Chip Conley is the founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, a chain of boutique hotels that have thrived in the downturn when the rest of the industry is in a death grip. He is also a “psychologist”. Well, at least he is very connected to humanist psychologist, Abraham Maslow, as a spiritual mentor. Maslow, who died in 1970, was a founder of the humanist movement, moving it beyond the stodgy world of John Watson and his student B. F Skinner who coined the term “Behaviorism. They believed humans are best when managed by “stimulus and response” of their bosses, in the same way lab animals are controlled. In fact, John Watson promised industry titans in the 1930’s that he would give them control of their employee’s behavior if they would fund his mammal research lab (i.e. rats) to study behavior. Behavior methods of motivation reigned supreme though the immediate post WWII years.  Until Maslow and several of his contemporaries created the Humanistic Psychology Movement. The saw a better plan than controlling people with incentives and punishment to gain their ends.  It was a grime way to change people and not very ethical even when the modification was using rewards. It took self-determination away.

Maslow was an advocate for bringing out the ‘higher’ side of people.  And Chip and Joie De Vivre have proven his philosophy as a workable ways to improve a business. He wrote about it in his recently reissued book, Peak: How Great Conpanies Get Their Mojo From Maslow. In fact, turned around a struggling business and make it a great place to work, stay and invest. All by looking at what will ensure the basic and tribal needs to belong are met at the bottom end. But even more, they strive to have people grow and transform themselves while working, traveling and profiting. That is a tall order. Be a customer, employee or investment fund and feel as though you had a great therapy session for your soul or transformed yourself in the process. What a concept for a hotel!

For employees, it is a matter of making sure you are paid decently and feel successful in the organization. But, add to that the opportunity to grow and contribute in a meaningful way and you have high motivation, loyalty and an inspired workforce. For investors, there is alignment at a transaction level on what you can expect without surprises and a clear relationship with the business. But add to that Maslow’s idea that people seek personal meaning in life, including feeling, as investors, part of a legacy. Then you have investors who engage with trust, confidence and a strong sense of ownership, not just skin in the game.

For Joie De Vivre’s guests, their expectations are always exceeded, which is a minimum in the industry. But hotel rarely customize the responses, to meet the special desires as guests are expressed. Joie De Vivre does. The soul feeding level comes from finding their unspoken desires and exceeding even before the guest knows they wanted it. By this formula you can have guests who leave satisfied, are committed the success of the business seeing while they own success is served. And they become evangelists for your business.

The book is filled with stories and practices that the business engage in, to make these aims happen. Just a hint on the customer side from the book. Joie De Vivre address customer requests or concerns in real time. People stop and do it. They also customize notes sent to customers. No form letters or responses. The guest knows it was writing for them. They are special enough to be attended to personally.

The book is a great primer for how to engage employees in a systematic way, to invent disruptive innovations in the industry for guests and to get the investment capital you need to grow the business. Maslow would be thrilled I think to see what Conley has done with his ideas and would feel he was being actualized as a creator of the Humanist Psychology Movement.  And BTW, in the new forward by Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos acknowledges that he hands every visitor to Zappos a copy of Peak. There is no higher endorsement for Peak. I add my anyway.