Emotional Equations: A book review by Bob Morfris

Posted on: May 25th, 2012 by bobmorris

Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success
Chip Conley
Free Press/A Division of Simon & Schuster (2012)

An “operating manual” from an “emotional concierge” for those who seek meaning in life on the other side of complexity

I have read and reviewed Chip Conley’s previous books and with all due respect to them, I think this one will have much wide and much deeper impact because the equations he forged during what must have been an especially severe crucible can be of incalculable value to others who have also struggled – with mixed results, at best – to find meaning in their lives. I share Conley’s high regard for Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) and two of his books, The Will to Meaning (1988) and then Man’s Search for Meaning (2006). The name of Conley’s hotel company is Joie de Vivre but as he explains, there was very little joy in his life when he felt compelled to re-read Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Over several careful readings and countless hours of rigorous reflection, Conley was able to “distill its wisdom down to a simple equation: Despair = Suffering – Meaning.”  That “little mental rule of thumb” became his “lighthouse.” He turned his life around and that, in turn, enabled him to turn his company around.

Just as Dan Roam discovered the power of clarifying and communicating immensely complicated ideas with simple drawings, Conley discovered the power of (his word) “distilling immensely complicated concepts with simple equations, ones that required basic skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Conley possesses an almost insatiable curiosity to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why. He recalls one friend who told him, “Your internal math is haywire.” He notes, “Chaos is a math theory, but it also describes how many of us feel in troubled times.” Almost anyone who reads this book can identify with Conley’s candidly described struggles with finding meaning and significance as well as serenity in his emotionally turbulent life. Hence the importance of the aforementioned equation: “Despair = Suffering – Meaning.”

In fact, Conley brilliantly presents his material within a six-Part framework, organized within 19 chapters for each of which he devised a formula as its title. For example:

1. Emotions = Life
5. Regret = Disappointment + Responsibility
12. Authenticity = Self-Awareness x Courage
14. Integrity = Authenticity x Invisibility x Reliability

Then in Chapter 20, the final chapter, Conley explains to his reader how to create her or his own Emotional Equation. After posing two critically important questions for the reader to consider, Conley provides three case studies based on real-world experiences of several people who had explained to him how they created their own Emotional Equations. In the first, the focus is on RESISTANCE (“Growth = Change – Resistance), the second on HUMILIATION (“Humiliation = (Shame x Anger) – Power”), and the third on EMPATHY (“Empathy = Compassion (for self) + Presence (for others).”

Those who view all this as obvious, simplistic, gimmicky, etc. would be well-advised to recall Oliver Wendell Holmes assertion, long ago, that he “wouldn’t give a fig” for simplicity on this side of complexity but “would give his life” for simplicity on the other side of complexity. What Chip Conley shares so frankly and so generously in this book is what he learned about meaning in life during his journey to the other side of complexity.

I highly recommend Frankl’s two books, especially Man’s Search for Meaning, as well as Roam’s two “napkin” books and then the sequel, Blah Blah Blah: What to Do When Words Don’t Work. It may also be of interest to know that, in Da Vinci’s Ghost, Toby Lester observes, “Francesco [di Giorgio Martini, 1439-1502, Italy’s most renowned architect and companion of Leonardo] didn’t just state his church-body analogy [`Basilicas have the proportions of the human body’] and move on. He drew it too. That’s because, uncommonly for his time but in complete sympathy with Leonardo, he believed in the explanatory power of images. `Without a drawing,’ he explained in the epilogue of his Treatise, `one cannot express and clarify one’s ideas.'” The same can also be said of Conley’s equations but, in fact, they are actually not “simple.” Nor is hard-earned wisdom.

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