As the world's leaders descended on the burg of Pitts, that rascal Sarkozy handed out a French-made pair of 3-D glasses. Upon the one-year anniversary of the financial meltdown, the French president suggested that we've been evaluating the financial world with one eye closed and have been distracted by the "cult of statistics" that traditional economists feed us. Now that his Nobel-winning duet of economists (Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen) have delivered their report that suggests France adopt a "Joie de Vivre" index, this conservative president has started sounding like a leftist or at least someone who spends a little too much time reading Sartre in Left Bank cafes. And, of course, the conventionally wise around the world chortled about how naïve this diminutive president could be since happiness and joie de vivre aren't really measurable. In fact, for most economists, if you can't measure something accurately, it ain't real. Maybe that's why economists are such a glum bunch.
What is the recipe for success for a country? We've been worshiping at the altar of Gross Domestic Product for nearly a half-century, yet one observer recently suggested, "If we all put bars on our windows and buy face masks to deal with pollution, guess what? GDP goes up. That doesn't mean we are better off." In 1968, Robert Kennedy suggested that GDP "counts napalm and nuclear warheads" and, yet, here we are forty years later, just starting to ask the blasphemous question of "what is real?" Economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests, "What we measure affects what we do. If we have the wrong measures, we will strive for the wrong things." There was a time when having a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage was our real measurement of success in this country, but maybe it's become our measure of excess in the past few decades.
First, Bhutan...now, France. Are we on the verge of a great revolution in which political leaders redefine what's real and what's measurable? Forty national governments are studying or adapting Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index to imagine how they could create the conditions for their people to have greater well-being. As Sarkozy says, "If leisure has no accounting value because it's essentially full of non-market activities like sport or culture, we put productivity above human fulfillment." Take it from a Frenchman, they know their leisure!
Well, I know something about Joie de Vivre, myself, as it's the impractical name I chose for my company twenty-three years ago. Our mission statement ("creating opportunities to celebrate the joy of life") sounds straight out of the French socialist playbook, yet this mantra has allowed us to grow into the country's second largest boutique hotel company. Miraculously, making employees and customers happy creates beaucoup bucks for our hotel investors (although less so in times like these). And, we measure all kinds of things that our traditional hotelier counterparts don't typically fathom: our employees' sense of meaning and connection in the workplace, the number of employees who take sabbaticals (all our salaried employees get a one-month paid sabbatical every three years), our customers' sense of feeling they are in their perfect habitat in our hotels, and the amount of money we raise for grassroots community organizations.
If you were president, what key metrics would you try to evaluate to determine whether you were leading a successful country? Here's some of my suggestions, but I look forward to reading yours:
• % of High School Grads who go to College
• % of the Population that volunteer their time or donate financially to non-profits
• Commute time (obviously, with higher rankings for shorter commutes)
• Legal immigration demand (this has historically been an important measure of America's greatness)
• Capacity for innovation (either through measuring patents or the like)
• Of Hours Worked/GDP (our productivity is at the expense of our leisure)
Chip Conley is the Founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and the author of PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow.
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