This month David ruminates on the effect of silence and mindfulness on growth. Turning off our smart phones might be a first step in the process.
My wife, Carole, and I recently participated in the 16th Annual ILA (International Leadership Association) Global Conference. The theme of the conference was conscious leadership. At the conference, Meg Wheatley was given a Lifetime Achievement Award. That puts her in the company of Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis, and Henry Mintzberg among others. In her brief remarks, Meg began with, “Turn off your smart phone. They are weapons of mass distraction!” She went on to describe how, when she arrived, she went to the Crab Shack for dinner alone and forgot her phone. She didn’t know what to do. Meg doesn’t even have a boss.
Most of the rest of us think we need to be available 24/7, 365 days a year for our boss…or any other of our colleagues and customers who may want to contact us. There may be some unforeseen movement somewhere in the world that may impact our job, our business, our family, our community, our nation, our world, or even our favorite athletic team. We need to stay connected. Our jobs and organizations, our very lives are at stake.
Our boss or someone else wants something at all hours. We need to be ready to respond. Maybe. I remember when Tim Guthrie, a very successful director of mine at General Motors years ago, used to make it clear that any phone calls or correspondence that couldn’t be dealt with in that day went into the trash. Yet another perspective comes from Jamshid Gharajedaghi, a wise author and management and systems consultant, who says that most of the problems that are presented to us will resolve themselves if we just ignore them.
All about competition? Maybe not
The competition may sneak up on us if we’re not vigilant. I remember all the time we used to spend doing Value Analysis early in my career. That dates me. We spent endless hours on competitive market research and surveillance, competitive product teardown and analysis, and secret shopper excursions to our competitors. When Dr. Deming came along, he suggested we might want to redirect some of that effort to learn more about what our customers wanted and needed. But that ring or ding just keeps coming.
Someone once said that if the only tool we have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The smart phone and all other things electronic are just tools. We frequently behave, however, as if they are the drivers of our behavior and even our emotion. So maybe we are distracted because we fear for our organizations, maybe we fear for our jobs, or maybe we just get enthralled by the technology. Whatever it is, I believe that Meg gives us something to think about when she calls it a distraction.
If we fear for our job because of seemingly unreasonable demands by our boss and others, maybe we should check to see if these demands are real. Our workplaces will never ask us to do less, but they may be perfectly happy if we do something more important than what is being asked of us in the moment. If it is the technology that attracts us, maybe we should get over it and give ourselves a little break from it…turn it off as Meg suggests. If we fear the demise of our organization, maybe we should focus more on serving our most important customers. This idea of a turned off phone and a more focused existence takes me to another consideration.
The chapter titled Practicing Inner Reflection in our upcoming book, The Transformative Workplace, begins with:
In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.
— Mahatma Gandhi
Introducing culture of silence
Silence brings with it awareness, deeper perception, and more conscious action. Confucius said, “to learn without silent reflection is labor in vain; to think without learning is desolation.”
Recently, many well-known companies such as Medtronic, Google, Yahoo, McKinsey, Hughes Aircraft, IBM, Cisco, Raytheon, Apple, Avaya, Prentice-Hall and others have started to offer meditation classes and spaces. Barbara Fredrickson, Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Positivity, is a leading researcher in the field of positive psychology, and has become known for her “broaden and build” theory of positive emotions evoked from loving kindness meditation. As Fredrickson notes,
I’ve encapsulated two classes of these benefits into my broaden-and-build theory. First, when we experience a positive emotion, our vision literally expands, allowing us to make creative connections, see our oneness with others, and face our problems with clear eyes (a.k.a. the broaden effect). Second, as we make a habit of seeking out these pleasing states, we change and grow, becoming better versions of ourselves, developing the tools we need to make the most out of life (the build effect). (Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. “What Good Is Positivity? | Psychology Today.” Accessed December 14, 2012.)
Let’s turn off our smart phones for a while and become a little more silent, a little more conscious, a little better versions of ourselves, and a little more focused on doing what we know really needs to be done. I believe we and our Six Sigma efforts will be better for it. I treasure your comments and questions.