June 5, 2012

Mindfulness Meditation Is a Big Hit at Google... and a Giant Step Toward World Peace

Google offers hundreds of free classes to its employees. One of the most popular is called "Search Inside Yourself" (SIY), a course developed by Chade-Meng Tan, the first engineer at Google to leave the engineering department and join its "people ops." Wouldn't you just know that Google would come up with a name like that for something the rest of the world calls "human resources"?

To promote innovation, Google allows its engineers to spend 20 percent of their time working on independent projects unrelated to their jobs. Tan and a few other Google engineers used that time to develop a program designed to help employees use mindfulness meditation and emotional intelligence techniques in both their professional and personal lives. They collaborated with experts outside the company, including a Zen master, a CEO, a Stanford University scientist, and Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

More than 1,000 Google employees have taken the class, and there's usually a waiting list of 30 when it's offered, four times a year. The seven-week course accepts 60 employee "students."

The class has three steps:
  1. Attention training
  2. Self-knowledge and self-mastery 
  3. Creation of useful mental habits 
Based on the program's success, Tan wrote a book, Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), published last month. Naturally, this confirmed self-help-book addict bought a copy. 

One of the two forewords to the book is written by Jon Kabat-Zinn, my mindfulness meditation guru (see my earlier post: http://bit.ly/KvWAi2). Daniel Goleman, the emotional intelligence guru, wrote the other intro. 

The book jacket blurb includes endorsements from an intriguing collection of luminaries, including His Holiness The Dalai Lama; Jimmy Carter, our 39th president; S.R. Nathan, the president of Singapore; John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Food Markets; and Tony Hsieh, bestselling author of Delivering Happiness and CEO of Zappos.com, the online shoe and apparel store. 

An impressive group. But not as impressive as Tan's ultimate goal -- world peace.

SIY and World Peace
Here's how Tan describes the connection between SIY and world peace:
Like many others wiser than me, I believe world peace can and must be created from inside out. If we can find a way for everybody to develop peace and happiness within themselves, their inner peace and happiness will naturally manifest itself into compassion. And if we can create a world where most people are happy, at peace, and compassionate, we can create the foundation for world peace.
Fortunately, a methodology for doing that already exists and has already been practiced by various peoples for thousands of years. It is the art of using contemplative practices to develop the mind. Most of us know it as meditation. 
Nothing modest about Tan's goals! Needless to say, he's an interesting guy.

Tan -- Google's "Jolly Good Fellow"
The New York Times carried  an article on SIY and Tan on April 29, 2012. I loved the title of the article -- "OK Google, Take a Deep Breath." Here's an excerpt from the article that provides some background on
Born and raised in Singapore, Mr. Tan describes his childhood as “very unhappy.”

“It was the geek thing,” he says. He taught himself how to write software code at the age of 12. And by 15, he had won his first national academic award. At 17, he was one of four members of the national software championship team.

“In Singapore, the way to distinguish yourself is to win competitions,” he says. But public attention and external rewards brought him no satisfaction. “It wasn’t making a difference,” he says. “I wasn’t any happier. There was a compulsion to be the best.”

He grew up watching American TV series like “The Cosby Show” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” studied computer engineering in Singapore and attended graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was offered a job, he says, within five minutes of e-mailing his résumé after graduation.

The offer was from Google.
He was hired in June, 2000, as Google's employee #107. So he became rich -- albeit not as rich as Google's founders -- when the company went public in 2004.

He transferred from engineering to human resources several years ago. His business card gives his title as "Google's Jolly Good Fellow (which nobody can deny)."

My Take on the SIY Book
I'm about two thirds of the way through the book. The first part, an introduction to mindfulness meditation, seemed somewhat simplistic to me, but I've been reading books by mediation gurus like Jon Kabat-Zinn for years. Initially, I found his attempts at humor -- in the text and the accompanying cartoons -- too corny. But after a while, these off-putting elements became engaging quirks of this "jolly good fellow."

I'm now realizing that mindfulness meditation needn't be just something I practice for 45 minutes at 4:30am. Tan devotes most of the book to exercises designed to use mindfulness meditation and emotional intelligence as tools for gaining better emotional balance throughout the day.

For example, one of SIY's precepts is mindful e-mailing. Something I need to pay attention to! Tan says it's too easy to focus on the message we're sending, and not on its recipients and the possible impact on them. When recipients don't know the intent behind the e-mail - as is often the case -- they tend to assume the worst, like anger or frustration on the sender's part.

"We frequently get offended or frightened by e-mails that were never intended to offend or frighten." Ten writes. "If we are emotionally unskillful, then we react with offense or fear, and then all hell breaks loose."

Well, it's 11:30pm -- time for me to read a little more of the book before drifting off to sleep... and waking four or five hours from now for my mindfulness meditation.

If you'd like to learn -- and see -- more of Meng, check his site: Chade-Meng Tan

No comments: