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?

Top 10 Words of Wisdom from the Wisdom 2.0 Conference

BuddhaThere’s nothing like hearing Meng Tan (aka “Jolly Good Fellow“) speak at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference to remind a person that humor and mindfulness can absolutely go hand in hand. Here are some of the funny, often touching, always wise quotes that stuck with me from this terrific conference.

Top 10 Words of Wisdom from the Wisdom 2.0 Conference

10. “You’re afraid I’m going to control your mind–you can’t even control your mind” —Todd Pierce
9. “My bookshelf is full of shelf-help books” —Wendy Palmer
8. “Everyone is so present it’s disturbing” —Chris Sacca, on the level of audience attentiveness compared to other conferences.
7. “How many enlightened men do you know with six-packs?” —Meng Tan, commenting on a particularly ripped Buddha statue.
6. “All wisdom is plagiarism. Only stupidity is original.” —Soren Gordhamer
5. “I don’t really love technology–I love people.”–Eric Schiermeyer
4. “Know when to stop; know when to sprint.” —Rich Fernandez
3. “When will we make the same improvements in relating to each other as we’ve made with technology?”–David Rock
2. “It’s now again.” —Congressman, Tim Ryan
1.  “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. It’s all life. Be fully present in life.”  Jon Kabat Zinn
Photo credit: Petteri Sulonen

Top 10 Mindfulness Tips from the Wisdom 2.0 Conference

I was privileged to get to attend the second annual Wisdom 2.0 Conference this year. The founder and host, Soren Gordhamer, is an amazing example of what you can create with good intentions and hard work–the second year of the conference brought about 400 in-person attendees and over 130,000 visitors to the web stream!

Here’s a taste of some of the tremendous teachings of the impressive array of speakers:

Top 10 Mindfulness Tips  from the Wisdom 2.0 Conference

Wisdom 2.0 panel

10. 1 Breath, 1 minute every day. Gopi Kallayil suggests this simple practice every day. Everyone has time to do one minute of breathing every day. And when you just take a minute, it’s easy to string a lot of days in a row. You find a sense of accomplishment–hey, you’ve practiced every day. From there, sometimes that minute might become five. So take that minute and who knows where it can lead.

9. Be intentional about what you’re doing. When you whip out that cell phone mid-conversation, announce what you’re doing, “I need to just text this person that I am running late” or “I need to send this email so I don’t leave this project hanging.” That let’s the person you’re with know that you are being conscious and not dismissive of their company and it also keeps you accountable for putting that phone away after you do that thing you needed to do–and not finding six other emails to address or getting sidetracked with another tweet. Or as Chris Sacca puts it, “I’m intentionally not doing the dishes when I’m not doing the dishes.”

8. Use moments of waiting as opportunities for mindfulness. Gopi Kallayil has transformed his relationship with traffic lights by using them as moments for meditation. Sharon Salzberg proposes doing at least one thing a day that isn’t multi-tasking and at least one thing that is fun. Practice letting that phone ring three times before picking it up and experience not having to jump to answer it immediately.

7. “Just live.” Seane Corn related a moving story and the advice of her father who recently passed away. “Just live”, Seane advises. When you dedicate your actions to the benefit of something greater than yourself, your every action becomes an embodied prayer and the length of time you spend on the yoga mat or meditation cushion becomes irrelevant.

6. “Don’t call it mindfulness.” Translate mindfulness into a language that your audience will be receptive to and be motivated by”, says Rich Fernandez. Todd Pierce agrees. “Focus on business results and document how individual mindfulness translates into organizational improvement. Those who get a taste of the experience will end up being your biggest advocates.”

5. “Take tea time”, says Kevin Rose. Have a break from the computer, let the tea leaves seep, enjoy the aroma, and take a deep breath or two.

4. Pause What is your best intention before entering conflict? Bradley Horowitz has staff take a moment at the beginning of meetings to pause and acknowledge everyone there to set intention for the meeting. Gopi Kallayil has his team take a moment of gratitude before beginning a meeting. Once a week, he purchases a bouquet of flowers and the team decides which member to award the flowers based on their efforts.

3. See the shades of grey. “It’s important to acknowledge the difference between judgement and discernment”, Jon Kabat Zinn counsels. When you practice mindfulness, you can see beyond the black and white of your own judgements. This unlocks creativity and insight which leads to innovation in ways you can’t push by thinking alone.

2. Re-examine what makes you happy. Study after study shows that most of us are terrible judges of what makes us happy. As David Rock reports, “What makes us happy is the impact we have and the connections we make.”

1. Go back to your intention and let this dictate your actions in everything you do. “Don’t let strong emotion betray everything you care about”, advises Jack KornfieldMeng Tan lets his intention of creating conditions for inner and world peace drive everything he does. “Anything else is just a detail.”

Photo courtesy of @rjenbarr

Wisdom 2.0 for Nonprofits

Cross-posted on TechSoup Blog

The first of its kind, the Wisdom 2.0 Conference brought together people from a variety of different disciplines to explore the concept of how we can live mindfully amidst fast-paced streams of information and technologies that are becoming the daily reality for many people. Speakers ranged from Google executives to Zen priests to Twitter VCs to small business owners to nonprofit consultants. The conference organizer and founder, Soren Gordhamer, framed the weekend’s speakers by exploring the challenge and possibilities of whether it is possible to be mindful while being highly connected and having constant multiple demands on our attention. Over the past few years, the growth social media and other connective technologies has exploded. Now that these tools have been around awhile, we seem to at the next stage of “post-modern mindfulness”, if you will, of figuring out how we can make the most of these technologies, yet still live meaningful, productive lives.

Many of the conference themes resonated for not just the technology world, but for any sector you happen to work with. My notebook (yes, an old-fashioned one with paper, not the electronic kind) was jammed packed with notes and insights I got from the terrific speakers there, but here were some of the key points that resonated for me:

  • Be selective: It’s easy to get sucked into the small tasks of the day and lose track of the big picture. In the same way a nonprofit organization drafts a mission statement, you must decide what your purpose and values are. From there you can focus on what key tasks will make the most impact and move you further towards your goals. asks users, “What is my intent today?” This is a terrific way to re-affirm your larger values and acts as an anchor for your day. When you find yourself veering off-track, you can re-connect to this intention to guide you back to your purpose. Remember your presence and focus is the greatest gift you can give. Gopi Kallayil tries to approach each conversation, even if it’s just a coworker coming by his desk to ask a question, as a moment of spirtiual connection and a way to practice being in service to others.
  • Get out of email: Email is the great time suck. Time and again speakers focused on the importance of limiting email time and having scheduled time away to work without distraction as the cost of context-switching is huge. For some jobs like customer service where prompt email response is crucial, this can be more challenging. Tami Simon examines her motivations for wanting to impulsively check that email or pull up her mobile phone and acknowledging when and why she is using it as a distraction or procrastination. Instead, Simon reminds us of how we can make the most of the value of giving and receiving communication through email. Ever had that thoughtful email from a friend or colleague that really makes your day? You have the ability to do the same for another person. Even if it’s just a short or routine email, a thank you or personal touch goes a long way. Leah Pearlman of Facebook takes it a step further with sending “Friday haiku emails” that bring not only a sense of humor, but good reminders of the importance of brevity and purposefulness to email correspondence.
  • Schedule uninterrupted time to focus on important projects: Besides getting out of email, it’s important to schedule in time on our calendar where we focus on the projects that will bring us the most value. Beth Kanter uses her son’s time-out timer to track her email and social media time to help her stay on track. Sometimes that means getting very clear to others about what you are and are not going to be paying attention to. Often times it means making hard decisions about what isn’t getting read or getting done. As counter-intuitive as it seems, doing one thing at a time really is more effective.
  • Integrate mindfulness in the flow of your day: While it’s important to carve out “unplugged” time away, be it vacation or a walk in nature, we can find ways of bringing mindfulness into the flow of activities in our day. “Don’t lose yourself in the rest of your life,” said Zen Abbot, Roshi Joan Halifax. She gave the example in meditation of focusing on the flame of a candle but then shifting that focus to a larger flow. When we learn how to focus on one thing at a time, we can then learn to deal with many demands on our attention. Several speakers used the example of Twitter as a flow. It’s a constant stream of information that can be diverting but we pop in and find moments that create meaning that couldn’t exist before. Other times we let it flow by and there will be thinks we will miss, but if it’s important enough news, it will resurface again.
  • Small things do make a difference: Kallayil keeps mindfulness manageable and doable by asking folks to do one yoga pose and one minute of breathing a day. Most people can find time to do that–and that often leads to further yoga poses and longer periods of conscious breathing. Maybe you don’t have time for that 90 minute yoga class, but you can take a short stroll outside around the office to rechargeLeah Pearlman advocates small ways of injecting mindfulness into the day. She and her coworkers send gratitude texts every day where they say one thing they’re grateful for that day. Get creative with finding little ways to infuse even the busiest times with doses of joy.
  • “Don’t give up even when it all falls apart.”:This advice from Meng Tan (aka “Jolly Good Fellow”) of Google, for what to do when despite your best intentions, you find yourself sucked into the craziness of everyday life. In the nonprofit arena, the challenge is always trying do more with less time and resources and often the first thing to go off the list is self-care. Just as compassion is key in our work to make a difference in the world, that same compassion is crucial for our own effectiveness in making a difference. The Wisdom 2.0 Conference showed me that none of us are alone in the struggle. Whether you’re a high-level CEO, a Zen priest, or just your average joe, we’re all in this challenge together of using and living with technology to its fullest mindfulness, as well as productivity, potential.