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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

The Brittle vs. Ductile Strategy for Business

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Companies and startups often pursue a path of “brittle strategy” and in it’s execution, it can be translated, in layman terms, into something like this:
Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: “So far so good… so far so good… so far so good.” How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land!
– Movie : La Haine (1995)

Brittle strategy :

A brittle strategy is based on a number of conditions and assumptions, once violated, collapses almost instantly or fails badly in some way. That does not mean a brittle strategy is weak, as the condition can either be verified true in some cases and the payoff from using this strategy tends to be higher. However the danger is that such a strategy provides a false sense of security in which everything seems to work perfectly well, until everything suddenly collapses, catastrophically and in a flash, just like a stack of cards falling. Employing such approach, enforces a binary resolution: your strategy will break rather than be compromising, simply because there is no plan B.
From observation, the medium to large corporate company strategies’ landscape is often dominated by brittle “control” strategies as opposed to robust or ductile strategies. Both approach have their strong parts and applicability to corporate win the corporate competition game. The key to most brittle strategy, especially the control one, is to learn every opponent option precisely and allocate minimum resources into neutralizing them while in the meantime, accumulating a decisive advantage at critical time and spot. Often, for larger corporations, this approach is driven by the tendency to feed the beast within the company that is to say the tendency is to allocate resources to the most successful and productive department / core product / etc.. within the company. While this seems to make sense, the perverse effect is that it is quite hard to shift the resources in order to be able to handle market evolution correctly. As a result of this tendency, the company gets blindsided by a smaller player which in turn uses a similar brittle strategy to take over the market.The startup and small company ecosystem sometimes/often opts for brittle strategy out of necessity due to economic constraints and ecosystem limitations because they do not have the financial firepower to compete with larger players over a long stretch of time, they need to approach things from a different angle. These entities are forced to select an approach that allows them to abuse the inertia and risk averse behavior of the larger corporations. They count on the tendency of the larger enterprise to avoid leveraging brittle strategies, made to counter other brittle strategies. These counter strategies often fail within bigger market ecosystem as they are guaranteed to fail against the more generic ones. Hence, small and nimble company try to leverage the opportunity to gain enough market share before the competition is able to react.

Ductile strategy :

The other pendant of the brittle strategy is the ductile strategy. This type of strategy is designed to have fewer critical points of failure, while allowing to survive if some of the assumptions are violated. This does not mean the strategy is generally stronger, as the payoff is often lower than a brittle one – it’s just a perceived safer one at the outset. This type of approach, will fail slowly under attack while making alarming noises. To use an analogy, this is similar to the the approach employed with a suspension bridge using stranded cables. When such a bridge is on the brink of collapse, will make loud noises allowing people to escape danger. A Company can leverage, if the correct tools and processes are correctly put in place, similar warning signs to correct and adapt in time, mitigating and avoiding catastrophic failure.
To a certain extend, the pivot strategy for startups offer a robust option to identify the viability of a different hypothesis about the product, business model, and engine of growth. It basically allows the Company to iterate quickly fast over the brittle strategy until a successful one is discovered. Once found, the Company can spring out and try to take over the market using this asymmetrical approach. For a bigger structure, using the PST model combined with Mapping provides an excellent starting point. As long as you have engineered within your company and marketed the correct monitoring system to understand where you stand at anytime. Effectively, you need to build a layered, strategic approach via core, strategic and venture efforts combined with a constant monitoring of your surroundings. This allow you to take risks with calculated exposure. By having the correct understanding of your situation (situational awareness), you will be able to mitigate threats and react quickly via built-in agility. However, we cannot rely solely on techniques that allow your strategy to take risk while being able to fail gracefully. We need techniques that do so without insignificant added cost. The cost differential between stranded and solid cables in a bridge is small, and like bridges, the operational cost between ductile and brittle strategy should be low. However, this topic is beyond the scope of this blog post but I will endeavor to expand on the subject in a subsequent post.
Ductile vs Brittle :
The defining question between the two type of strategies is rather simple: which strategy approach will guarantee a greater chance of success? From a market point of view this question often turns into : is there a brittle strategy that defeats the robust strategy?
By estimating the percentage of success a brittle strategy has against the other strategies in use, weighted by how often each strategy is used by each competitor you can determinate the chances of success.Doing this analysis is a question of understanding the overall market meta competition. There will be brittle strategies that are optimal at defeating other brittle strategies but will fail versus robust. However, the robust one will succeed against certain brittle categories but will be wiped out with other. Worse still, there is often the recipe for a degenerate competitive ecosystem if any one strategy is too good or counter strategies are too weak overall. Identifying the right strategy is an extremely difficult exercise. Companies do not openly expose their strategy/ies and/or often they do not have a clear one in the first place. As a result, if there is a perception that the brittle strategy defeats the ductile one, therefore the brittle strategy approach ends up dominating the landscape. Often strategy consulting companies rely on this perception in order to sell the “prêt a porter” strategy of the season. Furthermore, ductile strategies tend to be often dismissed as not only do they require a certain amount of discipline, but also the effort required in its success can be daunting. It requires a real time understanding of the external and internal environment. It relies on the deployment of a fractal organisation that enables fast and risky moves, while maintaining a robust back end. And finally, it requires the capability and stomach to take risk beyond maintaining the status quo. As a result, the brittle strategy often ends up more attractive because of its simplicity, more so that it’s benefit from an unconscious bias.

The Brittle strategy bias:

Brittle strategies have problems “in the real world”. They are often unpredictable due to unforeseen events occurring. The problem is we react and try to fix things going forward based on previous experience. But the next thing is always a little different. Economists and businessmen have names for the strategy of assuming the best and bailing out if the worst happens, like “picking pennies in front of steamrollers” and “capital decimation partners”.
It is a very profitable strategy for those who are lucky and the “bad outcome” does not happen. Indeed, a number of “successful” companies have survived the competitive market using these strategies and because the (hi)story is often only told by the winner’s side only, we inadvertently overlook those that didn’t succeed, which in turn means a lot of executives suffer from the siren of the survival bias, dragging more and more corporations into similar strategy alongside them.
In the end all this lot ends up suffering from a more generalized red queen effect whereby they spend a large amount of effort standing still (or copying their neighbors approach). This is why when a new successful startup emerges, you see a plethora of similar companies claiming to apply a similar business model. At the moment it’s all about UBER for X and most of these variants. If they are lucky, they will end up mildly successful. But for most of them, they will fail as the larger corporations have been exposed and probably bought into the hype of the approach.
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About the Author
This article was written by Benoit Hudzia of Reflections of the Void, a blog about life, Engineering, Business, Research, and everything else (especially everything else). see more.
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Entrepreneurship

What Kills A Startup

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1 – Being inflexible and not actively seeking or using customer feedback

Ignoring your users is a tried and true way to fail. Yes that sounds obvious but this was the #1 reason given for failure amongst the 32 startup failure post-mortems we analyzed. Tunnel vision and not gathering user feedback are fatal flaws for most startups. For instance, ecrowds, a web content management system company, said that “ We spent way too much time building it for ourselves and not getting feedback from prospects — it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I’d recommend not going more than two or three months from the initial start to getting in the hands of prospects that are truly objective.”

2 – Building a solution looking for a problem, i.e., not targeting a “market need”

Choosing to tackle problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was often cited as a reason for failure. Sure, you can build an app and see if it will stick, but knowing there is a market need upfront is a good thing. “Companies should tackle market problems not technical problems” according to the BricaBox founder. One of the main reasons BricaBox failed was because it was solving a technical problem. The founder states that, “While it’s good to scratch itches, it’s best to scratch those you share with the greater market. If you want to solve a technical problem, get a group together and do it as open source.”

3 – Not the right team

A diverse team with different skill sets was often cited as being critical to the success of a starti[ company. Failure post-mortems often lamented that “I wish we had a CTO from the start, or wished that the startup had “a founder that loved the business aspect of things”. In some cases, the founding team wished they had more checks and balances. As Nouncers founder stated, “This brings me back to the underlying problem I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made.” Wesabe founder also stated that he was the sole and quite stubborn decision maker for much of the enterprises life, and therefore he can blame no one but himself for the failures of Wesabe. Team deficiencies were given as a reason for startup failure almost 1/3 of the time.

4 – Poor Marketing

Knowing your target audience and knowing how to get their attention and convert them to leads and ultimately customers is one of the most important skills of a successful business. Yet, in almost 30% of failures, ineffective marketing was a primary cause of failure. Oftentimes, the inability to market was a function of founders who liked to code or build product but who didn’t relish the idea of promoting the product. The folks at Devver highlighted the need to find someone who enjoys creating and finding distribution channels and developing business relationship for the company as a key need that startups should ensure they fill.

5 – Ran out of cash

Money and time are finite and need to be allocated judiciously. The question of how should you spend your money was a frequent conundrum and reason for failure cited by failed startups. The decision on whether to spend significantly upfront to get the product off the group or develop gradually over time is a tough act to balance. The team at YouCastr cited money problems as the reason for failure but went on to highlight other reasons for shutting down vs. trying to raise more money writing:

The single biggest reason we are closing down (a common one) is running out of cash. Despite putting the company in an EXTREMELY lean position, generating revenue, and holding out as long as we could, we didn’t have the cash to keep going. The next few reasons shed more light as to why we chose to shut down instead of finding more cash.

The old saw was that more companies were killed by poor cashflow than anything else, but factors 1, 2 and 4 probably are the main contributing factors to that problem. No cash, no flow. The issue No 3 – the team – is interesting, as if I take that comment ” I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made” and think about some of the founders and startup CEOs I know, I can safely say that the main way that any decision was made was by agreeing with them – it was “my way or the highway”. I don’t therefore “buy” the team argument, I more buy the willingness of the key decision makers to change when things are not working (aka “pivoting” – point 9).

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About the Author

This article was produced by Broadsight. Broadsight is an attempt to build a business not just to consult to the emerging Broadband Media / Quadruple Play / Web 2.0 world, but to be structured according to its open principles. see more.

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