On the Complex Relationship between Meditation and Productivity

With the great Black Friday deals at Amazon and other bookstores around it is now time to order the most inspiring books on your bucket list by the holidays. I am very much looking forward to having the time to catch up on reading.

My most recent purchases for this upcoming holiday season include books on the several aspects of meditation, mindfulness and creativity.

With meditation and mindfulness having become popular and widely researched practices, there is an abundance of great literature as well as excellent, in-depth online content available on these topics. Reflecting on the main purpose behind meditation and mindfulness practice, however, should perhaps be highlighted more in these sources – and reflected on in-depth by anyone who has an interest in these topics.

Charlie Amberlan, the founder of @dailyzen Twitter account, has written a great article on this issue called “The Real Benefit of Meditation”.

Amberlan describes the relationship between meditation and late capitalism as follows: “At some point during the strange confluence of “self-improvement” ideas of the 20th and 21st centuries, Zen became tied in with the cult of productivity. Meditation is often sold as a cure to the modern worker’s ailments— lack of focus, lack of creativity, lack of organization.” Much of this is obvious by the related literature and online content.

The clarity and calmness that one achieves during meditation has many benefits, of course, like Amberlan also states in his article. But what is meditation, then, in its essence, besides experiencing the crystal clear state of mind ultimately achieved by the means of it?

In Amberlan’s view we are in danger of bypassing the original purpose of meditation. “Meditation is an easy sell to companies and workers because it makes you a better person”, Amberlan states, and continues: “But it improves you through detaching you from desires, attachments, and the need to improve.” It is exactly the detachment of these structures of our minds that makes us transcend our prior capabilities. In Amberlan’s words: “In detaching from notions of superiority, you become superior.”

The bottom line is that “basic professional or creative benefits are merely surface-level symptoms of the deeper changes that occur in the mind of the person who meditates every day”, says Amberlan.

Accordingly, Amberlan encourages to “stop practicing spirituality as a way towards productivity or as a means to an end”. Amberlan continues: “The whole point is that it is a means to itself. In doing it for its own sake, you learn to live for its own sake.”

The surface-level secondary goals seem to dominate the thoughts of many of those practitioners who are above all focused on improving their performance at work via the means of meditation or mindfulness.

I firmly believe that ultimately the goal and purpose of meditation and mindfulness practice should be to eventually transcend these more mundane goals. And I believe, like Amberlan, that achieving a superiorly clear and calm state of mind means that the practitioner is focused on applying spirituality in most, if not every aspect of their lives.

Read the full article by Charlie Amberlan, “The Real Benefit of Meditation”:

https://medium.com/@dailyzen/the-real-benefit-of-meditation-dfa983c2e557

or

Read and join in to follow Daily Zen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dailyzen

On Generating and Maintaining an Innovative Organizational Culture

How do successful organizations cultivate creativity? And what is it that makes generating and maintaining an outstanding organizational culture so challenging?

The organization’s capacity to innovate, as well as its creativity and connectivity are increasingly highlighted as essential for success. The concepts of “innovation environment” or “innovation ecosystem” are referred to very often in this context.

When describing a creative organizational culture in more detail, case-examples of start-ups and influential Silicon Valley enterprises pop up in various publications, and it seems Richard Florida’s theory of the “creative class” is still dominating many discussions.

I believe that given a chance, any individual or a group of people can adopt a creative mindset and participate in generating original innovations.

And I think the best innovations are created by breaking the silos and getting a multi-disciplinary team of experts from different departments collaborating on a shared project, and by introducing and applying service design methodology at the workplace.

This view is based on my own experiences with co-design so far.

But I think many professionals that have experience of working in similar teams might agree.

Service design processes and methods can be of assistance in generating new, innovative concepts and in streamlining existing services — as well as generating and maintaining a culture of co-creation.

I think organizing co-design workshops based on recent analytics and research can help an organization to boost and foster a creative culture at the workplace and to refine the personnel’s capability to innovate.

Obviously, there are costs involved in gathering analytics, conducting initial research and organizing any co-design process, in terms of human resources, time and money.

However, co-creation and co-design may yield significant benefits, both internally and externally.

As I’m a planner, I have only so much to do with strategy implementation in my current organization. But I think reflecting on and aligning one’s own tasks with shared strategic objectives is important.

And similar thought should be given to the team’s role in the organization, and to one’s role in a team.

An important notion here is that each team as well as each individual is equally responsible of committing to the organization’s common goals and values as well as mutual respect.

One of the core values of my current organization is “together”.

I find that my co-workers in the FNG are an enthusiastic and inspiring group of professionals.

A creative environment is often described as “dynamic” and “open” — it supports fresh ideas, it is emotionally safe and compassionate, and its atmosphere promotes the freedom to brainstorm. In such an environment, debates are considered positive, conflicts constructive, and moderate risk taking is allowed.

As a result of this kind of atmosphere in the organization, new ideas emerge and flourish, and they have enough time and space to take shape. And even more importantly, the people enjoy working together.

Service design methods and intrapreneurship combined can yield the very best of results, when they are applied in a way unique to the organization’s culture.

Soren Kaplan, the author of the best-seller “Leapfrogging”, says that when we are “cultivating innovation”, we are, essentially, “cultivating a unique system”.

Kaplan’s notion is echoed in the recent book “Strategy That Works: How Winning Companies Close the Strategy-to-Execution Gap” by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi. According to the authors, what makes the distinctive internal practices and capabilities of successful organizations so special is the fact that they cannot be easily replicated by others in the same field. In that sense, creating a unique organizational culture and supporting an innovative ecosystem pays off.

In the aforementioned book, Leinwand and Mainardi emphasize, that the most successful organizations:

  • Commit to what they do best instead of chasing multiple opportunities
  • Build their own unique winning capabilities instead of copying others
  • Put their culture to work instead of struggling to change it
  • Invest where it matters instead of going lean across the board
  • Shape the future instead of reacting to it

According to the authors, these are the five essential practices for connecting strategy and its execution.

Having given various issues quite a lot of thought last year in the middle of facilitating a series of workshops on our digital strategy implementation and other tasks, I eventually decided to document some of my thoughts on different topics related to my work and some of my other interests in this blog, now also found via the domain name http://lifeofaplanner.fi.

I have been surprised by the amount of unique visitors and visits here, as well as the amount of positive feedback from colleagues and other friends.

Thank you for reading and all the comments!

On the Digital Dimension and Creativity

This week, I stumbled upon a somewhat uncommon article in the Harvard Business Review – an article on creativity, and more specifically, creativity in digitally or technologically driven organizations.

The author of this article quite straightforwardly states that in order to succeed, tech-savvy companies should really hire more creatives – instead of merely hiring more people who excel in business analytics, or even instead of hiring people who have hard core skills in creating new software.

(You can read the full article, by Tom Perrault, bluntly entitled “Digital Companies Need More Liberal Arts Majors”, at the HBR website: https://hbr.org/2016/01/digital-companies-need-more-liberal-arts-majors.)

Coming from a design background, and moreover, a background in philosophy, I think that we could certainly do with more of us in technologically oriented companies. However, I also think there’s much more to success than simply hiring a designer, or a philosopher, or several, for that matter.

Much like the author here, I find what the management of any successful digital or otherwise technology-oriented company really needs to do is to “create the type of culture in which creatives thrive”.

Having done some reading on this issue, I previously wrote about it in a post entitled “A Structure of Unstructured Time” in this blog last year (https://iiriskblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/a-structure-of-unstructured-time/).

To briefly recap that post, the point I wished to make was that in relation to creating an innovation-oriented culture was that employees should perhaps be given some “unstructured” time to act as “intrapreneurs” in their respective organizations. This is the kind of culture that many prominent companies like Apple and Google seem to make it a point of supporting and sustaining.

Most digital and technological innovations – or at least the very best ones – tend to require the early input of a creative person, or a group of creative people.

I firmly believe that many people, given a chance to, can act as creatives, regardless of their vocational background. Only hiring a creative marketing posse for the product or service hardly makes any sense.

What really makes or breaks success, then, is having and maintaining a creative organizational culture.