Mindful Being in Business with Michael Fong

Mindful Being in Business with Michael Fong

Yogis must be morning people, or maybe they just have a lot of  energy at all hours of the day. It was at least with some hesitation that I agreed to meet up with yoga teacher Michael Fong at 7:30 in the morning to have an hour of conversation about creativity and wellbeing before 75 minutes of Vinyasa Yoga at Yoga Shala in Sacramento. Despite two months of experience as a yoga practitioner I am still not very skilled at sitting without moving. As we were talking on the yoga mat I was impressed with Michael’s ability to sit calmly, while I kept trying to negotiate a good position for my sore thighs and inflexible hamstrings.

Working in three yoga centers in Sacramento and teaching at international yoga retreats, Michael is one of the few yoga teachers able to support himself through yoga. In addition to teaching he also consults to businesses about increasing their wellbeing through the practice of mindfulness. I was curious to hear Michael’s perspective on how he creates wellbeing for himself and how he helps others do the same.

Mindful Being in Business

Even though the business world is abuzz with mindfulness it is still worth asking whether this Buddhist discipline and its ethical philosophy can coexist with corporate culture? My main questions for Michael were how he manages to navigate within these opposing traditions and what results he has observed in his work.

Michael teaches yoga in the yoga studio and consults business clients about mindfulness. It seems to me that these presumably similar practices provide the same results, yet they have slightly different narratives. The business world is just more open towards embracing a relatively new term like mindfulness than yoga, which some associate with hippies sitting in a circle. Mindfulness is easier to associate with hard values - I imagine CEO’s saying that mindfulness can make their employees’ minds more full and can increase employee productivity.

Mindfulness and yoga are practices that make use of physical and mental exercises in order to connect with a higher purpose and expand consciousness to achieve a sense of wellbeing. When I ask Michael about mindfulness he tells me, it is about fostering concentration to find a focus, balancing your emotions, and integrating our daily actions and who we are. He describes mindfulness as an umbrella term for concentration, balance, and integration, each of which I will describe below.

Concentration is the process of maintaining a focus in order to move from possibility to achievement. In these ever-connected, digital times, we are constantly bombarded with new information, when social media compete with traditional media for our attention. We are constantly offered everything from spotless skin to business partnerships, and these opportunities are presented to us in ways that are designed to catch our attention. Concentration is a highly needed process to exclude irrelevant and distracting information and to identify the information needed to achieve our goal. Recently I was presented with a model of achievement that stated that the basis of achievement is a relationship or relatedness to people and issues. Out of relatedness arises new possibilities and we can grab opportunities to take action. Actions create results and with the right skills we might achieve our goals. This path from relatedness to achievement can easily be derailed if one does not maintain proper concentration and focus.  

Balance is the process of creating calmness and equalising different aspects of our lives. Whether we differentiate between work and free time or working for others and working for ourselves, in either case the goal is to attend to the present while also learning what we need for the future. This balance reminds me of what bestselling author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen Covey calls the Production/Production Capacity or simply P/PC balance. To explain this concept Covey refers to the fable of the goose with the golden eggs.

One day a man gets very excited to find an egg made of pure gold below his goose. The next day the same thing happens and he know he is going to be rich. After many days of getting an egg a day he decides to cut up the goose and get all the eggs, only to find that no eggs are inside the goose.

This is an example of concentrating too much on getting results rather than on the ability to produce these results. In the same way we sometimes work and work for weeks without taking time to relax, eat healthy food, exercise or hang out with friends. Then when we have finally passed the deadline we discover we have alienated our partner, have lowered our energy from eating fast food and are in danger of getting fired because we are ineffective in our job.

Integration is about aligning our sense of identity with what we do on a daily basis. It is about intentionally seeing the connection between our daily actions and what we aspire to be and holding ourselves accountable to try to live up to this. Integrity obviously has the same root of the word, and it is often explained as “walking the talk”. This is not only about career goals. The point is that if in our free time we are passionate about healthy and organic food we will likely never be happy dedicating our work time to selling burgers as the Executive Director of Marketing at McDonald's. In such a case, our values and our actions at work are simply not integrated enough to support us in achieving a sense of wellbeing.

One of the reasons the business world has not fully embraced a practice like meditation is that it is a very personal practice. So I asked Michael if he his counselling had affecting others than his clients. He then told me about one of his clients:

Michael’s client wanted to get promoted. Michael suggested to him that he start to acknowledge his colleagues every day. After a year of saying “Good morning”, “How are you?” and “Have a nice day”  Michael’s client was promoted and was celebrated by his colleagues, when one colleague asked to talk to him. The colleague said, she had been depressed and on the verge of taking her own life, but his daily greeting had made her day and had given her a reason to go to work every day.

The practice of acknowledgement is one technique that Michael advises his clients to practice. While this example does not show us how it affects the whole company it does testify to how powerful a simple consistent action can become. The main benefits of mindfulness from an employer perspective can be found within the three terms, concentration, balance and integration. It is not only a personal problem that we sometimes get distracted by facebook updates and irrelevant emails at our job. The constant information overload contributes to the stress epidemic, low employee effectiveness and thus lost profit. The  practice of mindfulness is surely is promising if it can deliver focus and achievement in the board room as well as on the factory floor.

The practice of acknowledgement is one exercise that I suggest trying out and online there is plenty of inspiration for practices that can give inspiration for a more mindful being. Below I have described an exercise that Michael mentioned at the end of our conversation.

Exercise: From Doing to Being

In talking about what one can do to cultivate mindfulness in an easy way Michael made an insightful remark,

"There is a reason why we are called human beings and not human doings.”

Often we get so caught up in checking off the to-do list of unimportant but often urgent tasks like sending emails, attending informational meetings, updating social media, etc. that we forget to be what we aspire to be, e.g. a good boyfriend, a good listener, an active and happy friend, a helpful leader, etc. To change this Michael suggested a to-be list to replace the old to-do list. I suggest trying it as an experiment for a week. Mindfulness, and thus concentration, balance and integration, is about connecting what we want to be with our day-to-day actions in search of wellbeing, purpose and meaning.

Regenerating Places for Community Wellbeing with Beatrice Benne

Regenerating Places for Community Wellbeing with Beatrice Benne

I met with Beatrice in Yerba Buena park to discuss her current creative focus and how she relates to the connection between creativity and wellbeing. In 2010 Beatrice founded Soma Integral Consulting with a mission to facilitate the resolution of adaptive challenges while focusing on the wellbeing of social and environmental ecosystems. Beatrice’s current focus and the starting point of our conversation is about assisting local governments, communities and cities with the design of regenerative approaches aimed at addressing socio-ecological challenges.

Five Kinds of Capital

Beatrice belongs to a growing group of people called the Regenerates (as depicted in the documentary called: The Regenerates) who believe that humans are not separated from nature but are nature. It’s only through our reconnection to nature that we will be able to address the ecological and social challenges we face as a society. Beatrice’s dream is to make places that help local communities thrive with creativity and wellbeing.

As an educated architect and an experienced leadership consultant she is currently creating a business aimed at facilitating community development projects in urban areas with a high level of community engagement, ensuring the project delivers value across five capitals: human, social, ecological, financial, and produced/manufactured. Beatrice proposes a process for place making based on an understanding of place as a living system.

Multi-stakeholder process for place making inspired by the Regenesis method.

Multi-stakeholder process for place making inspired by the Regenesis method.

Through an exploration of the Story of Place (an approach developed by the Regenesis Group) professionals from fields such as anthropology, sociology, geology, ecology, climate, economics, and so on develop a deep understanding of the Place and uncover its identity, vocation and potential. The Story of Place helps the neighborhood or community reconnect to the uniqueness of who it is within its place and the distinctive contribution it can make that increases the worth or value of the larger system within which it is nested. This generates increased meaning and significance that then results in the emergence of a new spirit around which a community can come together. When people are aligned around a shared identity and vocation, there is less competition for scarce resources as people see how they can complement one another and increase their impact through collaboration versus competition.

Who is the Client?

Who is the client when the objective of the development process is the general wellbeing of the community? Why would private businesses contribute to this kind of process and not just build what they want where they want it? Is this method only relevant for the public sector and city planning?

These are questions that are not only relevant in the case of building and place making but in all cross sectoral projects. The public sector is interested in the common wellbeing, organizations in the social/non-profit sector each pursue a specific purposes and companies in the private sector are mostly interested in profit.

What can you do as a creative, entrepreneur to make projects for the common good and still earn an income to support yourself and your family? What does it take to do projects that serve the wellbeing of actors within all sectors?  How could entrepreneurs create Responsible Businesses per design (Note: The Responsible Business is the title of a book by Carol Sanford, who is a principal at Regenesis)

In some cases the line between for-profit companies and for-purpose organizations in the public and social sector is blurring. Companies make  Corporate Social Responsibility strategies or form a purpose/vision statement to guide their affairs. In the US 27 states have created legislation that allow for a new kind of corporate structure called benefit corporations (www.benefitcorp.net). These B-Corp’s uses the power of business to solve social and environmental systems and can thus be seen as bridging the gap between the for-profit and for-purpose organizations. In his TED-talk Toby Eccles talk about a new business model to solve social needs; it is a problem that many convicted criminals return to prison after serving their first sentence and Eccles presents a business model that successfully has solved this problem. Investors invest in a program that helps released prisoners and get a return if the program is successful. The business offers the government that they will take care of the released prisoners, and if they succeed in lowering the number of released prisoners that commit crimes again they get some of the money that society has saved on costs associated with those crimes, e.g. prison system, judicial system, social system and the police. If successful the money can serve as profit for the investors.

These concepts are all part of what can be called a fourth sector where profit and public wellbeing is important. Learn more about the fourth sector here

Scales of Creating Wellbeing

If you are reading this and have read the previous blog posts you might have noticed that my inquiry about Creative Wellbeing is very broad. I am touching upon how one can go about creating wellbeing for oneself, how companies and societies create wellbeing for their employees, their customers and citizens. At the same time it is about how the same actors create an interpersonal space of wellbeing that sparks creativity. My first hypothesis was that "adventure sparks creativity and innovation" and my second main hypothesis then becomes “humans are designers of their surroundings and aspire for wellbeing” and our goals are related to becoming effective designers of our world to spark the wellbeing of ourselves and others.

 

To Learn = To Create = To Transform

To Learn = To Create = To Transform

The Bay Area Society of Organizational Learning Community (BASoL) is made up of a diverse group of practitioners, consultants and researchers dedicated to improving their knowledge and effectiveness in practicing organizational and societal learning. On Memorial Day I took part in one of the monthly workshops hosted at the Impact Hub in San Francisco. The workshop titled “To Learn = To Create = To Transform” was facilitated by Beatrice Benne as an exploration of the connection between these concepts. This blog post will be concerned with, how Beatrice in this workshop managed to create a space of wellbeing that allowed people to be creative together.

Bohmian Dialogue as a Creative Space

In one part of the workshop Beatrice invited us to take part in a Bohmian Dialogue. It is a form of conversation exploring a subject in a group by exploring different perspectives. It is not a discussion where the objective is to find a compromise or a shared understanding.

The BASoL is a group of well educated and experienced practitioners of organizational development and all have strong and well founded opinions. With no rules this group of experts like any other group with shared interest would easily end up discussing their viewpoints with an unspoken ambition to win the discussion.

A main point of Bohmian dialogue is the suspension of thoughts, impulses and judgments. In an article about dialogue David Bohm explains suspension in the following way:

It does not mean repressing or suppressing or, even, postponing them. It means, simply, giving them your serious attention so that their structures can be noticed while they are actually taking place.

Suspension thus slows down our conversation and in a way suspends our thoughts as an object in front of us as opposed to something inside us, i.e. not anything connected to our personality or status. My experience of the interaction within the group was that we got really deep in the exploration of learning, creation and transformation. This happened without the formation of groups with specific opinions that were clashing with other groups' opinions.

Bohmian dialogue is a good example of how to change group interactions. Often a discussion can feel like the survival of the fittest or that the one with the best arguments or loudest voice is “winning” over the rest. In previous workshops I also have experienced other rules that also interfered with the normal way of working together, examples of these rules are listed below.

  • Suspend thoughts, impulses and judgements
  • No “No, but…” say “Yes, and..."
  • Listen more than you speak
  • Learn, don’t perform
  • Between every person speaking there must be one breath of pause

As a reader of this you can try out some of these rules or add your own, next time you have a discussion or are working creatively with others.

Outcomes

Being an exploration we did not state a conclusions or take any decisions on the subject, though I felt that if someone had made a transcript of this conversation, it could easily become a chapter in a book about the subject. Below I have listed some of the questions, issues and statements that came up.

  • There are no systems. It is just something we have made up to simplify our understanding.
  • Creativity arises in when risk and trust is balanced appropriately.
  • We need to take into account the whole system to know if we are creating something good.
  • Transformation can arise from a deep, deep crisis.
  • Our primary problem in the World is the unintended consequences of our former good intentions.

Creating Wellbeing from Knowledge of History

Creating Wellbeing from Knowledge of History

Mishka’s has one of the best ice coffees in Davis, and that is where I met up with Mike on a Thursday afternoon. Mike is a graduate student, currently working toward a PhD in North American history, with a designated emphasis in Native American studies. We thought out loud about creative wellbeing, and our boisterous conversation touched upon Native American cultures, Descartes, Kohlberg, and Thinking Hearts. These are my insights from my talk with Mike, who has kindly helped me with references for some of the claims I make in this article.

Learning from History

Immediately before my meeting with Mike I took part in a meeting with a cross disciplinary research group at UC Davis. The purpose of this group is to advance research within game based learning. The members of the group primarily work together to produce publications which can be characterized as written knowledge, but are also arranging a game jam for kids and developing game play prototypes.

It is a long standing tradition for scholars to publish articles, and getting an article in one of the most prestigious journals within your field can literally make a whole career. Although this still happens for the very few there is an exponential increase in the number of scientific articles and a new study by Finnish and Californian researchers shows that this in part has lead to an attention decay, see the article here. The increasing amount of publications makes it impossible for researchers to be updated within their field and the study shows that the attention directed towards publications decays at an exponential rate, which indicates that scientist at an increasing speed forgets articles. The study also mentions an attention economy that has arisen in some scientific communities, where scientist reference their colleagues or friends as a favor in order to help them gain either a monetary bonus or status. These issues are problems not only because of the wasted time of bright minds but also because of all the knowledge that is not translated into valuable technology, products, actions, or even into advancing the academic field. What is the point of scientific research if it does not contribute to the wellbeing of society through some kind of output?

In indigenous cultures worldwide and at some time, look to , also within our Western culture knowledge has not been considered a concept separate from art, action, nature, etc. Indigenous people of the Americas considered knowledge as closely connected to aesthetics, art, spirit and their history. In his book Wisdom Sits in Places: Notes on a Western Apache Landscape Keith Basso (read about the author here) explains how indigenous places names have incorporated knowledge, traditions and thoughts of reflection in them - and their literature was paintings of animals and plants each having multiple meanings; a good example is the symbol of the turtle. Most turtle species have 13 sections to shell which in native american culture represents the 13 moons of a year, and is thus related to the mother earth. The knowledge of the World was simply incorporated in the culture’s interpretation of nature. See more by studying the works of Joseph Brunac.

Re-unify Knowledge with Creating Wellbeing

Even though the connection between mind and body is gaining attention in modern psychology and other scientific fields it is far from seen as unified concept. In Western culture knowledge as a separate concept has gained an undeserved reputation of being valuable in itself instead of being a tool for creating wellbeing for people and society. It is maybe time for society to let go of this perception of Descartian separation of mind and body?

With these thoughts my adventurous conversation with an expert in the American history gave me an insight into the very nature of the title of this project. Creative Wellbeing consists of two words representing the outer and inner world of being in the World. Creative is about acting in the external environment while Wellbeing is an internal state - together Creative Wellbeing is about creating your external environment that enables your wellbeing as well as creating an internal state of being that enables you to continuously create and contribute to changing your environments. With this I ask two questions:

How can we and scientist especially make our knowledge relevant for the wellbeing of people?
How do we create wellbeing from knowledge?

 

Wholehearted Leadership with Leslie Bosserman

Wholehearted Leadership with Leslie Bosserman

Leslie M. Bosserman, M.Ed., CPCC,

Leslie M. Bosserman, M.Ed., CPCC, is a Leadership Coach and Culture Consultant with a background in strengths-based leadership development and applied positive psychology. We met at her office at The Urban Hive in Sacramento where we had a conversation about creative wellbeing in relation to her concept of Wholehearted Leadership™.

Wholehearted Leadership™ 

"It’s 4:37pm on a Friday afternoon. How are you feeling? Energized or completely drained? Now consider how you normally end your workweek. How would you like to feel instead? When was the last 4me you felt inspired at work? Or do you just “get through” each day, only to start again the next morning?"

These are some of the questions that Leslie ask her clients before helping them lead a life with more energy and an increased feeling of purpose. After years of experience, Leslie has identified the following Six Rules for Leading With Intention that help her and her clients in the pursuit of practicing Wholehearted Leadership.

  1. Live With Integrity
  2. Make Intentional Choices
  3. Get Uncomfortable Often
  4. Detach From Outcomes
  5. Stand In Your Power
  6. Create a Daily Legacy

These all come with a short and useful description in her recent ebook, The Wholehearted Leadership™ Revolution. In our conversation about creative wellbeing, we quickly got to talk about strengths and how sourcing your leadership from these, can be a key factor to creating your own wellbeing and allowing your creativity to flourish. 

The Balcony and Basement of Creativity

Tom Rath and his studies regarding strength based leadership and wellbeing can teach us more about the connection between creativity and wellbeing. These studies are quite comprehensive with eight books published by Tom Rath between 2004 and now, amongst them several NY Times bestsellers, where some are being added to my reading list. A most interesting concept from Tom Rath is the concept of the balcony and basement of strengths - where each strength is thought of as having a good expression – the balcony – and a bad expression – the basement. This leads me to wonder about how creativity fits into this theory.

In this Tom Rath view strengths as being the sum of talent and investment, and defines 34 main strengths that are used as base for defining other strengths; a list of the 34 strengths with corresponding balconies and basement can be found here

Talent + investment = Strength
Talent is a naturally occurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. 
Strength is the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance in a given activity. 

As creativity is not a part of this list, I ask readers to take part in an exercise:

Exercise:

  1. Define for yourself what creativity means to you.
  2. Identify the balcony and basement for creativity by asking yourself when being creative enables you and disables you in your work. Get inspiration from the list

To me creativity is the combined ability to identify needs, answer these with novel ideas and take measures to successfully implement these in the World. Creativity is thus linked to ideation, empathy and strategic in the list as well as some of the Six Rules for Leading with Intention. To exercise our creativity we need to make an intentional choice of wanting to change something, No. 2, and be confident that we actually can, i.e. stand in our power, No. 5. Working creatively often involves getting uncomfortable, No. 3, because we are not sure where we are going or what will come out of it, No. 4. In the end, working creatively derives from a desire to do things differently and create a daily legacy - and sometimes intergenerational one, No. 6.

Below is my balcony and basement for creativity - I invite you to make one for yourself and share it with others to

Left: Use this illustration for any strength and identify its balcony and basement to know when your strength enables and when it disables you. Right: My own suggestions of the balcony and basement for creativity.

Left: Use this illustration for any strength and identify its balcony and basement to know when your strength enables and when it disables you. Right: My own suggestions of the balcony and basement for creativity.

 

More about Leslie:

Leslie runs a multi-disciplinary practice called Lead With Intention™ where she coaches, trains, and consults with clients around the world, helping leaders and their teams revitalize their individual lives and organizational environments. She regularly shares her Leading Insights™ on her blog and recently published an ebook on Wholehearted Leadership™ that is available for free download. Leslie works with a variety of clients ranging from top executives at worldwide corporations to creative entrepreneurs and non-profit teams and is currently based in Northern California.