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Chip Conley - Emotional Equations: Simple Steps for Creating Happiness + Success in Business + Life

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Chip Conley - Emotional Equations: Simple Steps for Creating Happiness + Success in Business + Life

Chip Conley - Emotional Equations: Simple Steps for Creating Happiness + Success in Business + Life
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As the title suggests, Chip Conley's Emotional Equations proposes a simplified, logical, almost mathematical approach to managing some of the modern world's most common challenges. Drawing on wisdom from a broad range of psychology researchers, philosophers, writers, and world leaders, Conley presents readers with a number of realistic and useful formulas for thinking through problems ranging from despair to workaholism. His book has some major flaws, but is still, overall, quite a useful read.
The text belongs to the genre of business-related self-help books authored by celebrity CEOs and executive coaches. Conley is the founder and erstwhile CEO of Joie de Vivre, a chain of boutique hotels, and while he self-identifies as an "armchair psychologist," he seems sincerely fascinated by the work of academic psychologists and how their research can be applied in the real world. Although he cut his teeth in the business field with an MBA from Stanford, Conley also received an honorary doctorate in psychology and clearly has done a lot of reading on the subject.

Conley tells us that his ideas for the book developed out of a number of setbacks. He writes: "... 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 [prison]; a long-term relationship had ended painfully; and I had lost five friends and colleagues to suicide."

Struggling to keep his head and heart above water, he turned to the wisdom of Viktor Frankl's powerful memoir Man's Search for Meaning for solace and guidance. This spurred an interest in applying the tools of logical analysis to emotional difficulties.

The concept of emotional equations, Conley explains, may have originated with William James in the late 19th Century. Many of the equations in his book are derived from the works of other authors and theorists. His equation for despair (Despair = Suffering - Meaning) is drawn from the work of Frankl; another equation is based on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's research on flow. Conley is careful to identify the original authors behind these ideas, but the bibliographical notes that follow the text are sparse, and the sources for individual quotations are not always fully cited.

But why emotional equations? As Conley explains, "An equation is just another way of expressing the relationship between two or more things - or two or more forces. Emotional Equations help illuminate ... the relationships between one emotion and another and how the mix of two emotions may lead to a third."

This book, at its core, is a thoughtful analysis (albeit in the non-academic, self-help genre) of the ways in which our emotions and experiences interact and change over time, and how these relationships shape who we are and how we feel about our lives.

Conley organizes his ideas well, with the dark, heavy problems (despair, disappointment, regret, jealousy, envy, and anxiety) grouped together in the beginning, and the loftier, more optimistic goals (integrity, happiness, joy) clustered toward the end. Appropriately, wisdom is the subject of the penultimate chapter. Although Conley notes that "there's no need to read the chapters in order," they do seem to follow a logical progression likely influenced by the author's interest in the work of famed psychologist Abraham Maslow.

Each chapter follows a predictable and readable format: an introduction to the concepts in the so-called emotional equation it features, followed by practical advice on "Working Through the Equation," - i.e., how to apply the formula to your own experiences.

The chapters on disappointment (Expectations - Reality) and regret (Disappointment + Responsibility) contain a number of quite helpful observations. Describing regret as a "first-world emotion," Conley explains the problem of "analysis paralysis," an experience that may be familiar to many readers. When faced with too many choices, the fear of making a decision we may later regret can prevent us from moving forward.

Throughout the text, the author presents us with a number of inspirational role models and their observations and insights on life. Scattered through the entire book are numerous pithy quotations from some of the world's greatest thinkers: Stephen Hawking on disability, Mark Twain on regret, Mother Teresa on finding one's calling, Nelson Mandela on fighting for one's ideals. Conley himself offers a few gems as well (e.g., "Most of what happens in life isn't a zero-sum game").

Mental health professionals, particularly those with a psychoanalytic bent, may find Conley's treatment of these issues overly simplistic and superficial, but the book is worth noting as a reference for clients and lay readers who struggle with emotion and poor insight.

Conley's approach is similar to the logotherapy of Viktor Frankl, whose influence is clear throughout the book. Some of the advice is common sense, repackaged and branded as a mathematical approach to dealing with problems, but Conley's rational bent and illustrative examples and stories may help readers view their struggles in a more balanced, objective light.

One of the things I enjoyed is Conley's sensitivity toward the importance of humility, gratitude, and compassion. Discussing the destructive potential of narcissism, Conley describes how the research of Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell changed his own views on the subject of self-esteem. His advice on how to improve one's self-esteem is not the superficial drivel that populates all too many self-help books (the likes of "Remind yourself that you are special"). Instead, he reminds us of the importance of discipline, patience, and shifting one's focus towards "something bigger than you."

Conley's advice here is practical and realistic, just as applicable to those who suffer from too much self-esteem as to those who have too little. He acknowledges his own narcissistic tendencies and the difficulty of accepting negative feedback.

I was a little disappointed by some things in the book. The foreword and the opening chapter suggest that we will learn more about the author's personal setbacks and heartbreaks. Instead, much of the autobiographical material in the book is a catalogue of his achivements, and the crises and dilemmas he has faced are presented in the context of Conley's professional development. We don't hear much about the friends he lost to suicide, why his relationship ended, or how he coped with recovery from heart failure.

There are moments during which the text reads like a condescending sales pitch, which is unfortunate, because it may alienate readers who would otherwise benefit from some of the author's more helpful suggestions.

When describing his accomplishments and his "calling" as a writer, Conley sometimes evokes a familiar and unflattering stereotype of our day: that of the smarmy celebrity CEO who never tires of the spotlight or self-promotion. Readers who give the book a chance, however, will find that the real Chip Conley does not embody this shallow stereotype. He possesses an endearing warmth, humility, intellectual curiosity, and slight eccentricity that set him apart from other writers in the genre.

As a reader, I was left with a lot of questions. For instance, what was it like living as a gay man in San Francisco in the 1980s, during the AIDS crisis? I was surprised that Conley didn't give this subject much attention. Surely he must have faced some struggles due to homophobia, fear of losing friends close to him, and concern about the potential impact on his company. Here Conley seems to have missed an opportunity to engage the reader with some of the more compelling stories from his experience. I wasn't left with a sense that the author had "bared his soul" to the reader as the foreword suggests.

This renders Emotional Equations more reference manual than stirring memoir. It's not dry or boring, but it's not a compelling tale of one man's triumph over adversity, either.

And while the book certainly will not teach you how to solve all of life's problems, it is an engaging read. I would encourage skeptical readers to look past some of the shallow promotional language scattered throughout, because much of Conley's advice is substantive, well-informed, heartfelt, and sound. Even readers who avoid self-help books may find themselves enjoying this one in spite of themselves.


"Rarely has a CEO bared his soul in a book as Chip Conley has in Emotional Equations. This powerfully authentic story makes for a compelling read and an invaluable operating manual for life. Chip's stories are used to create emotional building blocks that define how we can understand and navigate our internal weather and emotions."
--Tony Hsieh, Zappos' CEO and author of Delivering Happiness

"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, co-author of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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 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

"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. Chip Conley's Emotional Equations is challenging, thought-provoking, insightful, and, ultimately, very practical."
-- Phil Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University, author of The Time Paradox

"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

"After Frankl's memoir, Man's Search For Meaning, got him through a very dark period, Conley concluded that its message was "despair = suffering - meaning," an elegant distillation of Frankl's insight that extremes of anguish need not destroy the soul if a sense of purpose, and of choosing the meaning of one's experiences, remains. At their best, Conley's equations prompt a revelation: by reducing an emotional problem to its core elements, you can glimpse new ways to address it. The formula provides clarity, which isn't to suggest the solution is easy."
(The Guardian)

"Chip Conley gives a brilliant analysis of the absolute necessity of Maslow's hierarchical paradigm in unleashing the talent and commitment of customers, employees, owners-in fact, stakeholders. Great resource material for leaders, trainers, educators, even parents. Chip practices in his hotels what he teaches-most successfully!"
(Stephen R. Covey, author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness)

"Chip Conley presents a creative and thought-provoking new approach to running a business. He brilliantly applies Abraham Maslow's theories to management and provides insightful prescriptions that will help you gain peak performance in your company. Conley's depth and candor make this book a must-read for everyone who wants to improve their organization."
(Bill George, former CEO, Medtronic and author, Authentic Leadership and True North)

"One of the best business books I've read. A unique combination of organized intelligence and creative insight. I guarantee it!"
(George Zimmer, CEO and chairman, Men's Wearhouse, Inc.)

"Strategy? Got one. Tactics? Check. But there's one more key element without which you won't get anywhere: Motivation. Peak will show you how to create motivated employees, customers, and investors, and tells the story of how one spectacular entrepreneur does it by treating people right-and how they return the favor."
(Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief, Wired magazine and author, The Long Tail)

"Chip Conley's book is a perfect combination: part personal story, part business theory, and part how-to instruction. Peak combines head, heart, and soul for today's aspiring business leader. Don't just read this book-do it!"
(Alan M. Webber, former editorial director, Harvard Business Review and co-founding editor, Fast Company)

"Conley filters his own readings in psychology and philosophy into his teachings, which may help some readers who can appreciate a rational, mathematical approach to managing their emotional lives."
(Publishers Weekly)

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