Can businesses be mindful?

Most of us are familiar with mindfulness. Paying attention to the whole without judgement. Whether we practice it as a routine, or periodically under pressure, it is a valuable (if over hyped) approach.

Done effectively, it helps us sort signal from noise, and connect what we are doing to the service of the “something bigger” that is important to us in our lives and work.

So why, I wonder, is it so much more difficult to do at an organisation level?

In “Coherence” Alan Watkins talks compellingly about the science of the hierarchy of performance. About how our behaviours are rooted in our physiology (through the intermediate levels of emotion, feelings and thought). It is these levels that even simple mindfulness practice can help us access.

Research has shown that focusing purely on behaviours only works to motivate people to earn rewards, not to pay attention to the deeper, more important things that shape culture and sustainable performance.

Yet, when we turn up at work, suddenly performance and behaviours become binary. Maybe because of time pressures, or just the habit of being busy, we resist taking the time to go deeper, to consider how our organisations structure, its’ changing shape over time, and the echoes of people no longer there affect our feelings and ways of thinking.

So we end up in our own performance of Groundhog Day. Regression to a declining mean.

We are often told that today, people’s attention is the scarcest commodity. That may be correct, but perhaps the more important question is what we use that attention for. In a world of “solutions”, we maybe don’t pay enough attention to encouraging curiosity and reflective thinking at an organisational level.

I think it’s important. If we don’t renew, we fade – individually, and as organisations.

Sign your Work

In the midst of everything that is changing – technology, politics, economics, the increasing fragility of our environment and our ability to connect to each other physically and digitally – one thing has hardly changed at all.


We may be able to live longer as we understand the mechanics of our bodies better, and we may have more, better educated people but that aside little has changed for millennia. Our human hardware and software has hardly changed.

As individuals, we are not noticeably brighter than Archimedes, or Plato, DaVinci or Marcus Aurelius.

As the global population has soared, we have moved from organising ourselves into tribes, then cities, then countries, then groups of countries. At work, we have gone from being artisans, to members of guilds, to servants of corporations.

Economically, it has been a phenomenal success, with almost everyone financially wealthier than their ancestors, maybe until now. In the “developed” world, for the first time, we are seeing a plateau, maybe even a decline in generational wealth.

At a human level, we appear to have stalled. We have known for some time that above a relatively modest level of income (around $70,000), “happiness” plateaus, as we move beyond basic needs to become focused on aspects of material wealth.

That battle is now pretty much over for now. Tiny minorities own the vast majority of money, assets, land, and property at a global as well as local level.

We may have pretty much exhausted the benefits of being tied to traditional organisations.

As we move to “gig economy’ models, the relationship with the organisation becomes ever more transactional, with whatever notion of a ‘social contract” that may have existed in previous times now largely absent.

Time to rethink our mindsets.

“All Children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist as (s)he grows up”

Pablo Picasso

The Elementary Education Act was passed was passed in the UK in 1880. It was part philanthropic, part necessity. Changing patterns of work required a certain minimum level of education to serve the industrialising economy.

The basic principle has remained ever since.

Education is a great way to prepare people for structured work, and qualifications a vital tool in selecting the appropriate level of skill. Machine metaphors for an industrial economy.

Arts take a back seat. Political focus is in STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – the four horsemen of an industrialised economy. However, whereas once – even only a couple of decades ago –  that was an effective route to a successful career for many, today it is no longer the case.

In a global economy, even if your qualifications make you one in a million, there are still 7,000 people out there, right now, just like you and available.

It’s time to reintroduce ourselves to the artist in us.

An artist sees the world differently, and is driven to help others see what they see. They are driven by curiosity, courage and the need to speak their truth. They don’t just sign their work, they leave their signature on the world.

There’s a reason “”paint by numbers art” doesn’t fetch record prices. It is not original, and adds little to the world, and teaches us that it’s good to paint between lines drawn by others.

That’s not what the World (or our Soul) needs of us right now.

The World needs you to sign it.

Every day we walk past things that would be better with a little help from us. The figure asleep in the doorway (not a problem, a person who would get a lift from just being acknowledged). A comment in a meeting that would benefit from our insight. An idea that needs nourishing.

Nobody else can do that for us. Nobody else sees it like we do.

It’s so easy to walk past, to assume, to think someone else would do it. That we’re not qualified, or that someone will disapprove.

We are only here, right now, in this way, once. Heraclitus (one of those old, smart people who lived around 2,500 years ago) said

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man”

We all have a signature

From the moment we’re born (and maybe before) we are developing our unique signature. Just like our writing, it will develop over time. If you look at your childhood writing, you will see the roots of your signature you put on letters and documents today. It may have evolved, but it’s heart is the same you. The same goes for our best work.

Our “signatures” are the product of all that we do. Our ideas, views, passions, ideas, inventions, opinions, loves, desires, and perhaps most importantly, acts.

We all have a choice of two futures, starting right now.

We can either contribute, with love and intent, to make whatever is in front of us better than it would otherwise be, or walk on by.

Smile at someone, pull out a weed in a flowerbed, contribute in a meeting, air an idea, don’t put up with bullshit.

Or do. It’s a choice.

At heart, we are all artists.

Our lives are the brush, and the world is a canvas. Let’s not leave it unsigned.

A quiet revolution

It’s been said that we don’t know there’s a revolution going on ’till it’s over.

Up until that point, we see anomalies, departures from our familiar norms and are slow to come to terms that this is the new normal.

We can see this at a variety of levels, although where I am noticing it most is in the relatively mundane day to day working of organisations, particularly small and medium sized ones.

They don’t have to be very old – twenty years is plenty – for those who founded them to have lived through a quiet but profound change in the relationship they have with new talent.

Twenty year ago, organisations still had the power to choose. More people wanted jobs than there were jobs available. Clear job definitions and qualifications gave them a menu of people to choose from. Over the last twenty years, those jobs have become commodities. Lots of people can do them, from many locations, for ever decreasing prices. And where that isn’t cheap enough, machine learning, AI and automation steps up to the plate.

Lots of options for employers, but the results are increasingly asymptotic. Price may go down, but quality does not go up. Same output for lower input.

Which means that we now have a whole new tribe to deal with. Not just some easy label like “millennial”, but a whole new demographic. People not just with skills, but opinions and purpose. People who want to do something unique, something that matters, something to be remembered for. People with a voice.


Artists comes in all shapes, sizes, and ages. They are a real challenge to employ on conventional terms, because it’s not about the conventional metrics of pay and conditions. They are looking for fellow travellers.

Artists are super empowered. Given the right vehicle, the right environment and the right company they can can help those they work with to achieve “escape velocity” from the mundane to the remarkable. to escape the “soggy middle” of price based competition to building loyal followers who get what they are about.

Look around you. How many artists do you see? Those who do not have to be with you, but are there from choice because it’s where they can do the work they want to. Those who will make a real difference to other than the cost base. Those who are in a race to the top, not the bottom, of their potential.

If you don’t see any, then the revolution may just be passing you by.

The people who can make the difference you need have a choice.

..….and in the way these things work, this from Seth Godin just dropped into my inbox.