Complexity is the defining business and leadership challenge of our time. But it has never felt more urgent than this moment, with the coronavirus upending life and business as we know it. For the next few weeks, we’ll be talking to leaders about what it takes to lead through the most complex and confounding problems, and about Brody Moments (from Jaws’ Police Chief Brody and his famous line “you’re going to need a bigger boat”) related to the coronavirus.
Today we talk with Chip Conley, “rebel hospitality entrepreneur” and New York Times bestselling author. At age 26, Chip founded Joie de Vivre Hospitality (JdV), transforming an inner-city motel into the second largest boutique hotel brand in America. He sold JdV after running it as CEO for 24 years, and soon the young founders of Airbnb asked him to help transform their promising start-up into the world’s leading hospitality brand. Chip served as Airbnb’s Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy for four years and today acts as the company’s Strategic Advisor for Hospitality and Leadership. His five books have made him a leading authority at the intersection of psychology and business. Chip was awarded “Most Innovative CEO” by the San Francisco Business Times, is the recipient of hospitality’s highest honor, the Pioneer Award, and holds a BA and MBA from Stanford University.
David and David: Tell us a bit about yourself and your area of expertise.
Chip: Having helped steer the rocket ship for Airbnb for some time, I’m now also focused on the Modern Elder Academy, the world's first midlife wisdom school, with workshops that combine classroom learning with things like cooking, dancing, cultural experiences, and morning meditations. I like looking for lifestyle trends that can be applied to both hospitality and to education. I also like to write books and I write a daily blog called Wisdom Well. I’m most intrigued by the process of learning something, metabolizing it, and making it habitual — and then helping people do the same thing.
David and David: What are some of the Brody Moments leaders are experiencing today in hospitality and travel?
Chip: In hospitality, the Brody Moment has really been about needing a smaller boat. The questions confronting the industry are quite existential. Will people travel again? Of course, but how long will it take? And what are the precautions it will require? For major conventions and meetings, and the cruise industry (for example), will there be enough public health progress for those industries to make any kind of comeback in the next two to three years? Concerns about safety, security, viruses, and a punishing recession all point to the possibility of people not going out and traveling.
With respect to Airbnb and peer-to-peer accommodation in general, the big question is how do you create a dependable level of cleanliness that satisfies customers and local municipalities? There are lots of ways to solve that, but most have to do with being more vigilant about managing millions of listings.
David and David: And what do you see ahead in those industries? With respect to a ‘new normal’ after the crisis is over, what characterizes the new trajectory leaders will have to move their organizations to?
Chip: I think in terms of IRL (in real life) vs. URL (digital). The more transformative the experience (i.e. a wedding or Burning Man), the more necessary it will be to experience it IRL. The more transactional the experience (e.g. a conference), maybe that’s meant to be URL, via something like Zoom.
I think we will see more transactional experiences move digital, and an increased yearning for the IRL experience. In fact, the more digital we get, the more ritual we need, so we will probably see an increase in IRL experiences like festivals and pilgrimages.
David and David: What about the Brody Moments for people in midlife that may be amplified by the pandemic?
Chip: In the digital society, and especially now, what’s complex is that the power is accelerating to young people in the workplace faster than ever before. For people in midlife, this Brody Moment is existential, amounting to: “What the hell am I doing here on earth?” Mark Twain said that the two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you figured out why. For someone in midlife, a time comes when you’ve climbed your first mountain and realize that maybe it’s time to move to the second one. I think more people are realizing that sooner as a direct result of the pandemic. For them, it’s time for the great midlife edit. The first part of your life is about accumulating, and the operating system is your ego. The second part is about editing, and the operating system is your soul. Our society badly manages that shift (from ego to soul) and we deal with it as the ‘midlife crisis.’ The Brody Moment is “Oh shit, I may live another 30 years or 40 years, and what am I going to do with that time?”
David and David: While we’re still in the midst of the pandemic conditions and needing to go about a new business-as-usual, how has your role as a leader, advisor, mentor, changed?
Chip: In the last two downturns, I said to myself, “I can do it.” I have now shifted from “I can do it” to “I conduit.” My role is to support people who are in their “I can do it” time by being a channel of wisdom. Some younger leaders are self-aware enough to know they need to tap into experts and mentors who are older and wiser than they are. We should also think about mutual mentorship, where we transfer EQ (emotional intelligence) in exchange for DQ (digital intelligence). There’s a profound opportunity for intergenerational collaboration because we have five generations in the workplace for the first time. We have to recognize that we have something to learn from each other.
David and David: Any other advice you can offer? Parting words?
Chip: We - meaning people in midlife - need to think about the next 30 to 40 years, understand what we’ve mastered so far, and figure out how to take that wisdom and plant it in a different place. Lifelong learning has to become long-life learning, where we continuously re-engage in life and find new mountains to climb due to our increased longevity. Staying curious will lead to a longer life and a better one.
Original article posted on Forbes on May 26, 2020
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