Modern Elder

Wow. Spending the last two weekends of February learning felt like immersion in a warm and rich climate of curiosity. I learned a new term to describe my interest in learning--catalytic curiosity--from Chip Conley in his talk about "modern elders" and our place in the world. This begins a series of captured and curated wisdom from juicy time spent with my best friend and partner at Wisdom 2.0 and the Search for Meaning book festival.

There were many favorite "pearls" of wisdom gathered and I will begin with continuing the conversation about Chip Conley's concept of the modern elder and the virtuous cycle of learning. He began with a Rumi quote, "The result of my life is no more than three words: I was raw, I became cooked, I was burnt." He suggested that digital life accelerated our cooking process with our expiration date stamped on our wrinkled forehead. He told his own story of selling his hospitality company, going off to surf and recreate, and then being called by the founders of AirBNB to come help them. This is where he got to practice being what he calls a modern elder.

Some interesting statistics included:

  • Two years ago was the first year that all baby boomers were over the age of 50.
  • The average life expectancy was 77 in 2000 and is expected to be 107 by the year 2100.
fine wine - tilt shift selective focus effect photo

A question included used a metaphor we have used in our Age is an Attitude presence--Are we a carton of milk or are we a fine wine? Chip suggested that in the digital era, the elders DO have an important voice and that historically he thought wisdom flowed downhill, and now we have the opportunity to change the cycle.

He shared 4 key lessons about sharing wisdom with someone younger and receiving it back.

In order to remake yourself, you have to strategically forget part of your work history. "AirBNB did not need me spouting wisdom. I needed to listen with empathy, thinking of myself as a cultural anthropologist--Margaret Mead in the tech world. I was the acting coach. They were smart. I had to get over the idea that I needed to have all the ideas. When you are invited to jump on a rocket ship, don't ask which seat you are in. Sit in the seat, strap on the seat belt. Contribute however you can."

Could you trade me some digital intelligence for some emotional intelligence? They understand the gadget in many cases better than they understand the emotions of the person sitting next to them. Emojis don't replace f2f interpersonal EMO's. With little training we expect young digital leaders to understand emotions and leadership that we had twice as long to learn.

How do you design an alliance with someone who disagrees with you?

How to walk into a meeting and take the emotional temperature of the room?

Being observant helped Chip create an emotional bank account with his colleagues at AirBNB. It is widely suggested by leadership experts that EQ is more important the higher you are in leadership. Dan Goleman has shown that shown that two thirds of success in leadership has to do with EQ.

Education is not filling a pail, it is stoking a fire. This is where he talked about being catalytically curious, and taking off the costume of being an expert to start with that beginner's mind and ask a lot of "why" and "what if" questions. No one wants to be criticized or given feedback in a meeting. Chip could ask beginner questions.

Peter Drucker suggests that leaders of the past knew how to tell. Leaders of the future know how to ask. Drucker lived to 95 and every year or two he would take a new subject and become an expert. How can I be catalytically curious about something that has nothing to do with my work? He said "being curious is an elixir for life." Amen to that idea!

It is not about know-how, but know who. Google can bring you 100,000 answers, but a librarian can bring you just the right one. "I became the librarian at AirBNB. He is pretty well read. He is curious. He is a wise advisor." He started getting people from all over the company asking to spend time with Chip. The collateral benefit--all the connections in the company--"I was connected to all the people of the company. I became incredibly knowledgeable about all the corners of the company."

I have learned that when you create space in your life, interesting things can emerge. Baby boomers and Gen Xers have something to learn from one another.

The "Modern Elder"
Serves and Learns • Mentors and Interns • Is a Student and Sage • All at the same time

Boomer Angst is created when we are in a circumstance where we have 10 more years of obsolescence. He spoke of an African Proverb about when an elder dies--it is like a library has burned down. Wisdom will never grow old. Wisdom is a lot about pattern recognition. Elders have always been there for the young. He suggested that maybe for the first time there is a symbiotic opportunity, and then he added a 4th phase and another Rumi quote…

Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.
— Rumi

Thank you Chip Conley for presenting a brilliant thesis about a new way of defining our "senior years!"

Resource Links:
Chip Conley
The Intern