Wisdom 2.0 2014: Google Handles Protesters with Mindfulness and Compassion
Wisdom 2.0 2014 was liveblogged by our friends at MediaShower.
Google’s Corporate Mindfulness program, titled “Search Inside Yourself,” is a course in focusing the attention and creating useful mental habits. It was started by Meng Tan (Google employee #107), and has since trained over 1,000 Google employees, with a waitlist, a bestselling book, and articles in Forbes and Wired.
Meng, along with Karen May (VP of People Development at Google) and Bill Duane (Sr. Manager, Well Being and Sustainable High Performance Development Programs) came to the stage for their session on “3 Steps to Build Corporate Mindfulness the Google Way.” They had not been on stage more than a few moments when uninvited protesters took the stage with a megaphone, unrolling a large banner and blocking view of the speakers.
At first, the audience was confused (was this some kind of new Google performance art?), but it soon became clear that this was an unplanned interruption, as the video screens went black, and conference organizers led the protesters off stage.
You can imagine trying to continue a presentation in front of thousands of people after such a scene, but Bill Duane handled it with incredible grace and compassion. Departing from their prepared schedule, he took a moment to lead the audience in a simple meditation, inviting us to embrace this moment, without judging it good or bad. He asked us to examine our relationship to conflict, and the conflict that had just played out on stage. In one of the true “you should have been there” moments of Wisdom 2.0, what had felt like an emotionally jarring interruption was transformed into a moment of awareness and peace.
Karen, complimenting Bill publicly for his leadership in that moment, explained the importance of maintaining “a posture of respect” within organizations, embracing the diverse opinions and points of view of others, while also being comfortable with the complexity that such diversity brings. She pointed to the moment we had just witnessed as an example that spoke more loudly than anything she could say.
Meng spoke on the theme of combining wisdom with skillfulness: “skillfulness in the beginning, skillfulness in the middle, and skillfulness in the end.” He explained further that skillfulness “in the beginning” means that you must start with your own practice, so you are calm, kind and compassionate. Skillfulness “in the middle” is extending these benefits from the self to others: figuring out how to address the needs of individuals and teams within an organization. By skillfulness “in the end,” he looks to complete transformation of the organization. “The Holy Grail is, everybody in the organization is wise and compassionate, creating support for broadening and deepening the practice.” He noted with a smile, “We’re still figuring this out at Google.”
Karen closed with a story about her executive team at Google, who had Bill and Meng come in to coach the team on how to begin their meetings more mindfully. The team adopted a two-minute silent meditation before each meeting, quickly noticing the benefits on both their meetings and their state of mind. After a few months, the senior executive asked if they wanted to continue the meditation, and even the employee who was initially most skeptical said, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m a better person for those two minutes. So I’m all for it.”
The team now experiments with different forms of meditation for those two minutes: T’ai chi, gratefulness exercises, and simple silence. But rather than requiring the rest of the organization to follow suit, Bill and Meng created 15 two-minute videos, which they have made available to all Google employees to start their meetings: another example of extending the benefits of mindfulness from the self to others.
In summary, the group from Google demonstrated (not just talked) about how important it is to develop your own practice, then bring that sense of wisdom and compassion out into the world.
"If you are planning a protest," conference founder Soren Gordhamer joked afterward, "we’d appreciate it if you’d let us know beforehand, so we can plan for it."
A NOTE FROM WISDOM 2.0: The video of this session and the protest is currently unavailable on the Wisdom 2.0 website only because the onsite livestream technician, acting on years of professional instinct, cut the feed when he saw that something unplanned was happening. We have no intention of keeping the video from public view; we’re just working on pulling the footage from the livestream feed and getting it up into our archives. It will be available soon!
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