Cover image for Wisdom@work : [the making of a modern elder] / Chip Conley.
Wisdom@work : [the making of a modern elder] / Chip Conley.
Title Variants:
Wisdom at work : the making of a modern elder
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Currency, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, [2018]
Physical Description:
xii, 257 pages ; 22 cm
Your vintage is growing in value -- Am I a "mentern"? -- Raw, cooked, burned, repeat -- Lesson 1: evolve -- Lesson 2: learn -- Lesson 3: collaborate -- Lesson 4: counsel -- Rewire, don't retire -- The experience dividend: embracing modern elders in organizations -- The age of the sage.
At age 52, after selling the company he founded and ran as CEO for 24 years, rebel boutique hotelier Chip Conley was looking at an open horizon in midlife. Then he received a call from the young founders of Airbnb, asking him to help grow their disruptive start-up into a global hospitality giant. He had the industry experience, but Conley was lacking in the digital fluency of his 20-something colleagues. He didn't write code, or have an Uber or Lyft app on his phone, was twice the age of the average Airbnb employee, and would be reporting to a CEO young enough to be his son. Conley quickly discovered that while he'd been hired as a teacher and mentor, he was also in many ways a student and intern. What emerged is the secret to thriving as a mid-life worker: learning to marry wisdom and experience with curiosity, a beginner's mind, and a willingness to evolve, all hallmarks of the "Modern Elder."


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658.40712 CON Book Adult General Collection

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Experience is making a comeback. Learn how to repurpose your wisdom.

At age 52, after selling the company he founded and ran as CEO for 24 years, rebel boutique hotelier Chip Conley was looking at an open horizon in midlife. Then he received a call from the young founders of Airbnb, asking him to help grow their disruptive start-up into a global hospitality giant. He had the industry experience, but Conley was lacking in the digital fluency of his 20-something colleagues. He didn't write code, or have an Uber or Lyft app on his phone, was twice the age of the average Airbnb employee, and would be reporting to a CEO young enough to be his son. Conley quickly discovered that while he'd been hired as a teacher and mentor, he was also in many ways a student and intern. What emerged is the secret to thriving as a mid-life worker: learning to marry wisdom and experience with curiosity, a beginner's mind, and a willingness to evolve, all hallmarks of the "Modern Elder."

In a world that venerates the new, bright, and shiny, many of us are left feeling invisible, undervalued, and threatened by the "digital natives" nipping at our heels. But Conley argues that experience is on the brink of a comeback. Because at a time when power is shifting younger, companies are finally waking up to the value of the humility, emotional intelligence, and wisdom that come with age. And while digital skills might have only the shelf life of the latest fad or gadget, the human skills that mid-career workers possess--like good judgment, specialized knowledge, and the ability to collaborate and coach - never expire.

Part manifesto and part playbook, Wisdom@Work ignites an urgent conversation about ageism in the workplace, calling on us to treat age as we would other type of diversity. In the process, Conley liberates the term "elder" from the stigma of "elderly," and inspires us to embrace wisdom as a path to growing whole, not old. Whether you've been forced to make a mid-career change, are choosing to work past retirement age, or are struggling to keep up with the millennials rising up the ranks, Wisdom@Work will help you write your next chapter.

Author Notes

Bestselling author and hospitality entrepreneur Chip Conley is Strategic Advisor at Airbnb. At age 26, he founded Joie de Vivre Hospitality and turned it into the second largest boutique hotel brand in the world. After selling his company in 2010, he joined Airbnb, and as head of Global Hospitality and Strategy, helped turn it into the world's largest hospitality brand. Conley has received hospitality's highest honor, the Pioneer Award. He serves on the boards of the Burning Man Project and the Esalen Institute and is the author of Peak and the New York Times bestseller Emotional Equations . He holds a BA and MBA from Stanford University.



[ 1 ] Your Vintage Is Growing in Value "It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment; in these qualities old age is usually not only not poorer, but it is even richer." --­Cicero (106-­43 BC) "What the hell are you doing?!" Bert Jacobs, all six feet five inches of him, barked at me as I was about to take the stage in Tulum, Mexico, in May 2016. My friend Bert, whom I often ran into at entrepreneurial speaking gigs, cofounded the clothing lifestyle company Life is Good. We were two of the older speakers at the idealistic, entrepreneurial global tribe event called Summit. At fifty-­five, I was probably two dozen years older than the average attendee, and Bert was just four years behind me. After more than three years in the trenches with the millennial founders of Airbnb, helping them guide their rocket ship, this was my first "coming out" speech about what it means to be a "Modern Elder" in today's youth-­obsessed world. Bert's blunt question--­part offended, part perplexed--­serves as a litmus test for our grand ambivalence with age. At a time when Botox is becoming as popular in Silicon Valley as it is in Hollywood, why was I willingly prancing onstage calling attention to myself as the oldster in the crowd? And I got the sense that beneath the surface of Bert's semirhetorical question lurked another, more pressing one: What the hell is going on with our relationship with age? Just before my fiftieth birthday, I sold my baby. Not exactly. But that's sort of what it felt like to part ways with the boutique hotel company that I founded and ran for two dozen years. The Great Recession had taken its toll on my financial and emotional well-­being, and it was clear I was ready for a change. In my early fifties and nowhere near ready to retire, I found myself temporarily adrift. That is, until Brian Chesky, the young CEO of Airbnb, came calling and thus began my odyssey into a new world, which reacquainted me with the wisdom I'd accumulated in my years on this planet. But it also reminded me how raw and curious I could be as well. I'll tell you more about that story later, along with stories of many inspiring people who are not only surviving, but thriving, in the later years of their working life. Like a schoolteacher who reinvented herself as an entrepreneur and started a booming travel agency in her late forties. Or a software engineer in his early fifties who went from writing computer code to counseling colleagues as he became a Silicon Valley leadership coach. Or a former Merrill Lynch exec who found inspiration for the memoir he was struggling to write at age seventy by becoming a summer intern surrounded by college students at a pharmaceutical giant. You don't have to be on the other side of fifty to find this book relevant. The age at which we're feeling self-­consciously "old" is creeping into some people's thirties, with power cascading to the young in so many companies. At a time when "software is eating the world," tech is disrupting not just taxis and hotels, but virtually all industries, the result being that more and more companies are relentlessly pursuing young hires and putting high DQ (digital intelligence) above all other skills. The problem is that many of these young digital leaders are being thrust into positions of power--­often running companies or departments that are scaling quickly--­with little experience or guidance. Yet, at exactly the same time, there exists a generation of older workers with invaluable skills--­high EQ (emotional intelligence), good judgment born out of decades of experience, specialized knowledge, and a vast network of contacts--­who could pair with these ambitious millennials to create businesses that are built to endure. Ironically, the more technology becomes ubiquitous, the less DQ is actually a differentiator. While coding skills may become commoditized, the one thing that can never be automated or left to artificial intelligence is the human element of business. You may not be a software developer, but you are a soft skills developer--­and soft skills are the ones that will matter most in the organization of the future. Whether this is the second, third, or fourth act of your working life, the principles and practices in this book will show you how to leverage your skills and experience to stay not just relevant, but indispensable in the modern workplace. The world needs your wisdom now more than ever. WHAT'S YOUR VINTAGE? Yesterday I woke up with a fifty-­seven-­year-­old man in my bed and, more painfully, he showed up looking back at me in my bathroom mirror (à la Gloria Steinem). I may feel seventeen, but catching a glimpse of my badly lit fifty-­seven-­year-­old image, whether in the mirror or in some friend's photo on Facebook, is awful-­tasting truth serum. Yet, oddly, my fifties have been my favorite decade. I'm enjoying the "Indian summer" of my life: young enough to take up surfing, old enough to know what's important in life. Dr. Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, has shown that people prioritize the present when time horizons are constrained. Accordingly, she's surprisingly found that people in their seventies are often happier and more content with life than those in their fifties, forties, or even thirties. By midlife, we may have slayed some of our internal dragons and healed many of our youthful wounds. All kinds of happiness surveys demonstrate a U-­curve of adult satisfaction with younger adults starting out pretty excited by life. Then happiness starts to dip in one's late twenties and thirties when the mash-­up of responsibilities associated with friends, family, infants, finances, and finding time for oneself, takes its toll. It can hit its low point in our forties when midlife disappointment may lead, for some, to new sports cars and wrecked marriages. And, then, you're in your fifties and miraculously, the grand reset of expectations you experienced during the prior decade, a reprioritization of what's important, leads you to feeling a little better about life. You're finally getting to enjoy all the confidence, courage, and crazy sense of humor you've accumulated along the way. An inner calm has started to emerge after decades of frenzied juggling. You feel an increasing capacity to be true to yourself. So it's great to be this age! But, just as this U-­curve points us back in the right direction, we're faced with a tiny voice in our heads (echoing financier Bernard Baruch) saying, "Old age is always fifteen years older than I am." Hence, Bert's reaction. We've never been so young and so old. We can distract ourselves from the mirror and "untag" ourselves in Facebook photos, but society has an uncanny way of reminding us of our age. A growing number of people fear being increasingly invisible. Others feel like an old carton of milk, with an expiration date mistakenly stamped on their wrinkled foreheads. One paradox of our time is that baby boomers enjoy better health than ever, remain vibrant and stay in the workplace longer, but feel less and less relevant. They worry, justifiably, that bosses or potential employers may see their experience (and the clocked years that come with it) as more of a liability than an asset. Especially in the tech industry, where I somewhat accidentally found myself launching a second act in my own career. But we workers "of a certain age" are in fact less like a carton of spoiled milk and more like a bottle of fine wine of an especially valuable vintage. Especially in the digital era. And especially in the tech sector, which has become as famous for youth as for innovation, and as notorious for toxic company cultures and human resource headaches as for reckless twentysomething CEOs--­and where companies and investors are finally waking up and realizing they could use a little of the humility, emotional intelligence, and wisdom that comes with age. In this book, I will argue that those of us with a little aging patina do have something to offer. Especially now. We may live ten years longer than our parents and may even work twenty years longer, yet power is moving to those ten years younger. That can lead to a decades-­long "irrelevancy gap" for those in my age range if we don't rethink our role. To avoid the fate of "boomer angst," we'd be wise to learn how to store the wine so it doesn't go bad. What makes a wine good is not only its age, but also the way you store it, the way you serve it, and the reason for raising a glass. ARE OLDER PEOPLE NEEDED IN THE DIGITAL ERA? Recently, my iPhone went haywire. It lost an hour, so for a couple days my phone was an hour younger than the time on my MacBook Air. This technical snafu didn't just affect me--­thousands of iPhone users were missing flights and appointments as a result of this software glitch. I chalked this up to further evidence that the digital gods at Apple, with a median employee age of thirty-­one, are orchestrating our lives in more and more ways. I searched for an answer in the place I always go, Google (median employee age of thirty), to see how I could hack a solution and age my phone by an hour, but turning the damn thing on and off didn't solve things. So I retreated to another familiar spot, Facebook (median employee age of twenty-­eight), to ask for help from my posse. While the median age of employees in the United States is forty-­two, that number is more than a decade younger among our tech titans. And a Harvard Business Review study showed that the average age of founders of unicorns (young, private companies with more than $1 billion in valuation) is thirty-­one, and the average age of their CEOs is forty-­one, as compared to the average age of an S&P 500 company CEO, which is fifty-­two. So power in business hasn't just lost an hour, it's lost a decade or two. Sixty may be the new forty physically, but when it comes to power, thirty is the new fifty! In many cultures, passing wisdom was once a prized tribal tradition, but today many of us fear it might be as popular as passing gas. In a pre-­Gutenberg world, elders were keepers of their culture and agents of its survival and communication through myths, stories, and songs passed from one generation to the next. In an economy that was slow to change, the practical experience and institutional knowledge of the old remained continuously relevant to the young. The acceleration of innovation made the elder less relevant. Literacy meant society was no longer solely dependent upon the memory and oral traditions of elders to share wisdom. Moving from an agricultural to an industrial economy meant age-­old traditions of farming were replaced by the technological efficiencies of the machine age. Plus, young people started moving away from their parents to the city, and in the second half of the nineteenth century, a flood of young Europeans immigrated to the United States, forging a life on their own without the wisdom of their parents to guide their path. The brisk march of progress from the industrial to the tech era has created a strong bias toward digital natives who understand gadgets and gigabytes better than those of us who didn't grow up "byting" from the Apple in childhood. And there's a growing anxiety in the boardroom about keeping up, as change in the digital world is happening so fast that most companies report that their DQ is actually declining. CEOs are kept awake at night by the worry that their competitors are younger and digitally smarter. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the grass is greener on the other side as the percentage of companies that feel they are doing a great job of harnessing and profiting from technology dropped from 67 percent to 52 percent between 2016 and 2017, creating even more of a frenzy to hire young talent favoring the generation that seemed to have emerged from the womb with an iPad in hand and a Snapchat account. And yet, so many of us feel like we're growing whole rather than growing old. Is there a way for us to be integrated into cultivating young brains like farmer elders of the past were able to cultivate young grains? What if there was a new, modern archetype of elderhood, one that was worn as a badge of honor, not cloaked in shame? What if we could tap into our know-­how and know-­who to be an asset in the workplace rather than a liability? With more generations in the workplace than ever before, elders have so much to offer those younger than them, including introductions to those who can cultivate and harvest their skills. Maybe eldership offers a higher form of leadership. Gray heads are generally wiser than green ones. What if Modern Elders were the secret ingredient for the visionary businesses of tomorrow? MODERN AGE WISDOM Not every aged wine is a spectacular vintage. Similarly, just because you're older, it doesn't necessarily mean you're wiser. Paul Baltes and Ursula Staudinger of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development did a comprehensive study and found the average correlation between age and wisdom is roughly zero from ages twenty-­five to seventy-­five. While this may be disappointing on the surface, the researchers did find that many people cultivate something even more valuable: a skill for gathering wisdom as they age. Dr. Darrell Worthy, who led a group of University of Texas psychologists in a series of experiments on wisdom, found older people were far better at making choices that led to long-­term gains. Younger adults made faster choices that led to more immediate rewards, while older adults were more adept at making strategic choices that took the future into account. Gandhi once wrote, "There is more to life than simply increasing its speed." Maybe the Modern Elder can be the designated driver in a world where the accelerator pedal is pushed to its limit. Professor Robert Sutton suggests that the hallmark of wisdom is an alchemy of confidence and doubt, and knowing when to up the ante of one versus the other. Scholar Copthorne Macdonald has listed forty-­eight characteristics of wisdom that can help create a framework for making the best choices. Wise people tend to acknowledge their fallibility, are reflective and empathetic, and have sound judgment, but these characteristics alone don't define wisdom. If there's one quality I believe defines wisdom in the workplace more than any other, it is the capacity for holistic or systems thinking that allows one to get the "gist" of something by synthesizing a wide variety of information quickly. Part of this is aided by the skill of pattern recognition that helps you come to hunches faster that account for the bigger picture. And this is where age gives us the indisputable upper hand: the longer you've been on this planet, the more patterns you've seen and can recognize. And this capacity for seeing the big picture can foster novel thinking. In his book, The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, psychiatrist Gene D. Cohen explains that older people, with the advantage of years of experience, have a vast storehouse of solutions embedded in their maturing brains that allows them to synthesize more information and potentially offer more solutions. Just take Dr. John Goodenough (his real name!) who, at fifty-­seven, coinvented the lithium-­ion battery, which shrank power into the smallest possible size. And then, thirty-­seven years later, he became a late-­life celeb when he filed for a patent application on a new kind of battery that might put an end to petroleum-­fueled vehicles. Imagine that: ninety-­four and his synapses are still synthesizing! There's no question the media has created a mythic ideal of the youthful, hoodie-­wearing genius leading the march of progress to a glorious digitally utopian future. But are these renegades supposed to be doing this alone? Can they? If the fate of Travis Kalanick, former CEO at Uber ousted by his board after a series of very naive leadership mistakes, is any lesson, maybe there's a symbiotic relationship that can exist between the digital natives and their elders. We celebrate these young leaders--­those who disrupt industries and show great promise due to their tech prowess, energy, speed, and stamina. What these young tech entrepreneurs lack in experience, we tell ourselves, they must make up in digital savvy and chutzpah. But, summing up what she's seen demonstrated by the leadership challenges at many of the "unicorns," strategic futurist Nancy Giordano suggests that a faster and more intuitive grasp of technology does not guarantee maturity. "With little training, we expect young digital leaders to miraculously embody the relationship wisdoms we elders had twice as long to learn, with significant guidance and formal training," she explains. Maybe the elders' role is to accelerate this process of self-­awareness in younger generations, as power is being thrust on them so quickly, before they are fully "baked." Rather than older generations being less valuable due to lack of specialized knowledge with an ever-­increasing speed of obsolescence, maybe older generations are more valuable because they can help balance that narrow specialty thinking with the ability to see the bigger picture. This concept of intergenerational reciprocity emerges at a perfect moment in our history. For the first time, we have five generations together in the workplace: the silent generation (in their mid to late seventies), baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z. The natural order at work has typically been predicated by a hierarchy, or a food chain, that places older, experienced people above the younger newcomers. But there's been a gradual shift of power from old to young that didn't just start with elderly greeters flanking the front doors of your local Walmart while thirty-­year-­old managers ran the store. Generally speaking, people sixty-­five and older spent the middle to latter part of the twentieth century putting their feet up as the average retirement age declined. But for three decades, we've seen a rising percentage of older people participating in the workplace. In 2025, we will likely have three times as many sixty-­five-­year-­olds working in this country than we did thirty years earlier. Take note brave, new world: the wisdom of older people is one of the few natural resources globally that is increasing, not declining! This unprecedented age diversity in the workplace can be confusing, as we may have drastically different value systems and work styles at play. But it can also be a wellspring of opportunity that the world has never experienced. When generations were siloed, both older and younger workers were like hermetically sealed containers with their wisdom trapped inside, but breaking down these walls, there is just so much that we can all learn from one another. Wisdom isn't rare, but it can be hard to access, like diamonds, unless you've developed the tools needed to dig for it. This is happening in an era when automation is changing the landscape. Tech innovation of the past often eliminated repetitive factory jobs and, theoretically, led to better ones (only, the dirty little secret was these new jobs require different training that society didn't properly offer the displaced workers, hence our recent political upheaval). But, in the era of artificial intelligence, jobs will be taken over by machines faster as machine learning allows computers to teach themselves how to progressively serve our needs better. If millennials don't make us redundant, robots and artificial intelligence will. So people are living longer and needing to work longer. Automation is taking more jobs. And there are more generations in the workplace at the same time. Ouch! This sounds like it's going to get more painful, along with a lot of generational finger-­pointing. And yet, this is the perfect time for elders to make a comeback, thanks to their ability to synthesize wise, empathetic solutions that no robot could ever imagine. In an era of machine intelligence, emotional intelligence and empathy--­something older people have in spades--­are more valuable than ever. The more high-­tech we become, the more high touch we desire. A decade ago, hoteliers predicted that the friendly concierge would disappear from the hotel lobby due to the access of information on the Internet. Similarly, travel agents were considered extinct in the era of Expedia, but consumers have flocked to travel counselors more recently because they appreciate the nuanced, personal advice from a wise professional who knows them. So not only is the supply of elder wisdom in the world increasing, but the value of that wisdom is increasing in tandem. RECLAIMING "ELDER" In the past, when people lied about their age, it was often to portray themselves as older than they were. Being an elder gave you clout, gravitas, power. Today, people lie in the opposite direction for fear of ageism. And for good reason. Call someone elderly today and it's like you're suggesting they had a personal relationship with Moses or Abe Lincoln. It's time to liberate the term "elder" from the word "elderly." "Elderly" refers solely to years lived on the planet. "Elder" refers to what one has done with those years. Many people age without synthesizing wisdom from their experience. But elders reflect on what they've learned and incorporate it into the legacy they offer younger generations. The elderly are older and often dependent upon society and, yet, separated from the young. On the other hand, society has historically been dependent upon our elders, who have been of service to the young. Moreover, today, the average age for someone moving into a nursing home is eighty-­one (compared to sixty-­five in the 1950s), so there are a lot of people who qualify as elders, but are not yet elderly. What was that? Am I hearing something? "I don't want to be an 'elder,' " you might be muttering resentfully. "I'm not old, crotchety, or wrinkled enough." Suspend judgment (a skill that elders have nurtured) for a moment and read on. This won't be the first time a demographic group has taken back a term, turning a pejorative into a symbol of pride. "Yankee" was a derogatory term of the Brits to describe the New World upstarts, but it was soon adopted by New Englanders themselves (and many a baseball fan, centuries later). Similarly, Malcolm X and other leaders helped our country's African American population embrace the word "black" in the 1960s even though it was a word many racists had used to describe them. Southern comedians like Jeff Foxworthy have taken back "redneck" as a proud word that defines their identity. And when you were a kid on the playground a generation ago, you didn't want to be called "queer," but LGBTQ folks have reappropriated that slang and made it cool. Own the word, it gives you power. So how do we take back the term elder, and create a modern definition as someone who has great wisdom to offer, especially during a time when wisdom is ever more valuable? As the geriatrician and author Dr. Bill Thomas said to me, "We see a child and know that this person is living in childhood. We see adults and know that they are living in adulthood. What is missing is the experience of seeing an elder and knowing that person has outgrown adulthood and is living in elderhood." Let's make it a 'hood that's not scary. Just as a child peers into adulthood with intrigue, wouldn't it be miraculous if an adult peered into elderhood with excitement? Sad but true, the one ritual you can bet on--­that defines this unnamed era that is expanding in length--­is receiving your AARP card by mail right before your fiftieth birthday. Every fifty-­year-­old ought to also receive a two-­sentence letter to help set the stage for his or her next chapter. This letter should read: "You may live another fifty years. If you knew you would live to the age of one hundred, what new talent, skill, or interest would you pursue today in order to become a master?" As I will describe in chapter 2, through no plans of my own, I stumbled upon a job in my fifties at Airbnb, where I was surrounded with people who were half my age, and maybe twice as smart as me. It was disorienting, as there is no modern-­day manual for the afternoon and evening of one's life. Unprepared, many people face their Modern Elder years with a sense of anxiety. They fear that their skills are extinct, relics of a bygone era. But what many don't realize is that the Modern Elder hasn't just acquired more skills by virtue of being older, but also has achieved the skill of mastery, which can be applied to learning new things. Modern Elders can move from being the wisdom keepers of the past to the wisdom seekers of the future. Aging with vitality exists when you create the perfect alchemy of wisdom and innocence. What I truly needed when I joined Airbnb was a "consciousness raising" manifesto to help me understand the new rules of the road, as well as some tips to amplify what I might have to offer this new, younger workplace. So, rather than stick my head in the sand or spout millennial stereotype slurs (I heard a few from my boomer friends when I joined Airbnb), I'm now offering the manifesto that I wish I'd had. And along the way, I'm introducing a new framework for wisdom at work and in life, one that's particularly relevant to those in the second half of their life. But this book isn't just for those pushing fifty or older; it's valuable for those in their twenties, and thirties, and forties who want both a road map for their future as well as a better sense of how they can tap into the wisdom of those who are a generation or two older than them. As deeply divided as we are politically and culturally today, the eventual arrival of elderhood is a condition that unites us all. If you're thirty and reading this, it applies to you, too, as elderhood is the only demographic that all of us--­if we are lucky--­shift into someday. My friend Ken Dychtwald, founder and CEO of Age Wave and one of the nation's leading experts on the longevity revolution, wrote a book in 1989 in which he suggested of the future workplace: "mature men and women who will be retained and whose compensation will be based not on the number of hours they work but on their experience, contacts and wisdom." He called these people "wisdom workers," and went on to say, ". . . I am convinced that many corporate blunders and well-­intentioned misdirections could be avoided if there were a better blend of the energy and ambition of youth and the vision and seasoned experience of age." Thirty years later, maybe it's finally time for us to be more intentional about our "wisdom worker" status. Maybe it's time to distinguish and define the era between "middle aged" and "elderly" as one of mature idealism. For many of us, the baseball game of our career will likely go into extra innings. So maybe it's time to get excited about the fact that most sporting matches get more interesting in their last half or quarter. By the same token, theatergoers sit on the edge of their seat during the last act of a play when everything finally starts to make sense. And marathon runners get an endorphin high as they reach the final miles of their event. Could it be that life gets more interesting, not less, closer to the end? As Ken recently suggested to me, "If you can cause maturity to become aspirational again, you've changed the world." WHO IS A MODERN ELDER? Thinking about America's modern version of a tribal council of elders calls to mind images of the Supreme Court, but there are many more than nine wise elders in a country of 325 million people. Internationally, one might think of "The Elders," a prestigious group established by entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel based on the idea that in today's increasingly interdependent world--­a global village--­many communities look to their elders for guidance. The group launched in 2007 with Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, Jimmy Carter, and other humanitarian world leaders committed to using their collective experience and influence to help tackle some of the most pressing problems facing the world today. But you don't have to be the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize or sit on the highest court in the land to qualify as a Modern Elder. And, unlike in some tribal traditions, you don't have to be a man to be an elder. One of Airbnb's most valuable elders is the intensely loyal, infinitely wise, and brilliantly intuitive Belinda Johnson, Airbnb's chief operating officer (fifteen years Brian's senior), who joined the company a couple of years before I did and has been wisely advising Brian longer and more comprehensively than I have. Whether it's Sheryl Sandberg, the COO, as the elder to Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook or Ruth Porat, the CFO at Google/Alphabet (and in that same role at Morgan Stanley), who is fifteen years senior to CEO and cofounder Larry Page (two examples of many), when you review the five qualities below that define a Modern Elder, you realize they are gender neutral. A Modern Elder doesn't have to be older than some specific age or in a senior position in a company, but the person does have to be older and wiser than those around them. That could mean the elder is forty and surrounded by twenty-­five-­year-­olds, or a sixty-­year-­old surrounded by 40-­year-­olds, but whatever their biological age, Modern Elders are somehow able to marry an air of gravitas with a spirit of humility. Most Modern Elders I know are over the age of fifty and exhibit wisdom in the following ways: 1.    Good Judgment. The more we have seen and experienced, the better we can handle problems as they come along in stride. The older we are, the more proficient we may be at "environmental mastery," or the ability to create or choose environments where we thrive. Will Rogers wrote, "Good judgment comes from experience and a lot of that comes from bad judgment." My skinned knee from the past can help prevent you from falling and skinning yours today. Modern Elders have a long-­term perspective based upon the wisdom they've gathered over the years. To a young person, it's invaluable having an experienced guide to warn them about what invisible rocks are downstream as they make their way through the whitewater. 2.    Unvarnished Insight. One of the chief assets gained by experience is a clearness of view, an intuitive insight. A Modern Elder can cut through the clutter quickly to find the core issue that needs attention, whether in a job interview or a strategic discussion. This phenomenal editing skill gives the elder a certain gravitas such that everyone in the room hangs on this person's next sentence. And because many elders have ceased to try and impress or prove themselves, there's a certain unvarnished yet polished authenticity to the observations of a wise elder. Youth is the time for harvesting and accumulating raw ingredients, while elderhood is the process of distilling those ingredients to bring out their best flavors and then blending those flavors together in a perfectly orchestrated meal. 3.    Emotional Intelligence. Wisdom isn't just about what comes out of your mouth, but what you understand based upon listening from your ears and heart. Ninety-­two-­year-­old Brother David Steindl-­Rast, whose TED video on how happiness is synonymous with gratitude is legendary, told me, "Yes, I'd agree that the first task of an elder is to listen with genuine interest to younger people: how much we might be able to give them will depend on how well we have been listening." As the old saying goes, "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens." Modern Elders are self-­aware, patient empaths who are good at both understanding and managing their own emotions, and tuning in to the emotions of others. I received one of the highest compliments of my time at Airbnb from a twenty-­one-­year-­old employee named Hugh Berryman. He said, "When it comes to how generations think, it's almost like an old-­fashioned radio. Metaphorically and literally, young people resonate with the frequency at one part of the radio dial and then as you move up in age, you can more easily tune in to other frequencies on the dial. Chip, you have the empathic capacity to tune in to virtually any frequency on the dial." 4.    Holistic Thinking. In middle age, the brain has lost a step, so memory and speed decline. But the ability to connect the dots, to synthesize and get the gist of something, grows into late adulthood. Part of this crystallized intelligence is due to the fact that an older brain has the capacity to traverse from one side to the other more adeptly. Psychiatrist Gene Cohen describes this as "moving to all-­wheel drive," which helps us to see the whole as opposed to just the varied parts. And because the elder brain more calmly manages emotions, it can dispassionately recognize patterns more easily. 5.    Stewardship. The older you are, the more you recognize your small place on the planet. But the more you also want to put your lifetime of experience and perspective to work to positively impact future generations. Robert Bly said an elder is someone who knows when it's time to give rather than to take and they often get their inspiration from seeking wonder in the woods. Joseph Meeker wrote that, "Wilderness is to nature as wisdom is to consciousness." The legacy of a Modern Elder is the love they invest in both neighbor and nature. As we age, we are called to become more and more human. This doesn't mean an elder shows up only as a wise, old wizard like Gandalf or Obi-­Wan Kenobi. In fact, Modern Elders experience an emancipation from others' expectations that allows us to transcend needless conventions, which means we may appear more youthful and innocent. "Neoteny" is a quality of being that allows certain adults to seem childlike and leads people to remark about how these elders seem so young at heart and timeless. As Walt Disney put it, "People who have worked with me say I am 'innocence in action.' They say I have the innocence and unselfconsciousness of a child. Maybe I have. I still look at the world with uncontaminated wonder." Excerpted from Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder by Chip Conley All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. ix
1 Your Vintage Is Growing in Valuep. 1
2 Am I a "Mentern"?p. 24
3 Raw, Cooked, Burned, Repeatp. 42
4 Lesson 1: Evolvep. 63
5 Lesson 2: Learnp. 85
6 Lesson 3: Collaboratep. 110
7 Lesson 4: Counselp. 132
8 Rewire, Don't Retirep. 152
9 The Experience Dividend: Embracing Modern Elders in Organizationsp. 188
10 The Age of the Sagep. 212
Appendixp. 229
Acknowledgmentsp. 243
Indexp. 249