Wisdom @ Work: How and why to embrace your wizard

Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder
Chip Conley
Currency (September 2018)

How and why to “embrace your wizard”

Over the years, I have read and reviewed all of Chip Conley’s previously published books and noted how receptive he has been to gaining wisdom from his own experiences (especially from setbacks) and from others’ experiences (from their setbacks). He has accumulated and then applied this wisdom to accelerate both his personal growth and professional wisdom. One day in 2012, as he recalls, his longtime friend and evolutionary astrologer, Steve Forrest, urged him to “embrace your wizard.” He was fifty at the time. One year later, he was “embedded in the high-tech land of the young” after selling his company — Joie de Vivre Hospitality — and then accepting a position at Airbnb.

In each of his previous books, Conley has shared lessons learned and does so again in this book. He has always believed that each human being is a “work in progress” and the nature and extent of that progress is almost always determined by the wisdom gained along the way. That is, “the ability to forecast some of the costs and collateral benefits of the decisions we make.” This is a valuable insight to keep in mind when making especially important decisions such as Conley has made throughout his life thus far.

I was especially interested in the material in Chapter 5. Conley shares his thoughts  about the second of four “Lessons” on which he focuses: LEARN.  I realized long ago that a setback is a “failure” only if nothing of value is learned from it. I also agree with this observation by Lao-Tzu in Tao Te Ching: “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” With all due respect to the BA and MBA degrees that Conley earned at Stanford, consider Mark Twain’s observation: “Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.”

Conley is an eloquent advocate of developing what he characterizes as “catalytic curiosity.” As he explains, “While creativity and innovation get the headlines, curiosity is the elixir that gives them stamina…Being curious is a way to catalyze courage, learning, and creative thinking is something that requires confidence.” Hence the importance of knowledge (the WHAT) and skills (the HOW) as well as wisdom (the WHY). Hence the importance of both formal and informal education. Each is experiential and the basis of catalytic curiosity.

Here are a few of the influential insights that Conley shares in Chapter 5:

o “Computers are useless. They only give you answers.”  Pablo Picasso

o “The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert. Such a mind is open to all possibilities and can see things as they area.”  Shunryū Suzuki

o “Education is not filing a pail. It’s lighting a fire.” William Butler Yeats

o “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”  John Wooden

And I presume to add one more, from Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Reading this book will probably be the next best opportunity available to those who are unable to work closely with Chip Conley on a day-to-day basis. Obviously, what they learn and what they do with what they learn is entirely up to them. That’s also true of every other learning opportunity that comes their way or, better yet, every learning opportunity they locate.


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