Leadership Wisdom: Learnings on the Intersection of Mindfulness & Technology

The Wisdom 2.0 conference just celebrated its 10thyear, seven of which I have attended and come away from inspired.  Listening to leaders in a wide range of fields who practice mindfulness for pursuing excellence is an awesome learning experience.  This year, hot topics included social media as society’s mirror, reducing biases in the tech industry, therapeutic psychedelics, and eliminating ‘us-them’ thinking. Here are bits of wisdom from mindful leaders that inspired me.

Social media amplifies what is inside us already; it is a magnifying glass for human nature.

Envy and competition have always been there, but so have compassion and community.  Jay Shetty of Making Wisdom Go Viral emphasized that there are actually more wonderful shares on social media than we think.  A recent Inc. article highlighted a study that looked at 777 million Facebook posts to see which were shared the most; not only were most of the shares positive, but the top 10 were all positive.  Jay’s motto is SHARE GOOD, FOLLOW GOOD, CREATE GOOD – definitely wise words.  Diego Perez, the real-life Instagram famous Yung Pueblo, seconded that sentiment with his perspective that social media is a means for humanity to have a conversation with itself.  The worthy goal of that conversation is to master the skill of kindness to others as a human collective. In terms of moderating social media use so that is healthy for overall wellbeing, Jay reminded us that, like in all of life, self-discipline, habits, and practice are what make the difference.

We all have biases; change starts with seeing them.

Improving diversity and inclusion in the technology industry is not an easy task.  While it is hard to notice the lens through which we see the world, practicing mindfulness helps us see more clearly.  Candice Morgan at Pinterest, Jules Walter at Slack, Nancy Douyon at Uber (and previously Google, IBM, and others), and Bradley Horowitz at Google are all focused on progress for diversity and inclusion in the technology industry.  Candice had a learning moment when a young black man told her he felt like he always had to have his work badge visible so people knew he belonged in the building.  Jules reminded us that when you are the ‘only one’ it is hard to be vocal, and that it’s helpful if people don’t assume but rather ask and try to understand different approaches and perspectives.  Nancy helps companies have a global-first perspective, such as Uber taking cash in India. Candice spoke of an internal study that revealed that the most effective managers were those who sought input on how best to communicate with others and showed humility by talking about mistakes. 

Shortcuts to enlightenment have limited but valuable use.

We’ve been hearing more about psychedelics in the news since Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind” book came out.  Science is demonstrating that therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs can have similar effects on the brain as meditation does.  However, as Dan Siegel put it, for most people drugs aren’t needed because we can reach that same brain state and get many more benefits with mindful awareness.  The real value of psychedelics seems to be in the treatment of PTSD and in end-of-life care.  Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) is leading Phase 3 human trials for MDMA therapy to address PTSD in veterans, with promising initial results.  Researchers at John Hopkins are doing psilocybin research for terminally ill cancer patients, again with promising initial results.  Every leader speaking on this subject emphasized the important difference between recreational and therapeutic use of these brain-changing substances.  While science is demonstrating valuable therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs, most of us can stick to changing our brains through mindful meditation.

The moment we separate ‘us’ and ‘them’ we’ve lost the cause

Paul Hawken, well-known environmentalist and editor of “Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” has been advocating for the earth for decades without making enemies.  From the outset, “Drawdown” was designed to share possibilities for solutions without passing judgement so that everyone can be involved.  When asked a question about big oil companies, Hawken immediately pointed out placing blame on those companies was an ‘us-them’ perspective and not helpful for implementing solutions to the existential threat we all face.