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Human Potential in the Age of Exponential Tech

TED Tuesday: Chip Conley & Measuring the Intangible

Happiness has been a recurring theme here on TED TUESDAYS. Western culture seems to be built on the notion that happiness is something that can be pursued, acquired, and even purchased. Dan Gilbert’s TED talk explained how our brains can trick us out of being happy. This week, hotelier Chip Conley forces us to re-examine the metrics  that we’re using within organizations to measure success.

Why you should watch (from

When the dotcom bubble burst, hotelier Chip Conley went in search of a business model based on happiness. In an old friendship with an employee and in the wisdom of a Buddhist king, he learned that success comes from what you count.

In 1987, at the age of 26 and seeking a little “joy of life,” Chip Conley founded Joie de Vivre Hospitality by transforming a small motel in San Francisco’s seedy Tenderloin district into the now-legendary Phoenix. Today, Joie de Vivre operates nearly 40 unique hotels across California, each built on an innovative design formula that inspires guests to experience an “identity refreshment” during their visits.

During the dotcom bust in 2001, Conley found himself in the self-help section of the bookstore, where he became with one of the most famous theories of human behavior — Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which separates human desires into five ascending levels, from base needs such as eating to the highest goal of self-actualization, characterized by the full realization and achievement of one’s potential. Influenced by Maslow’s pyramid, Conley revamped his business model to focus on the intangible, higher needs of his company’s three main constituencies — employees, customers and investors. He credits this shift for helping Joie de Vivre triple its annual revenues between 2001 and 2008.

Favorite Parts:

  • I love the philosophy the government of Bhutan uses to create an environment of well being for its citizens. Instead of focusing on creating happiness, they focus on creating “happiness habitats,” places that make it easy for happiness to grow.
  • I also really liked the part where he states that we’ve been misled by a successful industrial period that made us believe that success meant measuring units of output and consumption.
  • “The dictionary defines pursuit as ‘chasing with hostility’, are we pursuing our happiness with hostility?” I laughed at that part.

My Take:

I find it interesting that we have been circling around this idea for decades. JFK once said that GDP measures everything but what makes life worthwhile. We all sense there is a problem with the current measurements of success. However, until now we haven’t really known what to do about it. Thanks to new technologies, it is so much easier to start your own business these days and a new wave of entrepreneurs have been able to create businesses more closely aligned with a deeper sense of personal well-being. As these businesses continue to grow, I hope this culture of focusing on such intangibles continues to evolve as well.

I look at companies like who have managed to maintain a high level of employee satisfaction that has translated into one of the best customer service treatment I have ever personally experienced. Eventually, I hope this philosophy grows to encompass full economies. There are 40 countries around the world who now use some form of Gross National Happiness Index. I hope over the next few years we’ll start to see a greater emphasis on personal well being and less on metrics like GDP.

TED TUESDAYS is an ongoing series where I select some of the most interesting TED Conference talks and share my thoughts about them. To read more posts in this series, click here.

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