Chip Conley: Building Empires, Tackling Cancer, and Surfing the Liminal – The Tim Ferriss Show

Check out The Tim Ferriss Show Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Every Friday afternoon, Chip takes 30 minutes to write down the key lessons he learned over the previous week in what he terms his “Wisdom Book”
  • Two quotes you can’t miss:
    • “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is your power to choose your response. In your response lies your growth and your freedom.” – Victor Frankl
    • “The meaning of life is to find your gift and the purpose of life is to give it away” – Shakespeare 
  • Much of emotional regulation is just learning to get out of your brain
  • Really great entrepreneurs deliver on expectations and desires, but they also meet the unrecognized needs of their customers
  • Frequently ask yourself – “How can I try things and do something small enough, but that could have a big impact, that is easily solvable if it doesn’t work?”
  • Always be looking to cap the downsides/mitigate risks
    • Chip received the following advice form his dad – “Build the business plan as if the business isn’t going to succeed”
  • From Chip’s book – Emotional Equations
    • Despair = Suffering – Meaning
    • Anxiety = Uncertainty * Powerlessness
    • Disappointment = Expectations – Reality
    • Happiness = wanting what you have / having what you want
  • Happiness tends to follow a U-shaped curve
    • From ages 25-45, most people experience a slow decline in happiness
    • Afterward – we tend to get happier with each successive decade
  • The most important question any business leader could ever ask themselves – “What business are we in?”
    • If you ask yourself this question ~5 times (without repeating answers, of course) it’s like an archaeological dig to figure out the true essence of your company
    • You could also make this a personal exercise and repeatedly ask yourself: “What mastery can I offer?

Books Mentioned

Intro

  • Chip Conley (@chipconley) is a former boutique hotelier, having founded and ran as CEO Joie de Vivre before joining Airbnb as their global head of hospitality and strategy
  • Chip recently built the world’s first midlife wisdom school, the Modern Elder Academy, in Baja California Sur

The Bad News Chip Received the Day Before Giving a TED Talk

  • The day before giving his latest TED Talk, Chip found out he has intermediate stage prostate cancer
    • It’s kind of on the cusp of serious/not serious (although he’ll probably have to have his prostate taken out in the next few years)
    • “Cancer can be a teacher. For me, it’s been a reminder of the vulnerability that we can have as well as what level of control you have over your body.”
    • “It really forced me to ponder what I’m here on this Earth to accomplish… it created a sense of urgency”

The Stanford Brainstorming Sessions

  • While attending Stanford Business School (Chip also went to Stanford for his undergrad), Chip, along with Seth Godin and a few other guys, met on a regular basis to discuss and brainstorm business ideas 
    • As an aside – During this time, Chip and Seth teamed up to write what was the first book for each of them – Business Rules of Thumb
  • If you want to start a brainstorming or mastermind group of your own:
    • Have clarity about the group’s purpose 
    • There has to be an underlying respect among members (otherwise, group members will just stop showing up)

Chip’s Own Version of 5-Bullet Friday – The Wisdom Book

  • Every Friday afternoon, Chip takes 30 minutes to write down the key lessons he learned over the previous week in what he calls his “Wisdom Book”
    • The list is written in bullet point format (most weeks have 5 bullets)
  • Here’s what he learned this past w eek:
    • Chip became reacquainted with a line from Man’s Search For Meaning:
      • “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is your power to choose your response. In your response lies your growth and your freedom.”
    • The most important time for someone who’s high up in an organization to be calm is when things are troubled 
      • Our emotions are contagious and everybody tends to look at the most senior person to see how they’re reacting to something

Developing Emotional Regulation Through Meditation

  • “So much of emotional regulation is just learning to get out of your brain”
  • Chip practices transcendental mediation every morning (and sometimes in the afternoon)
  • Chip also practices quite a unique form of meditation:
    • He thinks of his forehead being replaced by louvered windows (rotational windows that turn inward to open) 
      • “I breathe in through my forehead and out through my forehead. This is how I turn down the heat in my brain.”

A Trait of Great Entrepreneurs

  • Really great entrepreneurs deliver on expectations and desires, but they also meet the unrecognized needs of their customers
  • How did Chip himself demonstrate the above?
    • Chip’s main goal was to turn one of his San Francisco hotels, The Poenix, into a rock and roll hotel for bands… but how?
      • The person who typically made the decision of which hotel the band would stay was the band’s tour manager (and tour managers have a VERY stressful job)
      • Chip, quick on his feet, began offering tour managers a free massage in the hotel’s massage studio if they booked a certain number of rooms per night

Be First and Cap the Downside

  • Frequently ask yourself – “How can I try things and do something small enough, but that could have a big impact, that is easily solvable if it doesn’t work?”
  • Chip did just that. Here’s what he did:
    • He came up with the idea of putting a yoga studio on the penthouse level of one of his San Francisco hotels – Hotel Vitale – that had free yoga classes every morning
    • Chip’s investors thought he was CRAZY (keep in mind this was 20 years ago, it might make a little more sense today)
    • Chip had his reasons of course (the hotel wanted to target female business travelers) 
    • And if it didn’t work out – Chip planned to just turn the studio into a penthouse suite (he was capping the downside)
      • This relates to a piece of advice Chip’s father gave him – “Build the business plan as if the business isn’t going to succeed”
  • Building off the above:
    • “If you’re good and if you really understand your customer, it goes beyond the expectations, beyond the desires, beyond focus groups…. it’s the thing you know that they want next that they don’t even know they don’t want”
      • “Look at all the customer satisfaction forms from people staying at Financial District hotels in San Francisco, how many of them asked for a yoga studio?” – NO ONE
    • Tim adds – Whether with book launches, television shows, or documentaries, whatever it is, doing something for the first time can be really undervalued and newsworthy
      • And sure enough, Hotel Vitale got a lot of press and ended up becoming one of the most upscale hotels in SF

Chip’s Brush with Death

  • After suffering a broken ankle when sliding into third base at a bachelor party at Oracle Park (the home of the San Francisco Giants), Chip developed a very serious bacterial infection (it turns out fertilizer got into the cut)
    • During a book tour talk in St. Louis, Chip had a bad allergic reaction to an antibiotic
      • He went unconscious while signing books and ended up flatlining and “going to the other side” a total of 9 times over the course of the next few hours in both the ambulance and ER – Chip describes the experience:
        • “I felt incredibly peaceful and everything was moving very, very slow motion”
        • “In those moments, I felt beauty and calmness like I never felt before”

Emotional Equations

  • The night of his near-death experience, while in the hospital, Chip was reading Man’s Search For Meaning
    • “If I were to take that book an turn it into an equation it would be despair = suffering – meaning”
      • (Despair goes down when meaning goes up)
  • Anxiety = uncertainty * powerlessness
    • To reduce anxiety: find certainty and create influence/a sense of power
  • Disappointment = expectations – reality
  • Happiness = wanting what you have / having what you want
    • Wanting what you have = gratitude
    • Having what you want = gratification

Modern Elder Academy – Chip’s Midlife Wisdom School

  • “I think midlife wisdom schools are a thing for the future, in huge way”
    • “I think the idea of lifelong learning and going to a retreat that helps us repurpose ourselves, reframe our mindset to one of growth, and reframe how we think about aging is important… no one’s done that yet”
  • Why build a midlife wisdom school? (Chip defines midlife as age 35-75)
    • People are living longer
      • In the year 1900, longevity in the U.S. was around 47 year. In the year 2000, it became 77 (and it’s only rising from here).
    • “The thing that happens in midlife is you start to feel the weight of accumulation of what you’ve acquired throughout your life. I don’t mean just physical things, I mean friends, responsibilities, the identities, and the invisible name tags that define who you are in the world. You frankly start to feel overwhelmed by all that accumulation.”
      • This feeling can occur as young as ~35
    • “Midlife used to be a crisis, but now it’s a marathon.. At midlife, you need a pit stop. The Modern Elder Academy is that pit stop.”
      • Chip describes the Academy as a proof of concept and a catalyst for other social entrepreneurs to go create a midlife wisdom school in other areas around the globe (like in the Catskills or the Sacred Valley of Peru)

The U-Curve of Happiness

  • This is discussed more in The Happiness Curve by Jonathan Rauch
  • From ages 25-45, most people experience a slow decline in happiness (mainly due to everything we’ve accumulated piling up – physical items, identities, invisible name tags, etc.)
    • Between 45 and 50, the “unraveling” occurs –  where people start to discard things (we move from “accumulating mode” to “editing mode”)
    • From there – people get happier with each successive decade
      • Men start to flatten out in their overall happiness in the second half of their 70s (for women, it tends to happen in their early 80s)
  • Here’s another benefit of aging:
    • “As you get older, you’re able to move from the linear left brain to the creative right brain much more easily”
      • In a sense, you’re able to think more synthetically/holistically and more easily distill wisdom from something like a podcast or long talk 

Digging to the Roots 

  • “The most important question any business leader could ever ask themselves is, ‘What business are we in?'”
    • If ask yourself this question ~5 times (without repeating answers, of course) it’s like an archaeological dig to figure out the essence of your company/your soulful differentiator as an organization
  • Similarly, take the question – “What mastery can you offer?’
    • Have a friend ask you this 5 times
      • “You’ll be sort of surprised at, by the fifth time you get asked that question, and you’ve had to come up with four other answers before that, what kind of revelation you may have in this archaeological dig.”

What books does Chip give most often?

What would Chip put on a billboard?

  • “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde

Wrapping Up

  • “The more we fear aging, the more we’re playing on the playing field of the youth”
    • If you’re intent is to just stay looking young for the rest of your life, you’ll eventually lose
  • “The depth of our emotions and the depth of our spiritual connection with ourselves and something bigger than ourselves – these are the things that actually start to grow as we age. It’s part of the reason we get happier as we get older.”

Quotes You Can Learn From

  • “The meaning of life is to find your gift and the purpose of life is to give it away” – Shakespeare 
  • “If something really excites me, I assume that there’s probably a place or a role for it, it just might have to incubate for a while” – Tim
  • “I’m a big believer in karmic capitalism, which means what goes around comes around”
  • “Your reputation is one of the few things in your life that’s portable… That’s what happens with reputation, people know you before you arrive.”
  • “One of the natural tendencies of entrepreneurs is to hook our sense of self-esteem and self-worth to our businesses”
  • “Curiosity opens up possibility and wisdom is what distills down the essence of what’s important”
  • “I think that this idea of having younger people [aka children] who need your tutelage and love helps us get out of our ego”
  • “Nature is such a teacher… I think anybody who doesn’t get romance by nature on a regular basis is missing that lyrical sense of what life is meant to be.”

Additional Notes

  • Tim says he did wrote two of his books (The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef) during staycations at Hotel Vitale in San Francisco
  • “Liminality” = the state of being between two things 
    • Ex. – The cocoon is the liminal state for a caterpillar turning into a butterfly
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