Working In Your Highest Calling: An Interview with Chip Conley

By David Hassell

I recently had the opportunity to connect with one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Chip Conley. Founder of Joi de Vivre Hospitality, Chip has probably created more boutique hotels than anyone on the planet. He is the best selling author of Peak and Emotional Equations and recently founded Fest300, an online destination for exploring the world’s best festivals.

A virtuous circle

Chip discusses the service-profit chain, developed by a group of researchers at Harvard Business School years ago. This model shows a direct correlation between creating a great company culture and profitability.

The chain begins with a great culture, which in turn influences employee happiness –that happiness impacts customer loyalty, market-share growth, and finally sustained profitability. A virtuous circle is ultimately created where profitable companies then invest back into the culture that started it all.

More than 30 years later, there exists a great deal of empirical evidence that shows that creating happiness at work is contagious. In today’s knowledge-worker environment where employees have to be creative thinkers, emotional state has a huge impact on performance and ingenuity.

Heeding the call

In his book Peak, Chip applies Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to the workplace. An employee’s basic need is money that is fulfilled by a “job”. Recognition is a higher-level need that is represented by a career. And the highest-level need is meaning, which comes from following one’s calling.

An organization’s goal is to move people up the levels so that everyone is working in their ‘calling’, motivated intrinsically by achieving greater meaning. Organizations which only offer money and recognition to barter with employees, find those external motivators to be unsustainable.

Chip advises us all to create a sense of purpose in our companies that is magnetic for people. Then you show the impact that each individual has towards that meaningful purpose. At the staff meetings in Chip’s hotels, favorite guests would often speak so that each employee could see the impact that he was making.

CEO: Chief Emotion Officer

Awareness of being a role model creates an opportunity where leaders can consistently show up at their best. The people in an organization look to the boss as representative of the culture — What is acceptable? What is the motivation? How do I treat others at work? Leaders who walk around in a negative emotional state impact all those around them. And the higher the leader, the greater the impact.

As Chief Emotion Officer, you have to read your own emotions AND those of others. When you walk into a room, you immediately understand the emotional temperature and change it if needed. In his book Emotional Equations, Chip elaborates on how to take action to transition one’s mood and have a contagious effect on others.

Joy of life

Joi de vivre (a cheerful enjoyment of life) is so important to Chip, who loves spending time in Bali and at the utopian Burning Man festival, that he decided to become the world’s leading expert on festivals. Fest 300 launched last year and features the best 300 festivals in the world. Chip is fascinated by the contagious effect of communal joy at these gatherings, what he refers to as “collective effervescence”.

Festival travel is an opportunity to appreciate (and celebrate with) those who are different than us. At the Whirling Dervishes festival in central Turkey, Chip awakened his cultural curiosity by engaging with Sufi Muslims who he found to be full of love. This was a direct contrast to a prevailing mood in the United States, where Muslims often have a bad reputation.

Since 15Five reports are all about feedback, I asked Chip about the most important question he asks his team. He responded, “How do you create meaning for yourself and others?” We all have a choice between feeling imprisoned by work, or to achieve meaning from tangible efforts. Quoting Kahlil Gibran, Chip reminds us that “work is love made visible”.

How do you create meaning for yourself? Are you answering your highest calling? Leave us a comment below.


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