Friday, September 20, 2019

3 tips on being mindful in the corporate world: An Edgar Schein perspective

I have been a fan of Prof Edgar Schein, an expert on organizational culture. However, I was surprised to hear Schein emphasize mindfulness in an interview at Google. By the time of this interview in 2016, Schein would have been 87 years old, active as a researcher, teacher and consultant way more than half a century. What is mindfulness according to Schein? What is the role, according to him, mindfulness can play in a competitive corporate world? Let’s explore in this article.

Let’s begin with taking a look at what Schein means by mindfulness. According to Schein, mindfulness is not some kind of meditation process. Mindfulness is situational awareness of how culture inside of us and around us is dominating our thinking. The point Schein is emphasizing here is that the culture is inside us in the form of accumulated learning from family, school, corporate world, etc.

Here are 3 tips Schein offers on being mindful in a corporate world obsessed with measurement and winning.

Be curious about deeper reality: Situational awareness would mean being curious about what’s going on as we observe things, communicate with people and make decisions. Schein suggests a couple of questions that might help in this process. One, what’s the deeper reality? For example, in a meeting, can I become aware of the fact that I am trying to win an argument rather than focusing on the point of discussion, whenever that happens? The second question Schein suggests us to ask is, “What else is going on?”

Be relational vs transactional: In a fast-paced world, we need to make decisions quickly. That leads to interactions which are transactional – e.g. telling what to do and expect the other person to just follow. In some situations, this may be meaningful. However, in many situations, this doesn’t work. This becomes even tougher when the job is to fire people. Schein uses the example from the movie “Up in the air” to point out that firing people by hiring an agency to do it over a video call is transactional. A more humane approach would be for the manager to sit face to face and discuss options together openly.

Focus on process vs content: According to Schein, mindfulness involves paying more attention to the process of thinking as compared to the content of thought. Mostly our attention is grabbed by the content – the ideas, judgments, decisions, etc. And we are unaware of the process that fuels thinking. Many times the process is driven by anxieties and aspirations. Anxiety could be about losing out in one’s career or it could be about not winning. Situational awareness means being aware of this process, anxieties-aspirations driving the thinking as much as the content.

Schein points out that being mindful doesn’t guarantee corporate success. If your boss values only winning, you may be stuck. Of course, being mindful of one’s own anxieties about being stuck and how that is being reflected in everything one does may open up newer possibilities.

Why be mindful if it doesn’t increase the chance of success in the corporate world? I don’t think this aspect is discussed in the interview. I feel that being mindful in order to succeed is taking one away from mindfulness already. This is because every action now is driven by an aspiration to succeed or anxiety about failure.

Hope you get to explore the tips Schein offers and experiment with being mindful for its own sake rather than in order to achieve something. I thought Karen May, Google VP People Development has done an excellent job as an interviewer. Hope you listen to the interview which may have much more in store for you.

Image source: youtube.com
Interview link: “Edgar Schein: Humber leadership” | Talks at Google

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