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Chip Conley, founder of MEA, the first midlife wisdom school, and New York Times bestselling author, reflects on the dynamics of age, wisdom, and curiosity in the ever-evolving world.In our[…]

Hotelier Chip Conley remembers what the LSD activist taught him about how to run a successful hotel.

Question: What’s the best advice you ever received?


Chip Conley: I think, the best business advice that I ever received was from Dr. Timothy Leary. This famous Harvard trained psychologist-psychiatrist who actually gave his students at Harvard LSD back in the late sixties. He gave me advice when he was staying at my first hotel, The Phoenix, this rock and roll hotel. He didn’t fit the profile of the demographic of the Phoenix which were all young rock and rollers but he fit the psychographic of the Phoenix. And what he said to me was what woke me up to Maslow again.

Now I learned about Maslow again a few years later during the dot com crash but years before that Dr. Timothy Leary asked me, do I know who Abraham Maslow is, and I said yes. And he said well, he’s no longer living but he would’ve admired how you’ve created your hotel because I see you out there hugging the housekeepers and I see you talking with them and I never met Dr. Timothy Leary; he was sitting by the pool of my hotel, he was watching me in the courtyard do this and he just asked me to come over and talk to him.

And what he said is, help everyone feel like what they do is important; and when people feel like what they do is important, they put more energy into it. So it’s a very simple concept and it came from not a business leader. It came from someone who grow and understand psychology. But I think the idea that people feel like they’re important, Mary Kay Ash we know Mary Kay Cosmetics and she likes to drive around her pink Cadillac.

Well, Mary Kay Ash said that one of the things that she loves about what she did in creating an empire is she thinks that everyone of her employees wears a sign around their neck with a sign that’s facing out that says, make me feel important. And I think that that’s a good advice whether it’s Mary Kay Ash or that’s Dr. Timothy Leary which is wow, that’s an interesting combination, the two of them. The fact that making people feel important in what they do is what takes something from being the drudgery of the job to feeling like this is something that’s part of my life’s work and so I think that’s probably the best advice I’ve ever received. And it’s funny that it came from, didn’t come from Stanford Business School where I went to get my MBA.


Recorded on: April 14, 2009