Guru Review: Emotional Equations

Matt May reviews Chip Conley's new business self-help book. Here's why he raves that it's "simply incredible."
January 10, 2012

Immediately upon finishing Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success, out today by Chip Conley, the CEO of Joie de Vivre boutique hotel chain, I excitedly dashed off the following note, with the subject line "simply incredible":

"Well, you have penned an another awesome book! Talk about capturing hearts and minds. Intensely personal, yet universally resonant. I know of no other book that literally begins with a heart attack and conveys and reveals such adversity yet so artfully turns it into inspiration. This book comes at the perfect time for many people the world over. Unless I'm off my rocker or there's something seriously wrong with the world, you are about to sell millions of copies and become a household name."

That is the sum total of my review. And I don't mean to oversell,

The next thing I did was to pre-order a couple dozen copies to give to others. (I was fortunate that Chip had sent me an advance copy.) I have never done that. I read a lot of books, but nothing has hit me this hard in quite some time.

Emotional Equations, as the title suggests, approaches something that resides in our right brain–emotions–with something that resides in our left brain–math and logic. It's obviously not that literal, yet it is: there are seventeen emotional equations comprising four central themes: Dealing With Difficult Times, Getting The Most Out Of Your Work Life, Defining Who You Are and Finding Contentment. Each forms a part of the book, and each has from three to five equations, each of those getting its own chapter.

From the opening lines of the book depicting the author's 2008 heart attack and loss of five friends to suicide, Emotional Equations is a brilliant blend of business self-help, personal self-help, positive psychology, practical insight, personal experience, sound wisdom and powerful inspiration. Most authors are happy with two or three of those. Along the way, we get an honest look inside the heart, soul and mind of Chip Conley, who holds nothing back in sharing both pain and joy.

We learn that in the midst of his personal upheaval, the author looked for a light in the darkness, finding it in Viktor Frankl's seminal Man's Search for Meaning, and distilling it down to a simple equation: [Despair = Suffering - Meaning].

"In other words," Conley writes, "despair is what results when suffering has no meaning. In a recession…suffering is virtually a constant, so it's best to place your attention on growing your sense of meaning in order to decrease your feeling of despair."

The Despair equation is Chip Conley's favorite, and it went over so well upon introducing it to his senior managers in a leadership series he was facilitating that he began teaching it to all employees, along with a few other equations, such as [Disappointment = Expectations - Reality] and [Workaholism = What Are You Running From? / What Are You Living For?] and [Authenticity = Self-Awareness x Courage] and [Joy = Love - Fear]. Not your typical leadership training!

In a note he sent me with Emotional Equations, Chip mentioned that he thought I might like the very last equation, which is [Wisdom = The square root of Experience]. He was right, as the equation has everything to do with the subtractive nature of wisdom in a complex era.

Here's Chip: "We may feel that when faced with a series of challenges, we just have to work harder. Our equation for life is one long series of additions. But the 'Wisdom' equation suggests quite the opposite: when we're faced with the greatest odds against us, often we need to edit rather than add."

I love that. And I readily admit I have a bit of writer's envy. Luckily, there's an equation to help me wrestle that to the ground: [Envy = (Pride + Vanity)/Kindness].

I also liked the 10 fairly ruthless questions found in the chapter on Workaholism (see the equation for Workaholism a few paragraphs above). The toughest half of which I thought were these:

  • Are you a bit of perfectionist and prefer to do the work yourself rather than delegate since delegation is awkward when others won't be able to do the work as well as you would?
  • Are you good at making excuses for why you have to work so hard?
  • Do you have a difficult time sleeping because your mind races or you feel that there's so much work you could be doing if you didn't have to bother with sleep? Do you have a substance addiction to adrenaline or to the "rush" from completing a task or "saving the day"?
  • Is it easier for you to logically understand emotions than to allow yourself to feel them? Does the word "intimacy" send shivers up your spine?
  • Do you know what it feels like to just sit still for ten minutes doing nothing?

After I read through these, it helped to put the book down and go for a two-hour bike ride to mull them over and arrive at some honest but somewhat uncomfortable answers.

Emotional Equations is in my opinion a work of art. Stop whatever you're doing and buy this book, for yourself and for others in your life. Then read it. No, devour it. Then share it abundantly.