Soren Gordhamer opened the conference with a story about playing hide and seek as a child, and how at some point, when not everyone has been found, the leader calls out “allie, allie in come free” and asks those who are still hiding to come out in the open. He spoke of having the goal of bringing mindfulness practice out in the open for everyone.
The following day he described his first attempt, last year, to get this conference up and running. He was prepared to spend $10,000 of his own money and he had gotten Chris Sacca to speak. He figured, if no one else would speak, then he and Chris would put on the first Wisdom 2.0 together whether 200 people or only 2 people came. This year, there were 400 people in attendance with a long waiting list of others who would have attended and the livestreamed conference was viewed over 200,000 times. Clearly, something has clicked with people.
It was a brilliant move to start with the biggest Silicon Valley companies. Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Zynga and eBay, moving at lightening speed and for all the good they do, are also having the effect of distracting hundreds of millions of people and speeding up their lives in stressful ways. Jon Kabat-Zinn described it as our being so hungry for the next moment that we are missing the current moment of our lives. This was not the intention of the builders of these companies. Many of them had very good intentions to connect people for good but the reality of what is happening is that peoples’ attention is becoming more scattered. The fact that arguably, many of the most powerful businesses in the world are willing to step back and take a look at what has happened and to walk the walk in their own companies is a hopeful sign.
Rich Fernandez, head of learning at eBay showed perhaps the most convincing slide of the conference for business people who are skeptical of implementing mindful practice internally for the way they treat employees and the way employees treat eachother. It was a comparison of the 100 top companies to work for with the Russell 2000 and there was a 10 to 1 ratio of success in financial terms. I hope he makes his slides available publicly because every one of them was fascinating.
As Roshi Joan Halifax said in the first panel addressing Kevin Rose, Chris Sacca, Eric Scheirmeyer, and Bradley Horowitz: “You are the role models.” These four men spoke of the fact that they could not accomplish what they have without honing their ability to pay attention. Eric described using martial arts to hone his attention. Chris Sacca said that everything that led him to be successful in his business is related to mindfulness and health. For Kevin Rose, “be mindful” was at the top of his New Year’s resolutions. He took up drinking tea as a way of slowing down and learning to pay attention and opened a chain of tea rooms in the San Francisco area to share that experience, called The Samavar Tea room. As Kevin said, when he described the super high powered, high stress lives that these guys all lead: if you don’t stop and reflect and take a break, bad things will happen. Bad things like serious health issues they all described including bleeding ulcers and panic attacks. Bradley Horowitz, who heads up Google apps, said at any one time, he is working on products that effect hundreds of millions of people and so millions of them may be dissatisfied at a given moment. It is daunting to imagine trying to manage that responsibility emotionally at a time when things happen in your personal life, including, for him, the death of a father and diagnosis of his mother with terminal cancer. His meditation practice helps him manage through the crises and remain productive.
Bradley Horowitz described how at Google he implemented a process where the attendees of meeting will pause before the meeting starts, acknowledge who is there, and set an intention for the meeting. There is a requirement to arrive on time to respect everyone’s time and for one person to “own” the responsibility for making the meeting productive and for distributing the notes. There is permission for anyone at any time to “call bullshit” and walk out of the meeting if it deteriorates. The result is shorter and fewer meetings.
Throughout the conference there was the recognition that technology could be used for good or for evil. As Bradley Horowitz added it can be a force for creating revolutions for for being a time waster. Chris Sacca commented that the more that the transparencies of social networks grow online the more difficult it is to fake anything. “Truth,” he said, “is surfacing.” On the other side of the coin Kevin Rose pointed out that “going all in on technology will eventually tear you down.” His story of using tea to slow down was referred to many times during the conference by speakers. There are many different ways to be mindful.
Kiva, the micro-financing organization, was the perfect example of another theme of the conference, “small actions that can have big impact.” This has implications for how organizations can start the process of being more mindful. If every organization, whether it is a corporation, a family or the local PTA, can do some small things to appreciate people, to recognize people, to pause for a moment and think about what they are doing, it will be the beginning of big changes.
In the background of the conference were the people attending. Everyone I met was involved in fascinating work that consciously helps others. The point of going here is to learn from others, but as it was pointed out several times, you can’t change anything until you create the conditions to learning in yourself.