We are in the attention economy, where our ability to maintain focus is every bit as important as our professional skills. And not just for individuals. It’s as crucial for organizations to maintain their focus, towards fulfilling a vision. That’s why, practices like meditation and yoga have made their way into boardrooms and team retreats. These practices make us mindful. And mindfulness has the capacity to change our brain, recharge us, and strengthen our attention.
There is ample research that demonstrates the profound impact of mindfulness on individuals – reduced stress, sharper productivity, better emotional regulation, etc. But what does it do for organizations?
The answer to that is a unique one. It brings the ability to pause and choose awareness, before taking any action. Research shows that our brains are not equipped to handle the 11-plus million bits of information we receive every moment. In pursuit of efficiency, we make new decisions based upon old associations and memories. Thus, most of them end up being biased. Through mindfulness, we gain an opportunity to notice how the mind reacts to information, and old associations and patterns that unconsciously guide behavior. It is this that helps us pause before responding. And organizations need such pauses.
The most impactful organizational space to practice mindfulness in – strategic planning. And it need not involve meditation! It’s all about taking a step out of the existing story and shifting viewpoints. Instead of examining solutions, examining the questions itself. Here’s how organizations can practice it more.
- Explore all possibilities. While making a decision, not only do we need to consider all learnings from our past, but also focus on what’s possible ahead. The idea is to challenge assumptions. Shell, the oil conglomerate, is well known for this approach, and calls it ‘scenario planning’. The approach has enabled them to navigate uncertainty. According to researcher Angela Wilkinson who studied Shell for a decade, “Scenario planning has never been about predicting the future. Its value lies in how scenarios are embedded in—and provide vital links between—organizational processes such as strategy making, innovation, risk management, public affairs, and leadership development. It has helped break the habit, ingrained in most corporate planning, of assuming that the future will look much like the present.”
How to arrive at such plausible alternatives? Asks questions like the following, and remember, mindfulness is all about non-attachment to any possibility.
- What’s a scary or disastrous possibility?
- What would be an unbelievable feat to achieve?
- What would bring us most attention?
- What idea would use all our strengths?
- What don’t we want to try at all?
- Encourage constant positivity. “Pessimism narrows our focus, whereas positive emotions widen our attention and receptiveness to the new and unexpected,” argues Daniel Goleman, psychologist. Organizational leaders can benefit from imagining organizational “end-states” during strategy sessions. It’s called an explorative approach. Just start with asking “if everything works out perfectly for our organization, what would we be doing in ten years?”
Brain scans that were performed on 63 seasoned business decision makers as they pursued exploratory strategies revealed that this practice demands open awareness to recognize new possibilities. It takes a deliberate cognitive effort to disengage from routine and familiar knowledge in order to roam widely and pursue fresh paths. In other words, being present to newness.
The general notion is that practicing mindfulness is challenging. However, it is as effortless as mindlessness. It is the very simple process of noticing new things, which puts us in the present and brings us more perspective. How to make it a habit? Start your strategy session with an absolute blank slate.