What do Jeff Bezos and Oprah make a habit of…?

When an idea or tool has the support of some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs, influencers and businesses, it’s hard not to imagine what it could do for you. Such is the case with the practice of mindfulness.

Business leaders including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos,  LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner and even Oprah have touted its benefits. The practice has been adopted by management gurus, business schools, high-tech firms, investment banks, hospitals, and the military as a way to improve organisational and individual performance and well-being. And there has been a rise in mobile apps that encourages people to meditate regularly.

Entrepreneurs and businesses can benefit from knowing that mindfulness has been a long-standing practice in Buddhism, where it is practiced in a holistic way and within a specific ethical framework.

Making room for creativity

Much has been written about the health benefits of mindfulness, such as  stress reduction. But there are also a number of benefits for entrepreneurs and business leaders. By consciously managing our thoughts as they enter our minds, we can maintain focus despite being surrounded by business “noise”.

For entrepreneurs, mindfulness practice offers numerous benefits, including improved creativity and cross-cultural agility. Practicing mindfulness clears space in our mind so that we can generate new, better ideas. You notice and consciously put away the different “noises” taking up valuable space in our consciousness. The result is innovation and the ability to think outside the box – key ingredients in fine-tuning your business model, strategies, and ideas.

Mindfulness is about having a growth mindset – making sure our mind is agile enough to notice one’s own attachments such as things need to be done in a certain way, and thus being able to choose not to be attached to the familiar.

Agility across borders

A 2015 review on “Contemplating Mindfulness at Work” published in the Journal of Management suggests that mindfulness training could improve our rationality, as we focus on the present instead of past experiences by letting go of attachments, including long-held beliefs, assumptions, personal biases, and your status quo. This helps entrepreneurs improve their cross-cultural agility – an increasingly important skill in a globalised world.

From handshakes and bows to more subtle ways of communicating, cultural behaviours are likely entrenched and can be difficult to notice. This creates situations in which you might cause offense or miscommunicate and potentially lose out on an opportunity. Mindfulness improves your cultural agility as you notice unconscious behaviours, urges, or biases, so you can revise them based on the knowledge that you guide yourself toward a better action.

Potential pitfalls

Like all practices, there are potential negative outcomes when mindfulness is conducted without the proper training. By understanding the true origins of mindfulness, businesses and entrepreneurs can realise the benefits while also mitigating the risks.

In modern workplaces, mindfulness often focuses only on pleasant or superficial benefits. It is offered as a technique for eliminating specific problems such as stress or achieving some outcomes such as enhanced productivity, making it a “for-gain” approach which may be at odds with Buddhist traditions, many of which take a “no-gain” approach.

If mindfulness is a way of “being” and business activities is a way of “doing”, incorporating mindfulness training in business practice can be a way towards maintaining the yin and yang of being and doing for a more balanced state in our daily busyness.

Dr Jane Qiu, AGSM Fellow and Senior Lecturer

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