Chip Conley knows fear.
In 2008 with the economy in recession, his hotel business Joie de Vivre sinking around him, a family member wrongly convicted and in San Quentin prison, five close friends recently lost to suicide—his heart just stopped. He was 47 years old. For an hour while doctors worked on him he came in and out of consciousness. “I was dead,” he told me during a recent conversation. “Flatline.”
Ultimately Chip survived and the experience jolted him into doing some heavy thinking. Amid so much chaos, anxiety, and uncertainty, how could he lead his company to a better place? His heart told him clearly that just trying to survive wasn’t enough. He was afraid and he needed change.
He started re-reading the psychologist Abraham Maslow and Viktor Frankl and began to realize that fear is largely about self preservation. And when you get into self-preservation mode, it's next to impossible to think bigger. "When people get into that fight or flight place then they move away from the creative centers of their brain," Conley says. Pulling yourself back out requires a special kind of discipline.
Chip has some ideas on how to do that. His new book Emotional Equations is his effort to understand and quantify how fear can overwhelm and control an entrepreneur. “Organizations that can diminish fear are those that are able to motivate, create, and innovate," he says.
One way to better manage fear is something Conley calls "the anxiety balance sheet." It's an exercise designed to help you identify what you know vs. what you don't know, and what you can influence vs. what you can't.
On a piece of paper draw four columns. Column 1 is what you know. Column 2 is what you don’t know. Column 3 is what you have power or control over. Column 4 is what you don’t have power or control over. “What we find is that 75-80 percent of people have more in columns in 1 and 3 than 2 and 4," he says. "People don’t realize how much control they do have. The more you can show them this control the easier it is to tap back into the creative side of the brain that allows people to see possibilities and options.”
One of the best paths to success in uncertain times, says Conley, is understanding enough about yourself and how fear affects you so that you can address it directly—and then get on with the work of growing your company and inspiring your employees.