2011: The Year of Curiosity

12/20/2010 05:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Chip Conley Founder, Joie de Vivre Hospitality + Fest300

'Tis the time of the year to reflect and project. I'm going to take my cue from the most famous management theorist of all time, Peter Drucker, who lived to the ripe old age of 95. This leadership guru incorporated two practices into his professional and personal life that I've decided to adopt in the new year.

First off, Drucker made it a practice of spending two weeks every year reviewing his work, a habit he picked up from his Editor-in-Chief when he was working for a newspaper in Europe. He would set aside this time to "review my work during the preceding year, beginning with the things I did well but could or should have done better, down to the things I did poorly and the things I should have done but did not do." Simple idea, yet few of us practice this kind of self-reflection. I'm off to the beach for the next few days and, while I won't spend two weeks on this, I will spend a few days doing an inventory of what I learned this year and how I can apply it in 2011.

Peter Drucker's other practice -- to adopt a new subject, completely unrelated to his work life, to study and master over the course of three years -- is an unadulterated form of curiosity. When I spent some time with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the landmark book Flow this summer, he told me that the most important trait for 21st Century innovation isn't creativity, but instead it's curiosity. Curiosity -- that blessed alchemy of wonder and awe -- is a quality that we all had as a child and yet, with time, most of us found ourselves on a narrower and narrower path.

For more than 60 years, Peter Drucker studied one subject at a time from Japanese art to Civil War history with the intent of mastering the subject. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it helped Mr. Drucker keep a facile mind and a youthful spirit into his mid-90's. So, starting in 2011, I am going to take one subject per year and devour it -- both mentally and experientially. This first year I'm going to tackle the sublime and geological magic of natural hot springs. Why and how were these created? Why do some smell so different than others? What are the health benefits or risks associated with using them? And what's the history of public bathing? And, as I will do in the future with subjects like Renaissance art or hang gliding, I plan to explore these subjects by literally diving in. So, in 2011, I will visit a different natural hot spring every month of the year. Iceland and Japan, here I come!!

Some of you may think this is silly. How can this be related to business leadership? One of the most sage pieces of advice I ever heard went something like this: "Great managers have great answers. Great leaders have great questions." At the heart of great leadership is a curious mind, heart, and spirit. Today, business serendipity and profound innovation will come from seeing the metaphors and natural laws in one part of life and applying them elsewhere with a vision that less curious minds would never have imagined. See you in the spring.