Being zen at work

Reading the Steve Jobs Biography has made me realise how important his philosophical views were to his business life. I’ve made a point of keeping my own beliefs to myself, in my work, and on this blog. But Steve’s example is forcing me to confront the fact that the general attitude you bring to life really does inform the attitude that you bring to business.

Steve Jobs Landmark Forum Zen

Your approach to life influences your approach to business more than most people realise.

Recently, several bloggers that I respect such as Olivier Blanchard and Seth Godin have been sharing more about how their personal beliefs inform their work. In this sprit, I’d like to share my own brief explorations with Zen and some practical things that I’ve learnt.

Bring yourself to your work

It can be a real challenge to bring more of your personality to work. Especially when it comes to beliefs, ideas and philosophy. HR and sales training have traditionally been safe places to start a conversation about ‘Why are we in business?’ and ‘What do we want to achieve?’ but they are not enough. To bring more of your own beliefs about people, life and the universe into your work try the following:

  1. Breathe more (like right now), breathing is a classic zen technique for centring. The resulting inner calm will defuse through those around you.
  2. Start your next meeting with a “What do we want to get out of this meeting?” conversation. It’s easier to focus when you know why you are playing the game. Intent matters.
  3. Sit on the rock. You need to figure out what kind of dent in the universe you want to make. Don’t spend too much time on this. Just pick something that you want to see more of or less of in the world and commit to that. Then adjust as you go along.
Steve Jobs Zen

Steve Jobs bought Zen practice into his business life.

The Zen of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was influenced by Zen teachers Shunryu Suzuki and Kobun Chino Otogawa. There are some really interesting critiques of Steve’s evolving interest in Zen during his career. There is even a comic book about Steve’s relationship with Kobun Chino Otogawa called The Zen of Steve Jobs. Steve bought Zen practise into his business and the confident minimalism of zen is obvious in the best of Apple’s products. Shunryu Suzuki was one of the first Zen masters to eschew the sudden flash of enlightenment in favour of pursuing every-day incremental improvements. Steve adopted one of Suzuki’s phrases for the early Macintosh team; “The journey is the reward.” This seems kind of obvious, but it’s hard to keep it in mind when you are washing dishes or stuck in traffic.

Using the Landmark Forum in business

I’ve always been interested in psychology and human behaviour. As a teenager, I came across The Monk who Sold his Ferrari and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but couldn’t really get Zen to work for me (on a day-to-day basis). I largely forgot about Zen until a friend suggested that I do the Landmark Forum in 2010.

I did the Landmark Forum in late 2010. The weekend course prompted me to take action on a range of things that I’d been putting off including photography, the move to London and even my relationship with my family.

The Forum is a weekend training course run in the UK, USA, New Zealand and Australia (amongst others). Graduates include the author of Fight Club, the directors of The Matrix, the creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack Canfield and the actor Neil Patrick Harris from How I met your mother. When I took the Forum in 2010, around one and a half million people had done the course.

Landmark Forum Bro Code

Zen is all about how you interpret events and add meaning to things. In the Landmark Forum I learned that you really can choose the meaning that you ascribe to events.

My review of the Landmark Forum

I have a tendency to analyse everything. This was a bit of a blindspot for me because I did it all the time (without noticing). I was even trying to do the same thing with Zen. What’s interesting about the Forum is that it is “experiential learning” – which means that the ups and downs of the weekend (like the long hours) are actually part of the teaching process. In the end, I realised that I was analysing almost all my experiences not being in the moment. Once I realised that, I learned that I could choose how I wanted to approach a situation. – Powerful stuff.

Landmark tweaks the normal format of Zen training by having a large group, for a long period of time, in a big room, with a presenter at the front. The result is that you get a more intense exposure to the content. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m really pleased that I did it. It’s pretty much the most intense self-help course in existence, everything else is a watered-down version of this.

History of the Landmark Forum

Landmark was grounded in the EST Seminars, created by Werner Erhard. Like Steve Jobs, Erhard was heavily influenced by Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki and the British Zen scholar Alan Watts. Erhard was also influenced by Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill.

EST was created in the 1970s and about 500,000 people took the training including Cher, Peter Gabriel, John Denver, Dr Phil, Douglas Engelbart (who invented the computer mouse) and Arianna Huffington (founder of the Huffington Post). It took Zen and added a dose of “ruthless compassion“. Meaning that the trainer was pretty tough on people (when needed). Like a football coach who has the occasional bout of shouting at the players.

EST and the Landmark Forum are the most powerful ways that I’ve discovered to get an intense dose of Zen for the modern mind.

Finding your own guru

Recently I’ve been experimenting with how to keep all of this alive in day-to-day practice. I’ve come across a much older Zen thinker that provides really good food for thought. Jiddu Krishnamuti is the real thing. An Indian guru who quit being a guru saying to his followers; “Be your own guru.” Recordings of his talks are available online for free. His main point was not to over-think things.

Next steps

So, how to apply all this in your life? And in business? How can you be zen at work?

  1. Find a copy of Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind on iTunes. It’s a soft introduction to Zen, but you’ll soon be finding the divinity in the mundane and being more mindful of the present moment.
  2. Listen to as much of J Krishnamurti as you can find on YouTube, Audiobooks or iTunes. If Krishnamurti is too hard core for you, then Deepak Chopra is a passable substitute. Alan Watts (MP3 download on the link) is a wonderful balance between all these and his take on Zen is profound.
  3. Ask around your friends and find someone who has done the Landmark Forum. Talk to them about the weekend course and then sign up for it. It’s full on, but it will be one of the most powerful things you do in your life.

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3 thoughts on “Being zen at work

  1. It’s hard to bring your real personality to work when you’re surrounded by people who are not authentic.

      • Landmark is ‘the business’ it’s the best, most effective, tool any human could need/want/move forward powerfully from.

        I did it in LA years ago and honestly – I moved abroad with my 100 lb. doberman to a “then” very unusual country and had a wild time etc… all kind of creative self expression occurred out of that – and not one person in “regular” life thought any of that was possible.

        Landmark said “live life as if it’s a game” – I am going to call the Boston Center right now – and it’s your fault ;) THANK YOU!

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