Peak Performance Leadership applied to the Sharing economy

It’s hard to read anything these days that doesn’t flash before your eyes and disappear quickly. Recently I read an entire book. It was a leadership tome by Chip Conley, an executive at Airbnb. Conley is the author of four books, including Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow. Conley writes about why it’s more important to climb the employee pyramid than the corporate ladder. It made sense that he was hired at Airbnb where customers come and go fast and employee loyalty is even harder to achieve in SF. Airbnb is an environmental company by virtue of the “sharing economy” concept.  It makes sense in this day and age. Why build real estate when there is plenty of spare capacity available? Equally brilliant is a service I use called Liquid Space, allowing for on-demand office space in the Bay area.

The velocity of change is extraordinary at companies like AirBnb, Uber, and Liquid Space. Chip’s claim to fame is building the eco-friendly Joie de Vivre Hotel chain and keeping it alive for 24 years. The lesson learned was that stakeholders of any enterprise need to be purpose-driven yet understood individually. The right doses of employee, customer and investor engagement can truly drive growth. This was before the advent of social media. Personalization meant connecting with real people face-to-face. It will be interesting to see what happens in Chip’s new role at Airbnb — an exploding startup which needs seasoned wisdom for the ages.

Chip is best known for applying Maslow’s principles in running a business and managing employees. Chip came up with pyramid of truths for customers, employees and investors. This can be interpreted in many ways. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization at the top.

Pyramid of Truths


       Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, Chip Conley

The underlying premise of these pyramids is transparency. Running a business involves continuous communication and awareness of where one stands in the bigger picture.  Ultimately, the goal is to achieve what people call the ‘flow’ state across the organization. The ‘flow’ state ascribes to the peak performance Chip Conley often speaks about with employees and investors on behalf of customers.

Customer Pyramid


          Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, Chip Conley

When the employee and investor pyramids are solid and reinforcing, the firm naturally gravitates towards meeting unrecognized needs of a customer.  The obvious goal is to understand the customer intimately and help them advance beyond what they are capable of — creating ripples of community impact. A good example of a company striving continuously to meet customers’ unrecognized needs is Patagonia:

                     Employee Pyramid


    Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, Chip Conley

When employees come to work knowing their purpose and get rewarded for high performance, compensation becomes more than a bribe to ensure attendance.  It’s the firm’s job to help employees find meaning. This applies across the organization. Purpose-driven firms develop employees who are legacy-makers after they leave. Another good example of a purpose-driven firm is Salesforce.

Investor Pyramid


       Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, Chip Conley

When investors or business sponsors are given visibility, they are keen to go beyond ROI metrics and join the winning team especially if it involves growth and transformation. Transforming employees, customers, and ultimately, communities is where investors and sponsors expect to be. They are eager to cement their legacy. Ultimately, the buck (literally) stops with them.

When work takes on a form of worship and the souls of the customers, employees and investors are tied to one’s own purpose, the firm becomes a force for personal and professional growth.

More info about Chip’s business philosophy can be found on his website:

Japan (March 2013)

Just got back from Japan. I lived there many years ago and thought of re-connecting with that world again. It was neat to see Japanese art, design and music in an authentic form since we often see the commercial side of Japanese exports. After the tsunami tragedy, it appears there is a greater consciousness in Japan for conservation and environmentalism. Japanese culture has always had a heightened sensitivity towards nature. As a society it has the unique advantage of rallying together when action must be taken since the degree of diversity and clashing viewpoints is unlike in America. It’s growing in this direction but the basic concepts of Japanese society can be seen to be believed. Japan has always been a village that still takes care of its children and elders in the way it should be done.

It has also become a hub for environmental leadership. Here are some concepts keeping the great nation together:

1. mono-no-aware: awareness of impermanence and greater sensitivity of things.

2. ma: empty space and the need to reduce clutter. The simplicity movement is based on this concept.

3. wabi-sabi: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect and that is a good thing.

4. kanketsu: true simplicity is often achieved through a complex process.

5. hara hachi bunme: stop eating when you are 80% full.

6. nemawashi: consensus-based decision making… Don’t rock the boat.

Japanese culture and philosophy has impacted the world. It’s felt more in Silicon Valley than anywhere else, especially among entrepreneurs.


At one point I was thinking about going to Japan and trying to get into the Eihei-ji monastery, but my spiritual advisor urged me to stay here. He said there is nothing over there that isn’t here, and he was correct. I learned the truth of the Zen saying that if you are willing to travel around the world to meet a teacher, one will appear next door.

Steve Jobs