Why is mindfulness gaining importance in today’s corporate world?
The likes of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner and Oprah have been touting the benefits of the practice for a while. It’s being increasingly adopted by management consultants, business schools, high-tech firms and investment banks. Even hospitals and the military have begun to recognise the power of mindfulness – all as a way to improve organisational and individual performance and well-being.
So what is mindfulness and how does it really help business thinking?
Derived from the ancient Buddhist practice, mindfulness is about paying attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. If mindfulness is a way of “being” and business activities are a way of “doing”, incorporating mindfulness training in business practices can be a way of maintaining the yin and yang of “being” and “doing”, leading to a more balanced state in our daily busyness.
Much has been written about the health benefits of mindfulness, such as the potential impact on stress reduction. But mindfulness can also have a positive impact on the way we work – by consciously managing our thoughts as they enter our minds, we can maintain focus on the task at hand and sharpen our creativity despite being surrounded by business ‘noise’.
Agility across borders
A 2015 review on Contemplating Mindfulness at Work published in the Journal of Management suggests that mindfulness training could improve our ‘rationality’, as we focus on the present and not past experiences. This entails letting go of attachments like long-held beliefs, assumptions, personal biases and the status quo, improving cross-cultural agility – an increasingly important skill in a globalised world.
From handshakes and bows to more subtle ways of communicating, cultural behaviours are likely entrenched and can be difficult to notice. Failing to recognise them accurately can create situations in which you might cause offense or miscommunicate, and potentially lose out on an opportunity. Practicing mindfulness improves cultural agility – you notice your unconscious behaviours, urges or biases, and guide yourself toward a better action.
An instance of this is when we hosted a large group of executives at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) from Chinese aviation company, HNA, for a 10-day “Business of the Future” leadership program in Sydney. The main aim of sending the group to Sydney was part of HNA’s mission to globalise some of its practices and thinking. For a company with an aggressive international expansion plan, the company wanted to integrate its Chinese management culture with western management style, based on individualism, logic, principles and legitimacy. Through this program, the executives were able to not only gain Western business insights, and management skills but, more importantly, they were also able to understand cultural differences and improve their cultural agility.
Making room for creativity
Practicing mindfulness clears space in our mind so that we can generate better ideas. You notice and consciously put away the different ‘noises’ taking up valuable space in our consciousness. The result is innovation and the ability to ‘think outside the box’ – key ingredients for fine-tuning your business model, strategies and ideas.
In that sense, mindfulness is about having a growth mindset – making sure our mind is agile enough to notice one’s own attachments – such as things need to be done in a certain way – and, thus, being able to choose not to be attached to the familiar. This was experienced when HNA executives visited the Nan Tien Temple in Wollongong, Australia, which was the first time the executives had visited a temple in a Western culture. While on the surface it may not seem like a deep learning experience, it taught the team how Chinese culture can be localised and made inclusive in order to immerse in the Australian culture.
Business leaders constantly face challenges that compete for immediate action. By practicing mindfulness, they can improve their creativity, increase productivity, reduce stress and become culturally agile, resulting in better business decisions and the confidence to succeed no matter the situation at hand.
Mindfulness is taught as part of the Adaptive Leadership program recently launched at AGSM.