TADS Insights

Mindfulness at Work

1 March 2015


When Google introduced the ‘Search Inside Yourself’ personal development programme for their people, organisations everywhere started paying attention.  Google saw an opportunity to enhance corporate creativity and productivity by offering a unique development programme exclusively focused on enabling each of their people to more fully realise their potential.

Working with Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Google built their development programme on a simple idea: if they could help their people become more present in their day-to-day work, the organisational results would be sure to follow.  And the key to becoming more present, is to be more mindful throughout the day.

While mindfulness is not a new idea – it can be traced back over 2,500 years to Buddha – Google made it mainstream.  They successfully trained their people in techniques of mindfulness which, over time, has become engrained in the Google corporate culture.  Nowadays, organisations everywhere are looking at the Google experience and wondering how they too can apply mindfulness ideas.  But what does it mean to be mindful and why does it work so well?

Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of paying steady and full attention, without judgement or criticism, to our moment-to-moment experience.  Unlike meditation, which involves directing the mind in certain ways, mindfulness is a more continuous alertness, or way of doing things, that’s always available to us.  Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention – being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself – in your body, heart, and mind – and outside yourself in your environment.

Importantly, mindfulness is awareness without judgement or criticism.  When we are mindful, we are not comparing or judging, but simply witnessing the many sensations, thoughts, and emotions that come up as we engage in the ordinary activities of daily life.  It’s more about “being” than “doing”.

For most of us, getting in a mindful state is a challenge.  How often have we arrived home only to discover that we were not really present as we drove our car?  We may have a vague memory of the route taken, traffic lights encounter, and the thousand and one other decisions you made on the journey.  

The trouble is that one of our unique human characteristics, is our ability to imagine the future and to replay the past.  It’s what sets us apart from all other animals.  It’s unlikely that while eating his dinner, your dog is busy comparing today’s food with yesterday, or wondering if tomorrows menu will be different!  But, for us humans, we spend most of our time, not enjoying our food so to speak, but imagining, comparing and contrasting.

When we develop the skill of being in the moment, our lives take on a vibrancy which is not only more enjoyable, but improves our day-to-day decision making.  Because we are more in touch with reality, we more clearly anticipate needs and opportunities around us and therefore can take action that is appropriate to the situation in front of us.  Research studies show that mindfulness increases our energy levels, reduces stress, and makes us far more compassionate.

The application of mindfulness to the work environment is an opportunity to rethink some of our old ideas and perhaps see new possibilities.  For example: do we really want to encourage multi-tasking?   Can we design workspaces to have less distraction?  Of the hours we work, how many of those hours are we truly present?  Would it be better to work less hours, but better more-present hours?

The good news is that everyone can learn to be more mindful.  It only requires us to have a willingness to experiment and be open to the possibility that there may be a better way of living our lives.

Organisations today have a unique opportunity to explore how mindfulness can be used for strategic advantage.  It surely makes sense that if your people are more in touch with reality, they will better anticipate customer needs and then serve those needs in a way that’s productive and efficient.  After all, if Google are teaching their people to be more mindful, is it something we too should be considering?

--David Keane