rugged individualism” was foundational to how we defined success to an era when collaboration is essential for both personal and societal success. Some of my transition may be due to spending so much time in Asia with its historical predilection toward collective rather than individual success. But, it’s even more influenced by what I learn from talking to young people all over the world. And the fact that in many business schools the most popular classes today are on how to become a social entrepreneur focused on solving the world’s collective problems.

So, what qualities distinguish someone who is social-actualizing as opposed to self-actualizing? Abe Maslow suggested that a “peaker” (someone self-actualizing) had a tendency to get lost in the love of what they were doing. This losing oneself can also be prevalent in a social-actualizer, but what’s different is that this person’s purpose is focused on a collective good rather than just a personal good (although a longer discussion with the Ayn Rand-ers might suggest these are the same). So a “social peaker” focuses on systemic effects and social gains in their actualization. Additionally, as more research shows the social and emotional contagion that connects us, a social-actualizer also imagines the ripple effect they may have on others. For example, a self-actualizer might pursue their passion – whether it’s being a triathlete or learning how to give great speeches – with the primary focus being on how it makes them feel. A social-actualizer might choose to enter a triathlon that supports a cause or use their speech-giving to make a difference.

We may feel the glow from someone who’s in the midst of self-actualizing and that can move us to greatness as well. But, when we’re in the orbit of a social-actualizer, we feel drawn to a higher calling and one that can create a sort of “collective effervescence” of a group. A self-actualizer rower can win individual speed records, but a crew, when they’re in the midst of social-actualization, can experience what is called “swing” in rowing circles. It’s that miraculous moment in physics when a group is so connected and in unison of a common purpose that the boat literally elevates in the water – diminishing friction and increasing speed. Here’s to the 21st century being one swinging era in the history of mankind.


July 17, 2012

Sitting across from me at dinner on the first night of my meditation retreat, I am confronted by the vision of a very large, middle-aged woman who probably outweighs me by more than 100 pounds. And joining her is my old friend…judgment.

And, yet, as much as judgment has my attention, I find myself marveling at how this woman slowly chews her food with closed eyes, putting her fork down between each bite. I’m either witnessing Buddhist discipline or epicurean ecstasy. And, it occurs to me that her digestion tract probably doesn’t experience the traffic jams that go on in my belly given the way I inhale my meals. So, I inhale a deep breath instead and take in the fact that here I am – equal parts excitement and apprehension – choosing to experience a week at the Buddhist meditation center, Spirit Rock, in Marin County, California.

The gong wakes us up each morning in our dormitory at 5:40 am and within thirty minutes we’re doing yoga before our first forty-five minute “sit” of the day, which takes us from yawning to breakfast at 7:15. Every day consists of five sits, two additional sits with instruction, one sit with chanting, six walking meditations, two yoga sessions and one evening Dharma talk (Dharma defined as natural law or truth). Strip out the yoga and the Dharma talk and we have fourteen daily meditation sessions over seven days. That means nearly 100 meditation experiences in one week! Looking at this schedule, I wondered if I’d signed up for the spiritual equivalent of an Ironman. But, there was time for a daily catnap post-lunch, which I came to savor as my dessert.

For nearly a quarter century, I was a CEO who never napped. I gave new meaning to the word “mindful” as my mind (and schedule) was always full. Sleeping felt like a character flaw when there were so many other ways to be more productive with my time. And, yet, I was taught how to meditate ten years ago by an elder sage who felt that I was ripe for transformation. Patiently, she taught me everything she’d learned about this ancient form of contemplation over her fifty years of practice. But, on my daily list of to-do’s rarely did meditation rise from the bottom.

The co-conspirator in this tale is my bosom buddy, Vanda, who in my view floats through life expertly – with only the occasional human thud on the ground. It was time I witnessed this training ritual that seems to keep her psychically elevated. Finding myself once again on the treadmill of life, I was ready for my own magic carpet ride.

As I approached my first day at Spirit Rock, I wondered what I would miss most during the week of Buddhist boot camp. Talking? Sugar? Alcohol? Meat? Email? Facebook? Twitter? Google? No contact with the “default world” outside Spirit Rock’s gates? Time would tell. But, I imagined the one thing I probably would miss the most during my week in isolation was lingering with the Sunday New York Times in my bathtub.

The truth is, I am transfixed and frightened by stillness. I feel so much more important, wanted, admired, fill in the blank, when I have a stacked calendar. I get some perverse joy – in a Rubik’s cube kind of way – in finding the space to add one more appointment to a day already stuffed to the gills. Hence, in the first half of 2012, I gave virtually one speech every weekday, sometimes four on the same day.

In so many ways, I was ready for the surrender. In the past five years, I’ve been forced to surrender on many fronts: to my emotional limits when my eight-year relationship ended and my family life imploded, to my physical limits when my heart stopped on stage at the end of a speech, and to my mental limits when I sold and let go of the majority of the company I founded after two once in a lifetime downturns in the same decade.

Any first-born son of a Marine Captain (I’m Stephen Jr., a “chip off the old block”) is going to have a convulsive relationship with the word “surrender,” but somehow that first afternoon walk at Spirit Rock – when I watched hypnotically as a cow chewed grass in the pasture – helped to prepare me for the week ahead.

While it may sound exotic – or like a luxury – to be cultivating peace, love and understanding at a silent meditation retreat, we all cultivate something each day, whether it’s a desire to succeed, a need to please, or an ability to look busy doing nothing. This particular retreat focused on the ancient practice of cultivating what the Buddha called “Metta,” and my week would be spent meditating and doing exercises associated with feeling and sharing “loving kindness.” Sounded harmless enough. So. I packed my new meditation bench and my Tibetan prayer bead bracelet to experience some Marin “Metta-cation.” (I might call it a “marination” since we would be stewing in our own mental juices. In Marin, they marinate minds, not meats.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What is life but the angle of vision.” When I ponder my impressions of my week at Spirit Rock, I realize my angle clearly shifted. Initially, my old friend judgment was my constant companion. Aside from the knee-jerk reactions to what I perceived as the unattractive physical characteristics of my fellows, I found it odd that everyone bowed to the Buddha when he himself had emphasized he wasn’t a deity and didn’t deserve reverence. And, then there’s my response to the word “mindful.” I guess “mindless” isn’t any better, although it’s more precise. We truly are training ourselves to use “less mind” (at least in the traditional way we define how the mind works). Then, there’s the zombie stroll. Walking meditation is slow motion fitness, but when you get 100 people all doing this at the same time, you wonder if these people have all collectively lost their minds and are just aimlessly sauntering around trying to find them. Night of the Loving Dead.

The hundreds of acres of hills around Spirit Rock beckoned. Run, Chip, run. Skeptical of what progress I’d make with my mind, I figured I could leave Spirit Rock a few pounds lighter and with a sexy runner’s tan. (Thank goodness no one was judging me!) Not surprising, I did find an early distraction – an affinity for one fellow who seemed friendly enough (one of the few who didn’t stare at the ground in the early days as we passed each other). He was about my age and we’d lock eyes as I’d come back from a run. I got the sense he wanted to talk as he looked a little stir-crazy. I could relate. But, of course, talking was forbidden with silence and stillness our new map to a new place.

And, yet in the stillness, we enjoy listening to the crickets, don’t we? Not sure I feel the same way about our cold-blooded mental crickets. I was soon reminded that when I become audibly silent, it’s remarkable how the mental chatter becomes more noticeable. I guess those crickets are always there, hidden in our cerebral forest, but they become more predominant when there is no distraction…almost emboldened by the stillness. That’s when I often felt like taking my second run or hike of the day. Time to outrun the crickets.

Amidst the crickets in the first couple of days, I still made some progress. I’d felt guilty that I was going to be out of reach for my good friend Jon who had a serious heart attack and stroke one week earlier. I soon came to realize there are other ways one can stay in touch without using our modern means of communication. And I was struck by how my “loving kindness” meditation sent to Jon in his hospital room felt received, as I kept getting mental images of his big, smiling face for the next 24 hours.

Then, there was the teaching about forgiveness that broke me free from an emotional logjam that had been stifling a close, long-time friendship. I came to see that forgiveness isn’t about forgiving the action but instead it’s about forgiving the confusion behind the action. It is said that “Forgiveness is giving up the hope of a better past in substitute for a better future.” After months of fretting about my inability to forgive this friend, I had an awakening. We can learn from our regrets but that only happens when we let go of our justifiable resentments. What a relief it was to stop finger pointing, as I penned an inspired and gracious letter to this person in the meditation hall. Giving up being right, I was able to see what was left of this relationship. And, having some stillness helped me to see that forgiveness – including of myself – allowed me to help create a better future.

The Dalai Lama suggests it’s helpful to understand that when someone upsets us, generally, they are not trying to do something to hurt us. More often, it’s simply that their internal reality is intersecting with our internal reality in a way that doesn’t match our hopes or expectations. One of the meditation teachers gave a comical image of us each walking around with fishbowls surrounding our heads and our reality being biased by the obscured or cloudy view from within the bowl.

Speaking of teachers, a whole posse led our week together: four Dharma teachers and one yoga teacher. We had small group and one-on-one sessions with them (one of the blessed moments when we exercised our vocal cords). The nightly Dharma talks were a highlight, as if you took Martin Luther King Jr., Socrates, and the Buddha and shook them up in a sack, this would be the wise and engaging result.


After a couple of days, I became Pavlov’s dog. Each time the large meditation gong rang, I would find myself back in a sit in the main meditation hall. Along the way, there were many momentary vignettes that provided some celestial seasoning to the week: the huge Clover Dairy truck that pulled into the commissary with a cartoon of “The Now Cow” meditating in a pasture on the side of the truck; the “stomach sonata” that Vanda and I performed – our only form of communication at times – when I was doing a compassion meditation for her as she sat next to me and our stomachs were gurgling at a high soprano pitch in tandem with each other; and the fact that the more silent I became, the more it felt like I could hear the emotions of those around me and I could send them good wishes just as they would look up and into my eyes with a knowing smile. Yes, I was starting to like this place.


But, human as I am, after three days the good vibes for the man I felt drawn to earlier in the week started to diminish as he consistently chose to sit right behind me and constantly fidgeted during our meditations. He loved sucking loudly on a lozenge or thumbing through his “Awakening Joy” book (authored by one of our teachers). My silent friend became my silent enemy. But, with all this time to ponder, I began to see that he was just a mirror for my own restlessness and frustrations within myself – struggling to have a voice as I became more enraptured with this meditation thing. And, then, poof, he was gone. Never saw him again. Another MIA…Meditator In Absentia. He wasn’t the only one who ran from the ghetto of the mind and didn’t finish the retreat. Again, I was visited by judgment. But, on this day, he was quickly replaced by compassion and empathy.

It is now mid-retreat and my questioning mind has stopped wondering why I am here. I’ve come to glimpse the reservoir that feeds my suffering. It’s my constant proclivity to believing I’m separate. My ego, my personality, my successes and failures, and American society all propagate this power of the self. But, so often, this pattern of mind that incentivizes separation creates a zero-sum view of the world. Your success can feel like my failure. So much of the world’s suffering comes from these unhealthy comparisons. By midweek, I’ve stopped comparing and contrasting, imagining how I’m measuring up versus my fellow retreatants. Instead, I am focusing on my own experience. And, blessedly, palpably, my busy-ness has settled down.

My heart is thawing. This Buddha quote comes just at the right time: “You as much as anyone else in the universe deserves your love and compassion.” As cliché as it may sound, I guess my love of myself will have a more profound impact on my life than anyone else’s love for me. One of the teachers, asks us to imagine meeting someone who gets all of my jokes, can finish my sentences, truly gets my world view, and knows how my history has made me who I am. I’d probably fall head over heels in love and ask this person, “Where have you been all my life?” Welcome to yourself. My heart thaws a little further.

Somehow this great thawing makes me feel less alone. My “aloneness” morphs into some cosmic “all-oneness.” I start to feel a oneness with these nameless, voiceless, title-less people who surround me meditating. And I feel it with the scampering lizards and the busy beetles. On one hike, I lock eyes with a stag (male deer). No averting gaze here. This graceful creature has a broken antler and stands right next to a gigantic stump that’s been paralyzed by some fire or lightning bolt. I marvel at the majestic beauty and time stands still. In nature, there’s beauty in the imperfections: a broken antler, a stunted stump. I expect less than perfection in nature and still find the beauty in it. But, if my blind date shows up buck toothed or with an errant spot on his shirt, the evening is over. If only we revered human nature as we do nature. Once more, I am reminded that life is one endless practice.  And I’m not perfect. And, practice will never make perfect. I’m starting to feel okay about that.

That night a quote from Meher Baba catches my consciousness: “Love and coercion never go together; but though love cannot be forced on anyone, it can be awakened in them through love itself. Love is essentially self-communicative. Those who do not have it catch it from those who have it. True love is unconquerable and irresistible and it goes on gathering power and spreading itself until eventually it transforms everyone who it touches.” This wisdom is so instructive during the latter part of the retreat when we’re imagining how to send loving kindness and compassion to the most difficult people in our lives.

During one of these meditations, I went into an altered state, completely losing track of time- and self-consciousness. I felt no separation and only boundless love for this person in my life who has created so much suffering for us both. The forty-five minutes evaporate, and, all of a sudden, without knowing it, I’m feasting on sesame noodles in the dining room, savoring every bite. Vanda, having a keen joy-sensor, chooses to sit straight across from me. I can hardly contain my exuberant smile and childlike glee. And, I feel such gratitude for this path she’d led me on.

I came here worried about the isolation of the silence and, yet, I heard the roar of life when the clutter dissipated. My internal world usually feels like a sprinting labyrinth. After nearly a week of silence and contemplation, I feel the vastness inside of me and it matches a vastness and fondness I feel for the world outside of me. So easy to fall in love when you are truly experiencing being alive.

On a good week, I might normally meditate one to two hours (although it’s usually close to zero if I’m not on an airplane). By the end of my seven days in retreat, I had meditated between fifty and sixty hours. That may sound impossible to you, but just realize that’s how many hours you may work in an average week. (It’s important for me to pull my covers and say that I was unable to completely unplug for the entire week and did check email on my iPhone. But, I can say that I spent only about 30 minutes doing so, which was real progress for me.)

Your stylus gets dull and imprecise when it’s overused. I remember as a kid I tried to listen to one of my favorite records on my grandparents’ record player. I started crying when I heard the static-y racket coming out of their machine. What had happened to my beautiful Jackson Five album? Then, I learned that a new stylus made all the difference in the quality of the sound. Metta meditation is like changing your stylus so that the beauty of the music in the grooves can be released. Too much static in your life?  Maybe it’s time to change your stylus.

During one of our final meditation sessions, all of the teachers were doing one-on-one interviews with students so one of our 100 students was fortunate enough to lead the group in a forty-five minute sit. It was the woman I had judged during my first meal. As I watched her perch herself in front of the group, I could feel her steady intent to create a space that allowed us all to sink deeply. I had my best meditation session of the week. Afterward, I walked to the front of the room, bowed, and met the gaze of this woman, who now seemed to me Amazon-like. Her translucent blue eyes radiated warmth and love and quite simply brought me to tears.

I plan to “re-treat” myself to this experience once a year and rededicate myself to a daily practice.




June 25, 2012

(Published on Huffington Post April 10, 2012)

Are you a workaholic or a “work-a-frolic”? The term “workaholism” is now forty years old, but the average American works two hundred more hours per year today than they did when this word was first coined. Spend a day and maybe an evening watching someone intensely dedicated to their work and it’s hard to distinguish between whether the person is exhibiting the symptoms of workaholism or whether they’re just living their calling.

In order to distinguish the difference, you can’t just rely on external appearances. Instead, you must look within the person (or yourself). When someone is living their calling, they’ve tapped into some deeper reservoir in themselves or in the collective consciousness in such a way that their work energizes their soul as opposed to depleting them. This person is living Khalil Gibran’s quote “Work is love made visible.” It’s almost like “invisible hands” are directing you and you can exhibit many of the qualities of self-actualization and being “in the flow”: losing a consciousness of the self, losing track of time, having moments of inspiration and insight throughout the day, and feeling a combination of passion and, most importantly, peace of mind. When you are at one with your calling, you have developed a certain intimacy with who you are and what your purpose is on this planet.

A workaholic prefers not to experience intimacy (“in to me see”) as typically – as with most addictions – they are using their work as a means of distraction.  Quite often, we get intoxicated with something that alters our mood (including work), partly because we feel compelled to run away from emotions or fears that prey upon us. Scratch the emotional surface of any addict, and underneath you’ll find some common emotions: a feeling of unworthiness, a feeling of being unlovable or shame, and a belief that success can become the magic wand that will turn their life around. Workaholism equals “What are you running from?” divided by “What are you living for?” Those that have tamed their workaholic tendencies have taken Henry David Thoreau’s quote to heart: “the cost of something is measured by how much life you have to give for it.” Reacquainting oneself with what they’re living for and calculating the “opportunity cost” of the addiction is a profound way to help a workaholic wake up to what this addiction is costing them.

Here’s a quick test that can help distinguish between one who is living a calling versus one who is addicted to their work. Look at the following eight statements and pick the four that best describe your relationship with your work.

  1. I often feel like the work I’m doing is coming from some greater source than just me. It’s like I’m channeling this energy or talent, and I’m amazed by its power.
  2. If I’m not working, I still prefer being busy as I find just sitting and doing nothing to be a waste of time and it makes me a little uncomfortable.
  3. I love my work. There’s nothing else in my life that gives me nearly as much self-esteem as doing my job well.
  4. While I am passionate about what I do, when I am engaged in activities with others or on vacation, I’m able to give all my attention to that without thinking about my work.
  5. I have a pretty distinct end goal for my work. I believe that having a clear, defined goal will more likely help me be successful. And, with that success will come more professional respect and happiness.
  6. Occasionally, I feel sort of compulsive about my work, especially during times when other things in my life aren’t going all that well. For me, work helps create order in my life and that makes me feel better.
  7. It seems like the deeper I get into my work, the less ego I have about the work. I sort of lose myself and almost feel like I’m trying to recover my sense of the miraculous about life.
  8. There’s no way I could do anything else but what I’m doing. If I were doing the average job, I probably wouldn’t be able to apply myself very well at it and I’m sure I wouldn’t dedicate nearly as many hours.

If you (or someone in your life) chose answers 1, 4, 7, and 8, you scored a perfect 100% for having a calling. The other four answers skew more toward someone who may have a workaholic tendency in their work. While this test isn’t scientific, it just gives you a sense of some of the causal factors for a calling versus workaholism.

In my life, I’ve experienced my work in both of these ways. I know that when I attached my sense of identity a little too closely to my work that I might be distracting myself from feelings of unworthiness. It wasn’t the number of hours I worked or how bloodshot my eyes were that defined the difference. It was something internal.

In the early days of my first hotel, The Phoenix, friends would ask me, “How’s life, Chip?” I would respond, “The Phoenix is doing well,” even when – as a 26 year old entrepreneur – I was pretty nervous my company might not make it. One day a friend who wasn’t satisfied with my answer put her hand on my heart and said softly, “Chip, I didn’t ask you how your business is doing. I want to know how you’re feeling.” For most addicts, friends and family see our predicament before we can acknowledge it.



June 12, 2012

“Should I go to business school?” I hear this question all the time. There’s not an easy answer as there are so many variables that are unique to each person. But, more and more, I’m giving a simple piece of advice to those who ask. I don’t know whether getting an MBA is meant for you, but I can assure you that if you live by these 5 basic rules of management etiquette, you will succeed in your career, probably beyond your wildest dreams.

In general, I’m not much into etiquette and am a rule-breaker and rebel by nature. But, there’s something to be said for common sense when it comes to human nature. So, rather than thinking of this as etiquette, just think of these suggestions as habits that can help you to become more emotionally intelligent and successful.

1. Get an “A” for Attention. The wisdom traditions have long stated that life is all about where you pay your attention. This is true in business as well. Learning to be an intentional listener such that you are truly hearing the other person (rather than just preparing your response) will serve you whether you’re in a company with those you work for or with those who work for you. Better yet, be curious about what’s the motivation behind what the person is saying. Inquire with a few respectful, but unique questions that help the other person feel they’ve been heard and that might give them some insight about themselves. Mother Teresa said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.” Receiving real attention is what we all starve for.

2. Be Radically Responsive. After two-dozen-years of being the CEO of a hospitality company with more than a half-million customers staying in our hotels and a million customers eating at our restaurants, I know a bit about fielding complaints calls. Here’s my responsiveness rule: within 15-20 minutes after learning of a call, letter, or email that expresses a complaint (this is true for upset employees as well), I respond. Clearly, I may have none of the facts to engage in an extended conversation, but it makes a huge difference if I say (in a few short sentences): “I’m sorry about what happened and let me look into it further and either I or the manager of that business will respond to you within 24 or 48 hours” (depending upon the situation). That potential “terrorist” who was about to spread all kinds of ugly comments about your business on social media sites now feels respected and when you try to come to a resolution in a later conversation, the upset person is in a better frame of mind.

3. Remember the “little” things. When I’m doing emotional intelligence workshops in companies, we do an exercise in which we ask for the qualities that defined people’s most and least admired bosses. The most common quality I hear is, “My boss always asked how my son and daughter were doing and he remembered their names.” or “I received a nice email early in the morning on my birthday from my boss.” What may seem little to you means the world to someone else. There are many methods to keep track of these little things. Just know that this is a BIG thing so you better find the method that helps you to be good at this.

4. Under-promise and Over-deliver. Disappointment = Expectations – Reality. Whether it’s Facebook’s IPO nose-dive or that vacation resort that looked so good on the internet but turned out to be a pig sty, we keep a report card in our head of who’s delighted us and who’s disappointed us. This is particularly true in project-based business environments, especially when there’s a domino effect with under-delivering. Again, not delivering on a promise is a different form of disrespect from the perspective of the person who’s been disappointed. Lastly, if you know you’re going to miss your promise, manage expectations as early as you can in the process because missing the promise and surprising your boss is a combustible combination.

5. Practice Gratitude. Social scientists have found that the fastest way to feel happiness is to practice gratitude. Feeling good about your life, but not expressing a heartfelt “thank you” is like wrapping a gift for someone and never giving it to them. Here re three habits that can make this an on-going, powerful practice in your work life: (a) Make a rule of giving gratitude twice a day at work and if you miss Monday, you need to do four on Tuesday; (b) If possible, express the gratitude in person or in a fashion in which the person can really hear your authentic appreciation; and (c) Be as specific as possible about why this was meaningful to you because just saying “you did a great job” doesn’t create a profound moment of learning for the other person.

What’s Your Daily Offering?

December 28, 2011

I sip my lemongrass tea and watch with divine curiosity. Like hundreds of thousands of her fellow island people, the elderly Balinese woman places a series of daily morning offerings (known as Canang Sari) at strategic places around the home. The tropical scent of frangipani and incense wafts throughout the indoor/outdoor living room surrounded by verdant rice paddy fields. Even though no one other than me is watching, she bows with respect each time she places the palm leaf-based offering on the ground. These daily devotional gifts are a way of life in Bali and part of their Hindu/animist belief system dedicated to pleasing the gods and warding off demons with this ritual.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our work and personal lives are made up of daily rituals including when we eat our meals, how we shower or groom, or how we approach our daily descent into the digital world of email communication. Our habits comfort us much like the Balinese feel reassured by their morning offerings. But, have you ever taken an inventory of your daily rituals and how they’re serving you? And, have you ever imagined what daily rituals could make you a better leader or a happier person?

About a decade ago, I experimented with a daily offering at the worst of times for my company. As CEO, I could see that the dot-com bust was taking a huge toll on the psycho-hygiene of our hotel company. Knowing that creating a culture of recognition was one means of developing a ripple of positivity in an organization, I made it a practice of giving a minimum of two heartfelt expressions of recognition to two different people in the company each weekday. My rule was that it had to be unexpected by the recipient, it had to be specific in terms of what I was thanking them for, it needed to have a level of detail that was more like a paragraph than a sentence, and – if possible – it needed to be done in person. I tried this for a month and found that like a stone falling into a pond, the reverberating effect of people feeling significant by being caught doing something right helped change the mood and morale around the offices. My daily offering was the American workplace equivalent of a Balinese gift to the gods.

The Balinese could teach us a few things about how to create the conditions for a happy culture. One of my favorite Emotional Equations is the one about Happiness which is defined by Wanting What We Have divided by Having What We Want. The numerator of this equation is all about Practicing Gratitude, finding the time to really want we have rather than take it for granted. A daily offering is one means of doing that. The denominator – having what we want – is the act of Pursuing Gratification. When we jump on that never-ending treadmill of aspiring to have what we want in life, it can create a momentary adrenaline high but it also can distract us from all that we already have in our lives. Some dictionaries define “pursuit” as “to chase with hostility.” At work, do we chase happiness with an edge of hostility? I saw some of that at the mall this holiday season.

We can either be conscious or unconscious about our personal daily rituals as well as our organizational rituals. I just finished reading a groundbreaking book by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer called “The Progress Principle.” Based upon giving a large sampling of employees in seven diverse companies a daily journal along with precise instructions about how to review their work experiences of the day, the authors were able to create one of the most authoritative studies of the inner emotional life of American workers. And, they were able to show that the most fruitful means of managing or leading a work group is to give them a meaningful sense that they were making progress and had the resources and encouragement to feel like they were living up to their potential. It’s a very instructive read that I highly recommend. But, one of the most interesting lessons of their study was just how much the employees got out of their daily ritual of reflecting on their work day. Here’s a quote from one manager who was disappointed that the daily journal study was ending: “I am sorry this is coming to an end. It forced me to sit back and reflect on the day’s happenings. This daily ritual was very helpful in making me more aware of how I should be motivating and interacting with the team.”

Starting tomorrow, what offering, ritual, or habit are you going to start practicing that is going to serve you in your personal or work life?

Mastering The Anxiety Equation: A Remedy For Fearful Times

November 18, 2011

Has Anxiety become your middle name? No doubt, we’re living through unpredictable times and this is taking a toll on our physical and emotional health. This is becoming most pronounced in the context of the workplace which is having disastrous impacts on employee engagement and such prized qualities as innovation and creativity which wither in a fear-based corporate habitat. Some of us resort to tribal, “Lord of the Flies” behaviors to get by, while others of us just retreat to our cubicle in hopes that invisibility is our best means of saving our jobs. Somehow, the contagious emotion of fear has eroded our fundamental trust in our co-workers and the company. In the past few years, the Center for Work-Life Policy (according to Bloomberg Businessweek) says the percentage of Americans who trust their organizational leaders has dropped from 79% to 37%.

The fact is that almost all anxiety can be distilled down to two basic variables: what we don’t know and what we can’t control. So, the Emotional Equation for Anxiety? ANXIETY = UNCERTAINTY x POWERLESSNESS. You may have heard about the social science experiment in which people were given the choice between an electric shock now that’s twice as painful as one they would receive randomly in the next 24 hours. As you can imagine, the vast majority of people chose more pain now as opposed to less pain at some unpredictable time in the near future. Mystery creates anxiety, especially when we feel we have no influence on the situation.

Once you know the emotional building blocks of Anxiety, you can influence them. Take out a piece of paper and label it “The Anxiety Balance Sheet.” Create four columns with the first one being a list of what you DO know with respect to this issue that is giving you anxiety. Then, in the second column, write down what you DON’T know. In the third column, list what you CAN influence with respect to this issue and, finally, in the fourth column, write down what you CAN’T influence. Most people’s experience of this exercise is enlightening as they have more items in columns one and three (what they do know and what they can influence) than they expected. But, the magic comes from looking at what you don’t know  and what you can’t control. Often, you can move an item from column two to column one by just asking a few knowledgeable people on the subject whether it’s regarding your likelihood of a promotion or your job security. And, I’ve often seen people review column four and realize that they may have a little more influence over some of these items than they’d previously considered.

In sum, the lessons for leaders are simple. Even if you have bad news, it’s better than no news. Transparency is the leadership equivalent of giving people that electric shock early. It may be painful, but the uncertainty creates an even more distracting and debilitating environment. And, as a leader, one of the most effective steps you can take in harrowing times is to help your people steer away from what psychologist Martin Seligman calls “learned helplessness.” Great leaders help their people see how they can directly impact the company’s objectives and their own personal goals. The more externally chaotic the world becomes, the more we need sound internal logic, especially when it comes to our emotions.

The Top 10 Emotionally-Intelligent Fortune 500 CEOs

October 10, 2011

I entered Stanford Business School twenty-nine years ago as a naive twenty-one year old, the youngest in my class. One of my classmates immediately sized me up, asking “So, what did you specialize in before coming to get your MBA?” I said, “Growing up.” Not satisfied with my answer, he continued, “No, seriously, what’s your expertise and why’d they let you in here?” I paused and sheepishly said something absolutely true, but somewhat blasphemous for the times, “I guess I understand people well. My boss this summer told me my expertise is how I use my emotions to my advantage.” My classmate couldn’t stop laughing and he was on to glad-handing the next person because, clearly, I was a loser.

A decade and a half later, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (EI) theory was introduced to business schools around the world. But, this idea — still radioactive to some — that the dominant trait in effective leadership comes from EI (also called EQ), not IQ or the level of one’s experience or depth of their resume, took a while to become commonplace language amongst mainstream business folks.

But, while there’s still no hard metric for EI , conventional wisdom now favors this fluid ability as compared to the fixed capacity of one’s brainpower. When I graduated from biz school, I thought I had to be superhuman if I were ever to be a successful CEO. But after two dozen years of being a CEO, I’ve come to learn that the best leaders aren’t comic strip heroes, they’re just super humans who have developed the four capacities that Goleman outlined for EI: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. As Goleman recently told me, “EI includes a broad spectrum of competencies, and no leader is A+ across the board — even the best have room to improve.”

I’m often asked which business leaders are the ultimate examples of Emotional Intelligence, so I decided to do a little research. Limiting my search to only Fortune 500 CEOs of American companies (so Oprah doesn’t qualify), I started asking everyone I knew who they most admired as a role model for EI and then I talked with employees in these CEOs companies and did a deep dive into speeches they’d given and articles that had been written about them. And, of course, I took a look at the performance of their companies while they’ve been the “emotional thermostat” for their organization. So, drum roll please, here’s the first annual Top 10 Chief Emotions Officers in the U.S. (in alphabetical order):

• Jeff Bezos (Amazon.com): With his quirky laugh and self-deprecating style, Bezos doesn’t sound like a Fortune 500 CEO and that’s probably to his benefit. His obsession with the hearts and minds of his customers and his long-term perspective on relationships (and business strategy) are legendary, as was his YouTube announcementof Amazon’s Zappos acquisition in 2009.

• Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway): “Success in investing doesn’t correlate with IQ once you’re above the level of 25. Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble investing.” Intensely loyal and relationship-driven, he asks his CEOs to run their companies as if they were to own them 100 years from now.

• Ursula Burns (Xerox): In tandem with Anne Mulcahy who moved up to Chair, Burns transitioned to CEO as the first woman-to-woman CEO leadership transition in a Fortune 500 company in what has become a pivotal case study in organizational development. Direct, yet respectful, her assertiveness is matched by a sense of mission that inspires her employees.

• Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase): At Harvard Business School, Dimon said: “You all know about IQ and EQ. Your IQ’s are all high enough for you to be very successful, but where people often fall short is on the EQ. It’s something you develop over time. A lot of management skills are EQ, because management is all about how people function.” ReadLast Man Standing about him.

• John Donahoe (eBay): Donahoe inherited a difficult situation from Meg Whitman with the need to truly alter the company’s business strategy. As a role model for Jim Collins’ Level 5 (humility & ambition) and Bill George’s “True North” leaders, Donahoe’s disciplined self-awareness and his listening ability have created a deeply loyal team and a healthy, evolving culture.

• Larry Fink (BlackRock): Called “psychologically astute” in a Vanity Fair feature article, Fink created the largest money-management firm in the world based upon self-reflection, teamwork and direct communication. His senior leadership team embraces EI seminars to improve their skills.

• Alan Mulally (Ford): Walk around Ford’s corporate campus and you will see office cubes featuring handwritten notes that Mulally has sent to employees… praising their work. Great interpersonal skills and a “Clintonesque” ability to make you feel like you’re the only one in the room when you’re in a conversation with him.

• Indra Nooyi (Pepsi): Nooyi is a conscious capitalist whose “performance with purpose” agenda has helped move employees from having a job to living a calling. She is acutely aware that being a woman of color means she may receive more attention and scrutiny, but she still projects her personality without reservation — whether it’ssinging in the hallways or walking barefoot in the office. She wrote the parents of 29 senior Pepsi execs to tell them what great kids they’d raised.

• Howard Schultz (Starbucks): He says that the main reason he came back was “love“: for the company and its people. Very dedicated to generous health care benefits —inspired by his father losing his health insurance when Schultz was a kid.

• Kent Thiry (DaVita): Leaders with high EI/EQ create culture-driven organizations that perform at their peak due to the power of mission and teamwork. Thiry took over a demoralized kidney dialysis center company that was almost out of business and, with a passionate spirit, created nearly 44 percent annual growth in earnings per share in the past decade, 6th highest of any Fortune 500 company.

Our Economy With Performance Anxiety

August 8, 2011

The psychology of confidence is just as important in the boardroom as the bedroom. As Wikipedia suggests, “Confidence can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as those without it fail or don’t try because they lack it and those with it may succeed because they have it rather than because of an innate ability.”

Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote a book“Confidence” which could be distilled down to the following: Losing streaks are often created and then perpetuated when people lose confidence in their leaders and systems, while winning streaks are fueled by confident people who are secure in their own abilities and the ability of their leaders. Winning streaks are characterized by continuity and continued investment, while losing streaks are marked by disruption and a lack of investment that typically give way to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Long-term winners often face the same problems as long-term losers, but they just respond differently. They know how to recover quickly and not let failure mess with their head.

We’ve all seen classic human behavior when our confidence is shaken. It could be the coach who throws out the game plan and tries the “Hail Mary” leading to further embarrassment of the team or the business group that starts blaming each other for petty issues. Or, at the high school dance, it could be the shy guy who feels smaller and smaller after two girls turn down his offer for a dance. And, of course, in the bedroom when performance anxiety strikes, one can feel like there are three Olympic judges propped on chairs above the bed ready to reveal their scores.

If “Disappointment equals Expectations minus Reality”, at some point after a few too many disappointments, we start expecting less. This is often the path to personal depression and it could be the same for an economy, which shares that same word – depression – to describe a similar valley. We end up with a “sulking economy.” And, that’s where we are today. For a leader, it’s not an easy thing to rebuild the expectations of one’s people after constant disappointment. The tried and true method of doing this is what I call the “momentum of victory,” creating a feasible goal in the short-term and achieving it. Once that’s accomplished, it means finding another small, concrete win on the horizon. Winning and losing are 90% mental.

Books That Help You Understand Your Emotions

April 15, 2011

I’m a guy who took no English or writing classes in college and only one psychology class and now I’m writing self-help books on emotions (Emotional Equations comes out in January 2012 and PEAK came out in 2007). So, my process of learning about emotions and psychology has been self-taught over the past few years plus I’ve been lucky enough to have a laboratory with a company of more than 3,000 employees and almost 60 different business units. So, I’ve been able to test things in one place and see whether that odd idea is a best or worst practice.

In preparation for writing Emotional Equations, I dove into the deep end of the academic pool reading hundreds of psychological studies and books on everything from anxiety to the difference between happiness and joy to Charles Darwin’s theory on the origin of emotions. Here’s a list of my top twenty book recommendations for anyone who wants to go “swimming” with me (I have put an asterisk * next to my favorite in each category and I haven’t included Viktor Frankl’sMan’s Search for Meaning since it’s not primarily about emotions):


· Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (Dacher Keltner)

· Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth (Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener)

· Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strengths of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity and Thrive (Barbara Fredrickson)

· Stumbling on Happiness (Daniel Gilbert)

· The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (Jonathan Haidt)

· The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want (Sonja Lyubomirsky) *


· Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom (Rick Hanson with Richard Mendius)

· Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (Antonio Damasio)

· Emotions and Life: Perspectives from Psychology, Biology, and Evolution (Robert Plutchik)

· The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life (Joseph LeDoux) *

· What is Emotion? (Jerome Kagan)


· Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine (Candace Pert) *

· The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles (Bruce Lipton)

· The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion: How Feelings Link the Brain, the Body, and the Sixth Sense (Michael Jawer and Marc Micozzi)

· The Spontaneous Healing of Belief: Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits (Gregg Braden)


· Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (Dan Ariely)

· The Art of Choosing (Sheena Iyengar)

· The Emotional Hostage: Rescuing Your Emotional Life (Leslie Cameron-Bandler and Michael Lebeau)

· The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (Barry Schwartz)

The Chief Emotions Officer

April 14, 2011

[Originally posted April 27, 2011 on The Huffington Post]

Executives execute. We don’t execute people as in life and death matters (although, sadly, we do “terminate” people when they’re no longer needed), but we have traditionally thought of business leaders as being emotionless technicians who just keep the trains running on time. But, timely trains didn’t make Southern Pacific or Santa Fe railroads into 21stcentury mega-corporations. In fact, the train industry missed its chance to expand into automobiles and airplane travel by thinking of their business a little too myopically. Maybe these train executives were a little too focused on the simple execution of being on time.

While execution is still a fundamental skill of the best executives, we no longer are purely executing mechanistic, industrial organizations. In this knowledge era, execution is all about people: how to harness and inspire the potential of those we work with. And, at the heart of people are our emotions, the mysterious internal weather that either propels or penalizes us. After 24 years of being a CEO, I’ve come to realize that the best amongst us are truly Chief Emotions Officers as we are the “emotional thermostats” for our organizations with studies showing that a typical leader has 50-70% influence over the work climate of their team.

There are three great pieces of empirical evidence that amplify this reality about 21st century leadership. First, Daniel Goleman has shown for 15 years now that emotional intelligence (EQ) represents two-thirds of the success of business leaders as compared to only one-third coming from either IQ or the leader’s transferable experience. And, yet, in 2010, less than 10% of the training and development dollars spent by America’s corporations went toward emotional intelligence or literacy training (often called “soft skills”). We know it’s important and, yet, we seem to be reluctant in investing in the skills to help our executives become Chief Emotions Officers.

Secondly, Dr Matthew Lieberman at UCLA has proven that labeling our emotions reduces the intensity of these emotions in such a way that it maximizes our cognitive abilities just at the time when we most need to use the prefrontal cortex of our brain for better reasoning and judgment. By being emotionally literate about what we’re experiencing, executives can sidestep the 10-15 point drop in IQ that often occurs for those who are barraged by having to make decisions during times of emotional distress. So, maybe being a CEO is less about being able to predict the times of trains and more about being an internal weather forecaster.

Finally, Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis, as well as a few other academics, has shown that our emotions are contagious. When we have the flu, our colleagues feel comforted that we stay at home in order not to spread the misery. Yet, when so many of us have caught the “fear” at work – especially in economically turbulent times – there’s no sane corporate voice warning us of the risks of how our emotions can spread and threaten the well-being of those in our organizational petri dish. The ultimate inoculation for fear is a great corporate culture and companies with great cultures have healthy psycho-hygiene. In other words, their leaders are emotionally attuned to what’s going on around them and they cleanse the company through transparent communication or other tactical means to help employees feel recognized and engaged.

Any executive worth their weight understands the principle of accrued interest. If you have a loan and don’t pay the interest currently, it accrues and can compound and over period of time. The cost of the interest can become staggering. This is an apt metaphor for organizational emotions that are not properly addressed in the workplace. Most companies – led by CEO’s who aren’t nearly literate about their own emotions – are actively disengaged in addressing the individual and collective emotions that are invisible predators of passion and engagement. From my own experience, I have learned the hard way. When I most have bottled up my emotions for extended periods of time, they have leaked out in other subversive ways that didn’t serve my purposes as CEO. And, yet, when I was most vulnerable and authentic in my emotional communication with fellow co-workers, ironically, I was told by these colleagues that I was more admired and they felt most comfortable to be all they could be at work.

Contact Chip Conley