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0811 meditation

Guest blogger Shazia Manus, Chief Product and Strategy Officer at CO-OP Financial Services, a fintech company based in Los Angeles, is here to help you build your business holistically.

In recent years, the increased practice of mindfulness in the workplace has reframed how executives in top-performing companies achieve innovation, set great strategy and demonstrate people-centric leadership. This is particularly true among Silicon Valley technology companies, many of which are setting the pace for legacy enterprises in hot pursuit of digital transformation.

Indeed, the practices of mindfulness and meditation, which are rooted in Eastern philosophy, have become established norms amid many technology startups and Internet giants. Attributed with boosting creativity and innovation, meditation has garnered the endorsement of some pretty big names in high-tech and big business, including LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, Whole Foods’ John Mackey and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff.

By creating and supporting a culture of mindfulness in the workplace, these individuals and other business leaders have discovered that loosening the typical constraints to free thinking has real benefits to the organization. Here are just four:

Group Think Loses Power
Mindfulness calls on those who practice it to live in the moment. This allows people to pay attention to macro signals and to think less about the negative consequences of speaking up about a concern or exploring a new idea. Instead, they can safely trust the instinct to share it. When listeners are also enveloped by a supportive culture, this kind of risk-free sharing becomes contagious. Bold new ideas are generated by more people. Fear and intimidation – forces that are crippling to innovation – lose their power.     

For credit unions and banks, solving customer pain points through innovation is beyond critical. As more challengers enter the financial services marketplace with agile, digital-centric, customer-focused models, it’s clear the time to transform is now.

We Use Our Brains Holistically
Through the use of brain imaging and other techniques, neuroscientists have found that regular and ongoing meditation allows humans to more easily access the frontal neocortex, an area of the brain that manages higher-order thinking. Among the more interesting aspects to this part of the brain is that it can actual grow new neurons, which leads to what’s known as plasticity or the idea that adult brains can be retrained and strengthened.

What’s more, MRI scans performed on the brains of people who practiced 8 weeks of mindfulness showed that amygdala, which controls our “fight, flight, freeze” reflexes, had actually shrunk. This is the area of the brain associated with fear and stress. Interestingly, as the amygdala became smaller, the pre-frontal cortex, which controls awareness and critical decision making, became thicker. And, the two areas actually activated together more often providing the right balance.

Mindfulness meditation teaches us to manage our negative biases in an optimal way, thus allowing more information to flow more readily to the neocortex. By becoming more aware of the present moment and less afraid of the unknowns, science is beginning to show, we get better at things like attention and concentration.

Clouds Become Less Distracting
In a state of mindfulness, white clouds represent opportunistic thoughts, dark clouds represent thoughts rooted in scarcity. People who practice are encouraged to visualize a strong wind pushing both kinds of clouds away so they can have only a blue sky, or clear, unobstructed mind.

Dark clouds in the workplace are a lot of things – fear of failure, a client that is consistently hard to please, a colleague who is difficult to work with, maybe even glitchy Wi-Fi.

While white clouds may sound like a good thing, they can actually have a pretty devastating impact. Too much success stimulates inertia, and maintaining the status quo becomes the most rewarded strategy.

Organizations that support mindfulness give their leaders tools that act as strong winds. When executives encourage managers and others to push those thoughts aside, they think more clearly about what’s best for the business – or better yet, for its customers – without being contracted by either positive or negative judgments.

Doing Good is Seen as Good Business
One of the many great outcomes of mindfulness is a clearer awareness of self and others. Accepting, as a culture, that humans can and do fail makes it less risky to try new things.

Because “doing good” can be expensive and may not generate the same returns as business as usual, there are corporate pressures that keep many for-profit entities from exploring people-centric products, services or initiatives. Even non-profits can fall victim to the fear of devoting appropriate funds or human resources to what could otherwise be a very meaningful program.

And yet, these are the types of experiences consumers are coming to expect from product and service providers. Consider Millennials. Studies consistently find that they prefer to do business with brands that have ethical business standards.

Harvard Business Review described mindfulness as a way to “listen more deeply and guide actions through clear intention.” With that kind of leadership at the helm, doing good becomes a way of doing business – a core value that feels natural.

If launching an enterprise-wide mindfulness initiative still feels too “new age” or just doesn’t fit with your organization’s existing culture, don’t be discouraged. You can start small by simply modeling mindful behavior. Look inward and ask if you’re truly supportive of new, opportunistic ideas; if you’re projecting a willingness to learn rather than punish failure; if you’re really considering what’s best for the customer. Set an example to which others can gravitate, and you’ll be on your way to evolving your organization’s culture.

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