Chade-Meng Tan: Create World Peace

Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow”, got the nickname for a reason. He is a person who radiates happiness. Normally I’d be suspicious of someone who seemed that content. With Meng, you can just tell by his presence that this is a man who is extremely intelligent and passionate about his work, yet genuinely playful and peaceful.

I loved seeing Meng speak at the first and second annual Wisdom 2.0 Conference, so I was thrilled to see that he was in San Francisco giving a talk and book-signing through California Institue of Integral Studies (CIIS). Meng’s book: Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path for Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) is a culmination of Meng’s experience of developing and teaching a successful course by the same name for Google employees.

You might think getting participants for a seven-week course on mindfulness in any company could be difficult, much less in a high-pressure, high-stress environment like Google, where taking time out for a mindfulness course might seem counterproductive to success. Yet Meng’s course is filled up weeks in advance. Being an engineer himself, Meng is particularly skilled in teaching in a way that speaks to even the most skeptical engineer or business person. “I am selling you better employees”, Meng says. “This course is a key to effective employees.”

The results speak for themselves. The success has been overwhelming, both in terms of employee productivity and anecdotal evidence. The feedback from employees has been overwhelmingly positive, with countless stories participants have shared about how the course has positively impacted both their professional and personal life. One such story in the book is a manager who discovered during the course that he was unhappy and was not taking care of himself. He chose to drop-down to working part-time hours. The result? He was promoted and became the first part-time manager at Google to receive a promotion. With the demonstrable changes in job performance from course participants, Meng has the evidence to show that ignoring the value of mindfulness is poor business sense. Recognizing this, other companies are starting to follow suit and realizing that the way to success isn’t pedaling faster.

Meng highlighted some important points on mindfulness practice:

You have to do it. Meng compared mindfulness to fitness. You can read about fitness all you want, but that doesn’t make you fit. It’s great to learn about mindfulness, but you have to practice it to get the benefits of it.

That said, it doesn’t take as long as you would think to make a difference. Meng cited studies that showed with just ten minutes a day, people begin showing positive effects of mindfulness in just a few weeks. Of course, just like fitness, if you train for longer, the benefits can be even greater. Still, regular repetitions even with a small hand weight help create strength.

It need not be complicated. One practice Meng teaches is loving-kindness meditation. To get started, you only need to look at any person and think, “I want this person to be happy.” It can be as simple this focused, intentional attention that creates profound effects.

It’s all about the ripple effects. Small actions have a way of multiplying. When you feel more loving towards another person, you start feeling more compassionate and loving towards people in general as well as yourself. When you feel better about yourself and others, this can’t help but spill over into other aspects of your life: work, relationships, health, etc.

There’s still a place for anger. Just because we’re practicing awareness and compassion doesn’t mean there are not times where anger is warranted. In the moment, we always have a choice about whether to react from a place of anger. Meng related a time he was at a rental car counter and the employee there was trying to rip him off. He was aware of his anger and chose to get angry. As a result, he was not taken advantage of and the situation was resolved.

So far, Google employees are the only ones to have road-tested Meng’s course. That’s about to change, as Meng has formed the nonprofit, Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI), which in keeping with Meng’s playful spirit, is pronounced, “silly”. SIYLI seeks to build upon the success of Meng’s program and train leaders to offer the course to others. Meng is donating all proceeds from his book to support SIYLI.

But to reduce SIYLI or Meng’s work to mere business performance would be a gross underestimation of Meng’s mission. Meng’s life purpose is to create world peace. Perhaps what makes him most inspiring is witnessing his commitment to his goal. He doesn’t scoff or get overwhelmed by the loftiness and scope of such a goal. Instead, he finds joy in the changes he works to to create and delights in the way peaceful actions have a way of spreading.

How do you stay connected to your purpose?