Chip Conley On Travel and Creativity
Hotel company founder Chip Conley reflects on travel and creativity.
“Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about reaching your destination and becomes indistinguishable from living your life.” —Paul Theroux
One of the most trusted axioms in business is that a great manager finds the answers, while a great leader discovers the questions. We live in an era when organizations are thirsting for more creative thinking in order to compete in a constantly changing global economy. And yet, most companies think they can order up innovation as if it’s a choice on the room service menu. Instead, creativity and innovation come from a willingness to put oneself into a curious habitat: a place that provokes wonder and awe.
Sony founder Akio Morita suggested, “Curiosity is the key to creativity.” And big thinkers from Albert Einstein to Walt Disney have credited curiosity as being the fertilizer for conceptual blockbusting. I was fortunate enough to have Virgin founder Richard Branson write the foreword to my first book, The Rebel Rules. He told me how the ultimate place where he got his best ideas was on the road, as vagabonding allows one to be curious and fresh with one’s spirit. We are willing to ask questions—of others and of ourselves—when we are in unfamiliar surroundings. This can be a potent launchpad for looking at the world in a new way.
For me, foreign travel opens my eyes, mind, heart and soul. Whether it’s with the communal, festival-driven Balinese, the devout Bhutanese or the earthy Bolivians, I experience my emotions in a whole different fashion when I’m in a different culture. Travel gives us that boundless, open sense of discovery—kind of like the feeling I had when I was a child watching a tadpole turn into a frog. Unfortunately, for too many of us, between our wondrous youth and our awestruck senior years, we choose a narrower path—not by conscious choice but often because life’s circumstances necessitate a little more linearity. Ironically, this is the time of our life—midlife—when we tend to report the least amount of happiness.
Over the past 25 years, I had the amazing experience of creating more boutique hotels than any other hotelier in the world. Some—from the Costanoa luxury campground that was inspired by Amanwana in Indonesia to the Japanese pop-cultured Hotel Tomo that came from a trip to Tokyo—were a direct result of ideas that fermented while I was traveling for business or pleasure. I remember an afternoon on the Amalfi coast when I was taking a yoga class and thought, “Why is it that American financial district hotels don’t offer convenient yoga courses to their traveling executive guests?’ From that question sprouted the idea for Hotel Vitale’s penthouse yoga studio, an offering that’s become extremely popular with our “bourgeois bohemian” guests.
Curiosity = Wonder + Awe. The place I tend to find these emotional ingredients is on the road. The open road leads to an open mind. And an open mind is more likely to have the kind of insights we all need in today’s more competitive economy.
Chip Conley founded Joie de Vivre Hotels, which includes more than 30 boutique properties. He is the author of Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success(Free Press, 2012).