You may not know the name Chip Conley but, if you’ve ever stayed in the San Francisco Bay area, you may have frequented one of his hotels.  As Founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, Conley runs the second largest boutique hotel company in the world.  And, if that doesn’t suggest that we could learn a thing or two from his experience, keep in mind that all those hotels are in the Bay Area, meaning Conley and his team had to survive not only 9/11 and the impact it had on tourism, but almost simultaneously managed the dot-com bubble burst as well.

Conley’s book Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, is a fascinating read that takes Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and superimposes it on the business landscape, specifically identifying how it impacts customers, employees and investors in our “get anything, anytime”, online driven world.  The book draws from Conley’s own experience, and uses colorful and poignant examples to validate his belief that while we definitely need to cover our customers (and employees!) base needs when they engage with us, the competitive landscape in which we play requires us to look beyond basics if we want to encourage loyal evangelists.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

What else?

"Our economy is rapidly changing from a money economy to a satisfaction economy."
- Martin Seligman, quoted in Peak, page 54

When Seligman made the comment (as quoted in Peak), he was referring to employees.  If we assume that there are enough jobs out there for the top performers that we want to attract, (and there are always enough positions for those with the right talent and attitude), then we need to acknowledge that throwing an extra couple grand on their compensation package may not be enough to build loyalty these days.

For those unfamiliar (and those who just need a refresher), let’s review Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Maslow suggests that there are five levels to our human desires.  When a certain level is unsatisfied, we will focus on that level until it becomes satisfied.  At that point, we will naturally look for stimulation and satisfaction on the next level.


For a long time, we got by professionally focusing really only on the bottom level – fulfilling basic needs.  We paid our employees just enough that they could survive, and we provided products that were of adequate quality at a reasonable price, so people would continue to buy them.  The key idea, for many years and for many companies was “just enough”.  The Internet has killed that.

Employees (the good ones) have more options than ever before, as do our customers. Yes, we need to pay our people competitively.  And yes, we need to provide high quality products at a competitive price.  But those things just get us in the game now.  If we want to thrive, as business owners and/or team leaders, we need to start thinking up.  Up the pyramid.  Up from the muck of covering the basics needs, through the space of providing recognition and meeting desires, and into the rarefied air of providing meaning and meeting unrecognized needs.

Relationship Truth Pyramids copied from PEAK and reprinted under international copyright laws.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Define Your Pyramid(s)

"Virtually any well-known company that has created an evangelistic customer base could draw its own pyramid."
- Peak, page 149

One of the most widely recognized tattoos is the Harley Davidson logo.  Tattoo.  Logo. We see it so often, we take it for granted.  I own a Volkswagen Jetta, but I’m not about to get the VW permanently emblazoned on my body.  Why?  Because VW’s a car company and, despite the fact that they make great bikes, Harley Davidson is simply more.  And they’ve created that “more” patiently and deliberately.

Harley makes great bikes, satisfying the lower level “needs”.  But they don’t stop there.  Harley also created the “Harley’s Owner Group” (H.O.G.) – an opportunity for their customers to connect with one another and build relationships, effectively meeting the desires of their customer base.  And, finally, Harley stands for something.  They stand for freedom of expression – the rebellious urge to live life on your own rules, and to enjoy the freedom of the open road.  Harley gets it.  So do Apple, Southwest, Patagonia and dozens of other companies.  They provide their loyal customer base with a great base offering, but then immediately tie them into something greater.  They do it for their customers, and they do it for their employees.

What do your pyramids look like?  What do you provide on the base level?  What about the midrange needs of your customers and employees – how are you addressing their desire for “success” versus “survival”?  And finally, what’s the cause?  People inherently want to be tied to something greater than themselves.  Give them all three levels, or someone else will.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Why You?

"Make a list of the ten reasons why someone should join your organization."
- Peak, page 99

Who are you attracting? Make sure you don’t gloss over that, as it’s a question worth asking and, sadly, not one we ask ourselves enough.  What type of employees are you attracting to your team?  Those just thankful to have a job?  Or the rock stars of your industry?  What type of clients – those shopping strictly on price, or those looking for something more?

If you find you’re not currently attracting exactly the type of people you want (on both sides of the counter), it’s time to take stock in that.  The suggestion to, “Make a list of the ten reasons why someone should join your organization” may seem staff-centric, but if you consider your organization to be a cause or movement, then those who “join you”, can do so as employees, clients, or even investors.

Make the list and, if you’re looking for extra credit, consider how the items on that list fit into the Hierarchy of Needs.

Peak is brilliant.  Rich, informative and immediately applicable, this book is a fantastic tool for leaders looking to do more in their professional lives.  As we move as a society from a money economy to a satisfaction economy, the words and wisdom of Abe Maslow may very well be our best guide yet.

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Chris Taylor

ABOUT Chris Taylor

Founder of Actionable Books, Chris Taylor is a writer, entrepreneur and speaker. He spends his daylight hours helping consultants and employees alike find meaning in their work and discover rich team relationships through his company, Actionablebooks...
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