Founder, author and recent advisor to the CEO of AirBnB, Chip Conley has a flair for the well-turned phrase. “Sixty is the new 40 physically,” he says. “But when it comes to the workplace, 30 is the new 50.” He’s speaking specifically about the tech world and the absence of age in its ranks, a subject he’s written about thoroughly in his new book, Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder.
The book is the bestselling author’s fourth, a major feat considering writing is a second career of sorts for him. Conley made his fortune and reputation launching one of the world’s first boutique hotel brands, Joie de Vivre. He could while away the rest of his days on his beachfront property in Baja, California, pensively stroking his stubbled chin as he eyes the surf conditions every morning.
Instead Conley, like the rest of us, wakes up with fear: fear of no longer being needed, of no longer being relevant, and of being robbed of purpose. “Never have I felt more responsibility than with this book,” he told me.
Wisdom@Work doesn’t just analyze the woeful state of the older worker in America, it offers solutions to fixing the widespread problem. These occurred to Conley after he was asked to advise a young tech titan, spending several years immersed in a world all of his experience did little to prepare him for.
But what Conley realized during his tenure at AirBnB was the value of the emotional intelligence he could bring into the leadership ranks. Conley served as a mentor to CEO Brian Chesky, but he also performed the role on a more low-key level to scores of other, more junior employees. When he began digging into research for his book, he uncovered some more advantages to the older worker: “Our brains over time get worse at short-term memory and recall, but we get better at all-wheel drive thinking,” he says. “You can move a lot more fluidly from left brain and right brain. And that ability to think holistically and get the gist of something is something that people, as they age, get better at. That sort of systemic thinking is so important in a young company, where the founders get extremely precise in their focus, and they miss the forest for the trees.”
The goal, he says, is for our society to value wisdom in the same way they value disruption. More often than not, that comes from those over 50 taking the first step: “To me, the ultimate sign of a modern elder is someone who says, ‘I want to learn more.’”
And we do.