In 2005, when I talked with my 100-student marketing undergrads about maximizing all stakeholders' value and conscious capitalism, I was labeled a new-age hippie. Fast-forward ten years, the CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff, along with other reputable CEOs at the World Economic Forum in Davos declares, "We have an imperative to shift from creating shareholder value to stakeholder value." In 2017, 35% of US businesses were rolling out mindfulness trainings and 26% said they would in the future, for a total of 61% of the US businesses offering some kind of mindfulness class.
There is a confluence of factors propelling the growth of corporate mindfulness. Two big trends are high stress and low engagement levels at work. There are external factors as well that are pushing leaders to turn to mindfulness. A global survey reported a leadership crisis across industries (Edelman, 2017). High levels of worry and lack of fulfillment in their careers has led many leaders such as Mark Benioff at Salesforce, Rose Marcario at Patagonia, and Chade Meng Tang, the Google engineer who initiated the Search Inside Yourself program, to turn to mindfulness.
In simple terms, mindfulness is the ability to see with clarity, free from habitual ways of thinking and reacting. The ability to see clearly on demand can be enhanced by cultivating attention in a non-judgmental way, insight, and skillful actions that create conditions to support mindfulness in everyday activities.
Mindfulness trainings offer produced many benefits but the most popular corporate programs are building skills to manage stress, build resilience, and other emotional intelligence skills needed to cope with changes.
The growing popularity of mindfulness is giving rise to a trend called "McMindfulness" - a stripped down, secular version of the Buddhist mindfulness practices that provide easy access and quick fixes. There are more than 1,000 mindfulness apps, 30,000 books on mindfulness on Amazon, and a surge of spas and workshops espousing mindfulness as a panacea for all problems. Mindfulness is also used to market products such as "Mindful Mayo" and "Mindful Meats."
While there is nothing wrong with using brain "hacks" to enhance human potential, the absence of training in insight and skillful actions in commercial mindfulness compromises the efficacy and integrity of the programs. This trend will continue to grow till it is replaced by the next lucrative management fad.
There is another group of leaders who are integrating mindfulness in their workplace - not as a quick fix or perk to numb out stress - but as a foundation for innovation, strategy, and change. Mindful leaders are modeling values of awareness, compassion, and curiosity. For these organizations, mindfulness in combination with neuroscience, behavioral economics, artificial intelligence, and other sciences is providing a foundation for transformation that is here to stay.
To summarize, we can expect mindfulness in the workplace to go beyond:
1. Brain hacks to integrated as a foundational skill for transformation and strategic clarity
2. Individualistic thinking and maximizing shareholder value to seeing interconnectedness and maximizing stakeholder value
3. Focus and stress reduction to cultivating compassion and equanimity
4. Mostly white and affluent teachers and practitioners to more diversity and accessibility
5. Rational thinking to including intuition and body wisdom
6. IQ to including EQ
7. One size fits all to personalized programs such as Cisco's VR pods for stress reduction
8. Fitness wearables to including mindfulness such as Fitbit Charge 2, Spire, Muse
9. Individual activity to more community and team-oriented mindfulness
10. Drug prescriptions to more mindfulness-based treatments such as Craving to Quit, a mindful smoking cessation app and mindfulness habits apps such as Simple Habit App
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