How can we obtain better results in life and in business? How can we use limited resources more effectively? This turbulent era demands learning new skills. “Mindfulness” can make possible what we hadn’t thought was possible.
The concept of mindfulness that has been advocated in recent years is spreading within leading American companies both as a management tool and a method of self-care. We asked Jeremy Hunter, a leading figure in the study of self-management, about the relationship between business and mindfulness at Medicha, the meditation studio.
・The key to understanding mindfulness is “mindlessness.”
・The relationship between mindfulness and innovation.
・“What are we working for?”: The wisdom not to fall into the trap of mindlessness.
・The question “What is the goal?” causes companies to grow.
Associate professor at Claremont Graduate University’s P. F. Drucker Graduate School of Management and Founding Director of of the Executive Mind and Leadership Institute. He has taught self-management and executive management at the Drucker School since 2003. He has been awarded Faculty of the Year at the university eight times. He also co-founder and partner of the Tokyo-based management consulting firm Transform. He has provided leadership programs to various organizations such as Fortune 50 financial institutions, fine arts institutions, and NPOs. He also supports the program development of the Medicha meditation studio, which opened in Minami Aoyama in 2019.
The key to understanding mindfulness is “mindlessness”
– The word “mindfulness” is spreading among business people, but I don’t personally understand the essence of it. What is mindfulness in the first place?
Jeremy: Mindfulness is certainly a buzzword. To understand mindfulness, however, the opposite word “mindlessness” is equally important, Mindlessness refers to a state in which there is no conscious awareness. I often ask people where they and their company get stuck. Why do you get the same unwanted results over and over again? More specifically, do you know how this happened, and how it can be changed? A lack of an answer is a sign of mindlessness.
Did you know that at least 90% of human thought and behavior occurs automatically? For example, you can unthinkingly walk a familiar commute route. Even if you don’t put in the slightest effort, you can head toward your workplace without thinking about where next to put your feet. You change trains unconsciously and before you know it you arrive at work.
In a sense, mindlessness can be said to be a great resource in that you don’t have to learn the same thing over and over again. The downside, however, is that automatic patterns do not keep track of changes in the world and can produce unwanted results. However, since you are not aware of how you are using that pattern, while you may feel “something is off,” you don’t know how to change it.
This is commonly seen in organizations. For example, there is a very successful electrical goods company, which has enthusiastic customers. These customers are now getting older, however, and their current products don’t appear to be attractive to younger generations. The manager of the company thinks that there are some reason why young people aren’t buying their products. They don’t think that their own ideas as creators may have grown stagnant. They get stuck in their own ways of thinking and don’t know how to get out of it.
Moreover, prejudice and stereotypes that hinder appropriate thinking and behavior is another kind of mindlessness. Mindlessness is also the resistance that arises when working on new things, that asks “Why must I change when I’ve always done it this way?”
Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. In other words, it means you are aware of what you are experiencing at this moment and how you are experiencing it. Reaching this kind of state gives rise to new choices and behaviors that can give you better results day-to-day.
– Why is mindfulness drawing attention?
Jeremy: Conventional management methods have been unable to manage individual awareness, emotions, and inner voices. I work at the P.F. Drucker Graduate School of Management, and Drucker left us with the message: “If you are unable to manage yourself, you cannot manage others.” The most important thing in studying management is that your mind—namely, your emotions, beliefs, and actions—produce the results you obtain.
This is an era of rapid change. Self-management is needed to adapt to that change. Because we are working in environments with a lot of knowledge work and teamwork is required, listening to your own voice can improve your ability to listen to others. As a result, your ability to adapt effectively should improve.
– How specifically should we practice mindfulness? Is it meditation?
Jeremy: While mindfulness reminds one of mediation, it’s not the only way to practice it. It is an awareness of what you are doing in everyday life, and how you are experiencing it. This can be applied in any situation.
For example, suppose your child were being noisy, and you thought “I wish you’d be quiet” and scolded them impulsively. This shocks your child, causing them to cry. Though you only wanted them to be quiet, the result was the opposite of what you expected, creating a situation noisier than before. Here, before you scolded them, you ought to have been able to ask yourself “What other choices of action are there?” For example, you could have left the room, or you might have ignored the noise.
In fact, when people seek something, there are various choices prior to arriving at a result. You can change results by viewing the process objectively.
Speaking from my own deplorable example, because I travel around the world for work and enjoy delicious foods, I want to eat local specialties at each destination. As a result, I’m slowly putting on weight. In the end, my doctor told me to lose 5 kg. What would you do in your case?
– You could try exercising and dieting by reducing the amount you eat.
Jeremy: That’s right. Let’s consider this a little further. I had to face my own mindlessness. This is because I unconsciously believed “everything I eat on business trips is calorie-free!.” Indeed, I used to think “I want to eat the local specialties because I may never come back to this place again.” As a result, you eat what you shouldn’t eat, and you put on weight [laughs].
What I am trying to say is that, when a result is produced, it follows a process of result ⇨ action ⇨ options ⇨ awareness ⇨ attention ⇨ intention.
In my case, the result was that I put on weight. This was a result of my action of eating what I shouldn’t have. So I recognized that my choice was caused by unconsciously believing that food on business trips is calorie-free and that I should eat the local specialties if given the opportunity. That “awareness” begins with my paying attention to (being conscious of) food on the menu that, while delicious, is not necessarily healthy. Incidentally, just what did I want? I wanted a long life! My intention and my behavior did not match at all. [laughs]
The trajectory of this kind of process can be corrected by practicing mindfulness. First, what is it that you really want? Let’s narrow our focus to the results. In order to achieve the intended result, you can get closer to your intended result by recalling what you chose when you acted and what the awareness and intention that produced that choice were.
For example, if, in addition to “I want to eat this because I might not come back here again,” you have the intent of “I want to live healthily,” even if you choose to eat local specialties, you might change your choice of Shinshu beef to Shinshu bean (soy bean) salad. At every meal, I chose to try to change my mindless behavior by clarifying my intentions. As a result, instead of gaining 5 kilos, I lost 7 kilos. I had to change my entire wardrobe! [laughs]
Mindfulness might be thought of as “Something abstract and not well understood” or “spiritual.” However, mindfulness can in fact be very practical. By managing yourself, you can obtain the result you desire.
The relationship between mindfulness and innovation
– Please tell us about the relationship between business and mindfulness going forward. Since you work with many Japanese companies, how do you perceive the Japanese style of communication?
Jeremy: A common example in Japan is the “angry boss.” Such a boss’s attempts to improve their subordinates’ motivation through anger and threats are also stuck in the mindlessness trap. This kind of boss only focuses on things that are not going well, and that company overlooks the question of “what kind of positive growth opportunities can be created?”
What happens if, under an angry boss, subordinates are only scolded and told “Create some innovation!”? All the actions of subordinates are confined by “what will the boss think?” and “will they be angry or not?” and space for innovation is lost. Taking a birds-eye view, they are more focused on caring for their boss’s emotional state than on creating something new. This occurs because of the boss’s mindlessness. This boss must learn the skill of creating better options.
“What are we working for?” The wisdom not to fall into the trap of mindlessness
– Mindlessness has negative effects on business, doesn’t it? So how can we best eliminate mindlessness?
Jeremy: I’m half-joking when I say that the angry boss’s wife should tell him [laughs]. Mindlessness cannot be eliminated. It is a natural human response. What you can do is learn new skills and manage mindlessness well.
You should be honest with yourself about whether the result is really what you want. And it’s important to recognize whether your time is working well. In so doing, I ask myself this question. I ask “What am I experiencing now?” “Do I really want the current result?” and “What am I working for?” At that time, if I think it is difficult to be aware of the current state myself, speaking with a person close to you is an effective aid.
There’s a really simple example. One time, I was consulting with a 16-person manager class at a certain Japanese company. I asked them, “have you changed your way of thinking recently?” This is asking about mindfulness, isn’t it? If you haven’t changed your way of thinking about anything at all, you are trapped in mindlessness. Of those people, how many do you think answered “I have changed my way of thinking”?
– Perhaps about half?
Jeremy: The correct answer is just one. If you were to ask this same question in an American classroom, most people would be able to talk about an example of having changed their way of thinking.
The person who answered “I have changed my way of thinking” was coaching an elementary school basketball team in his free time. When he teaches the children, he yells at them “do your best” and scolds them “can’t you do more?” However, the children’s motivation had fallen because they weren’t winning matches.
He thought the children lacked skill, but, at one point, his wife said “it’s you who lacks skill.” He said he was very shocked because he was trying to be a good coach. His wife said to him “what if you create an environment in which the children would want to practice?” Since then, he has changed his attitude toward the children.
What if you apply this to a company? Are managers making their subordinates want to come to work?
– It might be a rather painful story to listen to.
The question “What is the goal?” causes companies to grow
– So, can mindfulness be used in larger areas, such as forming company mission statements?
Jeremy: Where it fits the company vision, try first asking the company members “Why does this company exist? What value does it create?” If you ask 10 people and get 11 different opinions, the company vision has not spread well. This is an archetypical sign of mindlessness.
The more a company produces results, the more it understands what their vision is aiming for. Because their thoughts and expectations are known, their actions become clear. So you get results.
At the time of its founding, Apple had a clear vision of “utilizing technology in people’s lives.” Patagonia holds the belief that “we will do business in order to save the planet.” Corporate management can produce desirable results when it understands “why and for whom?”
In addition, “success” is also a situation to be cautious of. This is because you may neglect to make effort because of that success. When business goes smoothly, intrinsic value is sometimes forgotten. Success can act as a cushion and have a negative impact. This will ultimately become mindlessness, and you will be left behind.
It is a well-known fact that we must learn new skills in this age of rapidly changing trends in industrialization. For this reason, when I supervise Medicha, I make efforts consistent with it being a place to learn the “skills to adapt with the times.”
In basic education, we learn social etiquette, mathematics, and Japanese. As these are resources necessary for living in society, I think this is also a place for learning new skills for the new era.
These times of drastic change have also put intense stress and challenge upon people. As I mentioned before, we tend to focus our efforts on things that aren’t working. This fundamental human bad habit robs us of the ability to see opportunities and choices. We must learn the skills to create new choices.
The intention of the program run by Medicha is “to make you aware of the ‘good things’ in life.” It focuses on getting participants to notice the value they already possess. By taking notice of this, you can relax. And so the prospects for life become wider. Participants notice that they are caught up in their own old ways of thinking and feeling.
When you realize that you are actually blessed in life, you will gain greater strength and confidence. Fears are reduced, and your emotions are not immediately thrown into disarray. Medicha is a mindfulness institution that is successful even when taking a global view. Do please give it a try.
・Mindlessness refers to “situations lacking awareness” and “situations where prejudice and stereotypes hinder appropriate thinking and behavior.”
・If you are unable to manage yourself, you cannot manage others; this is why management is important.
・Awareness of the result ⇨ action ⇨ options ⇨ awareness ⇨ attention ⇨ intention process in order to produce desired results.
・”Angry bosses” give rise to mindlessness.
・In order to avoid mindlessness, ask yourself “what am I working for?”
・If you ask “why does this company exist? What value are we creating?” the company’s mission becomes clear.
・Mindfulness is a resource for producing better results.