Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, May 21, 2018
Om! It is a sacred sound and a spiritual icon in the Hindu religion.
OK, I confess. I do yoga, and I see an acupuncture lady. For me, the hardest part of the yoga session is the last five minutes — called shavasana, also known as the corpse pose — where you relax, lie on your back and give it up. The relaxing thing makes me nuts.
So, it is now time for me to give it up and explore the value of the practice of “mindfulness” in the workplace. You already know my predilection, but I am not so pig-headed as to not understand the power of the movement and its importance to an entrepreneurial community of companies.
Boston Consulting Group leaders Christian Greiser and Jan-Philipp Matini have written and thought extensively about this idea. They believe that mindfulness will help companies create true agility and innovation. “Mindfulness describes a state of being present in the moment — it allows one to pause amid the constant inflow of stimuli.” Mindfulness is a tool to counterbalance the challenges of information overload.
In principle, I think this is a good idea. But I am over 60, and my frame of reference for some of this thinking is Vince Lombardi, who probably never suggested to Bart Starr that he be mindful — except with respect to the opposing 320-pound defensive tackle making a beeline for his head.
Needless to say, many companies want to promote mindfulness, but they experience some resistance at the local employee level. Existing ways are hard to change and Greiser says that often employees “respond with reflexive resistance, as a defense mechanism to avoid the discomfort of psychological uncertainty.” That is code for — gimme a break, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Yet, many companies believe it is broken. The truth is that the digital workplace is fraught with pressure and an intense demand for agility, flexibility and turn-on-a-dime behavior.
The tension for a company is between expertise and agility. I know what I know does not foster rapid corporate change and evolution. The dinosaurs had a good long run before they folded their tents.
Let’s agree that mindfulness does promote some behaviors that are desirable and scientifically proven. Breathing exercises cause decreased gray matter in the amygdala and that reduces stress. Mindfulness improves short-term memory and “the ability to perform strategic, complex cognitive tasks.”
Nobel laureate Herbert Simon has written that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” And certainly in today’s workplace, lack of focus and mental wandering are universal problems. OK, so how do we get mindful?
For that, we need to turn to Jon Kabat-Zinn and Chade-Meng Tan — men who pioneered mindfulness and emotional intelligence training at Google. (I wonder if they took stock instead of cash.) Many people teach it today, and the customers range from Goldman Sachs to the U.S. House of Representatives. Being in the moment is powerful, and CEOs who meditate include Marc Benioff (Salesforce) and Jack Dorsey (Twitter). SAP, Bosch and Aetna also promote mindfulness among their thousands of employees. Offsite training focuses on “self-mastery and compassion.”
I am willing to believe, but I am not a true believer. I think I am somewhat suspect because I grew up in the Midwest and there was not a lot of Om in my house. My mother practiced TM (transcendental meditation), but she was miserable most of the time, and the general theme in my family was “just do the work.” The focus on mindfulness training has found deep roots in Silicon Valley, where individual self-centered behavior is tolerated in exchange for creativity and innovation.
The BCG team believes that “mindfulness is the new normal for the multi-national corporations.” Google, for example, has implemented “silent lunches and silent rooms” where employees can go to readjust their mindsets in the midst of an “intense working day.” Leaders pause for meditation “before making major decisions or having difficult discussions.” (YCMTSU — you can’t make this stuff up).
Another mindful practitioner, Elisha Goldstein, helps companies by teaching the STOP practice, where employees learn to stop, take a breath, observe their thoughts, feelings and emotions, and then proceed.
Maybe — but my teams are trained to eat what they kill — of course, while always being mindful.
Rule No. 561: “My name is Wyatt Earp. It all ends now.”