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Mindfulness in Business: The Science & Benefits

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Mindfulness is non-judgemental present moment awareness. That means you’re not thinking about the past, you’re not thinking about the future, you’re 100% here-and-now. And rather than judging your experience as either good or bad you’re simply accepting it with curiosity.

WHAT DOES MINDFULNESS DO FOR OUR BRAINS?

Evolution has designed us to be miserable. Our ancestors survived to breed because they saw every potential threat as real; by running away from every rustle in the bushes they avoided being killed. Their brains evolved to cling to bad memories, anticipate worse in the future, and fear change and strangers. As a result our amygdalas, almond-sized parts of the brain, react more to negative than positive events, causing a “negativity bias“. Although many of us now live comparatively safe lives our brains still respond to everyday situations as though they mean life or death, noticing negative stimuli around five times more than positive and often interpreting neutral events as negative.

 

Mindfulness reduces the overreaction of the amygdala

The good news is through mindfulness we can rewire our brains, including reducing the amygdala’s overreactions. While once it was believed our brains were hard-wired by the time we reached adulthood, science has shown we continue to generate new brain cells throughout our lives. We can also modify the pathways signals follow within our brains and hence change our habitual ways of thinking.

There’s a saying  “cells that fire together wire together. Simplistically put, when particular messages often travel through our brains those connections become stronger, like pathways worn into a grassy meadow, meaning we’re more likely to think that way in the future. This is how a repeated action like driving eventually becomes automatic. It also means we can either accidentally or deliberately embed patterns of thoughts and hence emotions and behaviour. Given evolution has programmed us to feel disproportionate fear and focus on negative memories we’re naturally set up to feel anxious about the future and sad or angry about the past. However on the upside we can consciously choose to use our brains differently, in particular by practicing mindfulness, creating more constructive habitual thought patterns and emotions.

Meditation, one of the most common ways to practice mindfulness, has been demonstrated to increase activation of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Activation of the ACC has a number of positive effects, including improving self-regulation and learning from past experience. In addition MRI scans of novices who undertook mindfulness meditation practices for 30 minutes a day over eight weeks showed “increased cortical density and thickness of the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex, the areas associated with empathy and compassion; and in the hippocampus, the brain area associated with learning and memory“. The increase in density is visible evidence these areas have become more active and effective.

Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC)

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex becomes more effective with mindfulness training

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BUSINESS BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS?

Better decision-making and strategic flexibility

Our evolution-imposed fear response encourages us to inappropriate knee-jerk responses. It narrows our perspective so we misinterpret situations and often miss the bigger picture. Meditation has been shown to promote improved problem-solving, with people more often choosing correct answers, learning from past experience, able to switch strategies when appropriate, and making less biased decisions.

Increased productivity through improved focus, memory and concentration

How much more effective could you be if you were able to maintain focus and concentration for longer periods of time? Heightened activity of the ACC helps you to resist distraction and keep you on-task, and undergoing mindfulness training only 4 times for 20 minutes per session has been shown to significantly improve memory and executive functioning.

Improved relationships

Meditation practices make it easier to add an all-important pause between stimulus and response. During that pause meditators are more often able to choose a constructive way to react to a situation. In addition practices such as loving-kindness meditation have been shown to provide many other benefits, including enhanced empathy and decreased bias towards others. All of these will help you to build stronger relationships with your stakeholders, better understanding and caring about their needs.

Less stress and more resilience

In today’s rapidly-changing business world our ability to thrive amidst the chaos is crucial. Mindfulness based stress reduction programs have been shown to  reduce burnout and improve well-being.

Reduced absenteeism and presenteeism

In her latest book “Future Brain – The 12 Keys to Create Your High-Performance Brain“, Dr Jenny Brockis refers to studies on presenteeism, the loss of productivity when an employee is present but at reduced capacity due to illness, stress or other distractions. Mindfulness practice reduces both absenteeism and presenteeism, improving mental and physical health through lower levels of stress, better sleep patterns, and a heightened sense of happiness. As a result you are able to be at work more often, happily and productively. You’re also likely to live longer!

Greater creativity

Some business problems can best, or sometimes only, be solved by a shift in perspective which allows the problem to be seen in a novel way; these are known as “Insight” problems. Insight problem solving is enhanced by increased mindfulness, and Guided Reflection is designed to bring about these valuable perspective shifts.

HOW TO PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

The busyness of business encourages us to feel we don’t have time to think, never mind minutes to spare for practicing mindfulness. We rush from meeting to meeting then home to juggle commitments with family and friends. If we’re lucky we may occasionally squeeze in an hour of exercise or a full night’s sleep. All of this contributes to high levels of stress and burnout and reduced levels of work performance.

However mindfulness practice can deliver benefits in as little as 10 minutes a day, an investment that pays for itself many times over. Meditation is the most common form of secular mindfulness practice, although other activities that keep returning the mind to the present moment can have similar effects. While practicing for longer will accelerate the benefits it’s the regularity that matters most. Practicing daily is ideal but it doesn’t matter if you miss a day occasionally.

Many people prefer to practice when they first get up in the morning, often rising early while the rest of the household is still asleep. This sets the tone for the day and you’re less likely to nod off than if you practice in the evening when you’re tired. Some like to practice twice, finding an evening session improves their sleep.

For your regular practice choose somewhere quiet and peaceful where you can be uninterrupted, ideally the same place every day, and set this place up with a comfortable place to sit. Your back should be upright but supported and relaxed, hands lightly rested in your lap, eyes either partially open but unfocused and looking downward or lightly closed.

There are many different guides to mindfulness practice; feel free to search the internet for one you like. This site describes five of the more common practices, plus there are many apps available to keep you on the mindfulness journey, some of which I’ve listed in this previous post.

 

In addition you can boost the benefits of your formal meditation sessions by seizing opportunities to meditate at other times, for example turning your attention to your breath while standing in a queue, waiting for an elevator or sitting at traffic lights. If you’re a complete beginner it can be very helpful to attend sessions led by an experienced guide, and even experienced meditators benefit from attending regular group meditation.

Want to be happier and more effective in your work?

Practice mindfulness and reap the benefits.

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About the Author

This article was written by Fiona of threefold consulting.

Entrepreneurship

Science is the Next Big Thing in Startups

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From pharmaceuticals to petrochemical processes: Newcomer companies and investors and investors alike are setting their sights on science. How the start-up scene moves beyond the mobile apps bubble…

For the last two years Silicon Valley analysts and venture capitalists are anticipating the burst of yet another bubble. This time, under the risk are the mobile start-ups which constitute the biggest share of the market. Out of 50 companies listed in Forbes’ “the hottest startup of 2015” (by valuation) only six companies are based on innovations in other-than-mobile area, one company provide cleaning services, while the rest are diverse mobile apps.

Meanwhile many products listed can be barely called innovative. A significant proportion of the listed start-ups are texting apps, apps for people search (starting from business partners to life partners) or delivery services. While those services can definitely facilitate one’s life, in general they differ from their predecessors by only a narrower audience.

Many venture investors expect stagnation if not decrease on the markets, which is why they start to transfer their capitals from start-ups offering customers software to start-ups offering specific solutions for existing businesses. Such companies are expected to demonstrate more stability in the near future.

The Market for Mobile Apps Might be Saturated

Back in 2012 a talented entrepreneur could walk into a venture capitalist’s office, say his startup was a mobile-first solution for pretty much any problem (payments! photos! blogging!), and walk out with a good-size seed investment. “That pitch was enough to get going,” says Roelof Botha, a partner with VC firm Sequoia Capital. “It’s not enough anymore.”

“I think investors are bored with investing in another messaging app. And our idea is crazy enough that it might just work. ”, has declared in 2014 Nadir Bagaveyev a founder of a start-up using 3-D printers to make rocket engines. By 2016 the company attracted investors funding sufficient to launch its first rocket.

Pharma and Biotech Start-Ups in High Demand

Currently the most successful science-based start-ups are the companies offering innovative solutions in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. It’s noteworthy that despite the previous revelations and even judicial proceedings the list of the most expensive start-ups still includes Theranos, blood analyzing laboratory, whose story did not descend from the main pages of the global leading media from 2014.

It first amazed the audience with its fantastic take-off and then with its collapse. One of the crucial parts of the success story of this start-up is its fundamental difference from the majority of the services produced in the Silicon Valley. Unlike the others, it was not a story of yet another beautiful gadget for communication or mobile app, but the story of the scientific idea which intended to conquer the world.

The great success stories in other scientific areas are now happening on occasional basis. However certain facts allow to predict that the situation is to change soon. One of such factors is growing interest among the big corporations to attract innovative solutions from outside to develop their businesses.

Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological development of the world, the activities of internal R & D departments are often turn to be insufficient to ensure stable development of innovative business. Outsourcing of the R&D may become the efficient mechanism to stimulate the growth of the company. And high-tech start-up can certainly benefit from it.

Start-Up Technology for the Petro-Business

In December, 2016 world leading companies in the field of gas processing, petrochemicals and chemicals announced their intentions to enforce their R&D capacities by attracting start-ups. 3M, AkzoNobel, BASF, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Henkel, Honeywell UOP, LG Chem, Linde, Sibur, Solvay and Technip together created a global stage for startups and investors.

“The petrochemicals industry can and must rely on the potential of open innovations to facilitate further inventions and implementation of new solutions in all major application areas, from construction and medicine to packaging and 3D printing. Thanks to the participation of international partners, IQ-CHem is now the largest global project within the industry which attracts innovative solutions and provides for their implementation into practice,” said Vasily Nomokonov, Executive Director of Sibur, a company which coordinates the project.

Positive Experience in Chemicals and Beyond

Some of the listed companies have already gained positive experience in working with start-ups which may have driven them to elaborate a systemic approach to attract innovative companies.

At the beginning of 2016, SIBUR and RRT Global start-up reached an agreement to build a pilot plant for isomerization based on RRT Global technologies in Sibur’s Industrial Park SIBUR “Tolyattisintez”. According to Oleg Giyazov, co-founder and CEO of RRT Global cooperation with a large corporation bring significant advantages to his company.

“By cooperation with Sibur we get a huge industrial experience that enables us to develop technologies and solutions better fitted to the market demand. This advantage is often not given due attention, but we, on the contrary, see significant opportunities in it. Currently, RRT Global cooperates with several companies around the world” he said.

Another petrochemical leader BASF enjoys successful cooperation with Genomatica start-up. In 2013 BASF started the production of 1,4-butanediol based on renewable feedstock (renewable BDO) using Genomatica’s patented process and in 2015 the license was expanded to the Asian market.

Unlike traditional forms of cooperation between a start-up and a venture capitalist, a cooperation between start-up and a relevant corporation allows to minimize the risks associated with investing in a potentially promising idea where the key word is “potential” (but not “guaranteed”). While delivering services in the same field as the start-up the corporation gets an opportunity to more effectively and accurately estimate the market value of an innovative idea and to support its implementation.

Structural Changes Ahead: Outlines of A Coming Market

In the short term prospective, possibly in 2017, the global start-up market will face structural changes – both in terms of start-ups professional orientation and of funding mechanism. In the future science-based start-ups will dominate the market and will change our lives at a deeper level than the way of sending a text message or searching the restaurant for an evening meal. To be more concise this is already happening in the pharmaceutical industry, and the other scientific areas are to follow.

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About the Author

This article was written by Dominik Stephan of Process Worldwide. See more.

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Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters

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From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.
www.neuromath.com.sg

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.
www.earlymathmatters.com

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at
www.NormanTien.com

Alternatively, you can connect with me:
www.NormanTien.com/facebook
www.NormanTien.com/linkedin

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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