50 years of experience says: Kickass meetings start with single tasking

Last night, I had dinner with a group that included mindfulness warriors Wendy Palmer and Pamela Weiss. Wendy coaches leaders at places like NASA, Old Navy and Twitter in embodied leadership, while Pam takes mindfulness into corporate environments like Genentech and Pixar. As we ordered our salads, I couldn’t help but be aware that 50+ years of meditation experience – literally tens of thousands of hours of mindful sitting – were at the table with me.

Wendy and Pam have the rare distinction of being among that elite (yet humble) group here in the Western world who have rigorously applied cutting-edge brain science, for years, to their own brains. What I loved most was the fact that there were no sweety-sweet voices or holy murmurs around this dinner table. These leaders of leaders are smart, piercing, kind and sassy. They play it real.

mindfulness-istock-prvWe talked about the paradox of bringing presence and mindful attention to today’s capitalist, Western, techo-driven world of work. On the one hand, the practices Wendy and Pam offer are precisely the best skillsets to support the social collaboration, keen self-awareness and ongoing learning that companies and their people need. Assessing one of Pam’s programs, for example, showed radical impact: Participants had three times the normal business impact, and a 50% improvement in communication, collaboration and conflict management. 98% of participants reported feeling more successful at work at at home, and 88% reported increased satisfaction and meaning at work. Return on investment was estimated to be $1.50-2.00 for every dollar invested.

That’s Radical: Stories of Transformation @ Work – Short from Bill Weber on Vimeo.

On the other, everyone’s jonesing for a shortcut. Like, could you please give my team of 50 people the goods – 2500 years of accumulated wisdom and 50+ years of deep experience – in a 2-hour block?

Walking home after dinner, I saw the need for this bold work everywhere. Just in the last week…

  • I heard executives talk about the tension in big meetings between leveraging the full (and costly) value of the brains around the table, versus the seductive “efficiency” of allowing each other to have laptops open, keep an eye on phones, and answer texts.
  • I listened to a group of leaders wonder aloud how to pull themselves back off the ledge of their own reactivity when taking up infuriating behavior with staff – and getting that infuriating behavior right back, in the moment.
  • I wondered myself: How do I cultivate the clarity – when days are full and there’s a lot coming my way – to say a timely yes to the things that matter most, and no to those that don’t?

So for all our sakes, let me offer this. If, like me, you just can’t make 50 years fit in your calendar this week, how about a few minutes? Here are three things to get you started.

1. Try these. In case you’re still wondering… the perils of multitasking: real or imagined? 

ustv_elementary_1(Multitasking not only doesn’t pay, it costs an estimate of $650 billion each year because employees spend a third of their time interrupting existing tasks they have to pick back up later – less effectively. Unless, that is, you’re a “super-tasker,” a member of that extremely small percentage of the population who can pay attention to two tasks at the same time. Like this guy to the left.)

2. Read this article by Nick Van Dam, Chief Learning Officer in global talent at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd, that spoke to me as a learner, a facilitator, and a leader. I’ve shamelessly excerpted his headlines, and if this is interesting to you, I strongly encourage reading the entire, easy-to-digest piece.

“Cognitive neuroscience will shape the future of corporate learning practices.”

– Nick Van Dam

  • Learning is a physical process in which new knowledge is represented by new brain cell connections, which are facilitated by chemicals called growth factors.
  • Specific exercise routines, optimal sleep structure, and silencing the mind can all enhance the availability of growth factors.
  • Increasing knowledge of people is key to innovation.
  • Active engagement is necessary for learning.
  • All learning has an emotional base.
  • Focused attention is fundamental to acquiring new knowledge.
  • Deployment of short learning sessions will increase knowledge retention.
  • Use it or lose it.
  • Multitasking slows down learning.
  • Enhancing brain performance capacity supports learning.

peace3. Take your brain to the gym. On my radar is the audio series by notables Jack Kornfield and Daniel Siegel, Mindfulness and the Brain: A Professional Training in the Science and Practice of Meditative Awareness (thanks to client collaborator Olya Kurkoski for bringing this to my attention). A fresh read is David Rock‘s article on the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. And for something completely different but entirely related, it doesn’t get better than this little handbook: Thich Nhat Hahn’s Peace Is Every Step.

Other resources you know about, small or big? Please share. We all need help on this one.

Images courtesy www.today.ucla.eduwww.digitalspy.co.uk and Amazon.

4 thoughts on “50 years of experience says: Kickass meetings start with single tasking

  1. Beautiful and insightful writing Julie – thank you.

    Here is a reference to a book that touched me very deeply as a child – “Zen Speaks – Shouts of Nothingness” by Tsai Chih Chung (translated by Brian Bruya)

    It’s conceptually simple, rich with metaphor – and is ful of cartoons 🙂


  2. Thanks for inspiring stillness and attention. I’m a real fan of Pam Weiss’ Personal Excellence Program — amazing what happens when the attention and awareness of a mindfulness practice are applied to personal development goals.
    Also appreciated Nick Van Dam’s adamant support of quieting the mind and “neural training” of attention. Totally fabulous info!

    • Suzanne, I know you are right – I’ve been reading a lot recently about adult developmental psychology, and one element all of the intentional developmental approaches have in common is the practice of focusing attention and awareness in the moment. Maybe there is a secret to the universe after all. Thanks for your comment!

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