Shambhala Sun Home Free Gift with Order Current Issue Subscribe & Save Half Give a Gift Renew Current Text
spacer spacer spacer


spacer spacer

For some people, interactive gaming truly matters. FarmVille, for example, matters to a lot of people. With some sixty million users, the farm and economy simulation game—which promotes interactions with other “farmers” through social networking—is Facebook’s most popular application, and is also widely used on the iPhone. But Eric Schiermeyer, one of the founders of Zynga, which developed FarmVille and other popular games, told the audience at Wisdom 2.0 in February, “I realized this morning that for all this time I’ve been involved in this world, I don’t really love technology. I love people.”

The comment drew loud laughter, but Chris Sacca, one of the earliest investors in Twitter, immediately countered that the newer forms of technology “have brought the human back in”—for example, disillusioned Egyptians tweeted their grievances to the world in unison, unmediated. The exchange epitomized the dual nature of the Wisdom 2.0 phenomenon. The lords and leaders of high tech aren’t about to dismiss new technology as the beginning of the end of humankind—not only because they don’t want to work against their own economic interests, but because they believe in the innovative, interactive world fostered by new technologies. They believe that it connects people and that people are getting the technologies they are asking for. Yet they also know that technology can be distracting, not only from where we are in any given moment but from where we ought to be going.

When I tracked down Schiermeyer later, he made clear that in saying he didn’t love technology he was pointing out that any technology is only as good as what people do with it and what kind of world they make with it. “Technologies are tools, and you can use them to do great things or not,” Schiermeyer said. “We expect a plumber to provide us with good pipes, but we don’t hold him responsible for what goes through the pipeline.” He thinks the most successful and innovative tech companies are those that use “their own version of mindfulness” to listen carefully to what people want and supply it to them. “What Steve Jobs and Apple have done,” he said, “is hone and refine a product development process that is so insightful and so carefully constructed that they’ve discovered what it is that human beings really want when it comes to devices.”

Schiermeyer agrees with founder Kevin Rose on the importance of mindfulness, but takes it a step further. “I would like to see a shift in our culture, so that I would find being part of it more enjoyable on a daily basis. I see the cultivation of wisdom practices as something that could very much help bring out the kinds of shifts I think we need. If you look around, there’s so much going on in everyday American life that’s pathological, unnecessarily stressful, or just plain illogical.” In the end, he believes mindfulness includes being innovative at every possible level, not just with our high-tech tools, but in how we construct the world we live in.

Changing the world is a tall order, so most people start with their immediate surroundings. In the tech world—where work and play and life are so tightly intermingled—the obvious place to start is the workplace. The best-known program in high tech for promoting wisdom practices is Google’s Search Inside Yourself (See “Google Searches,” Shambhala Sun, September 2009), which was spearheaded by Chade-Meng Tan. Meng, as he is known, is already a veteran spokesperson for the Wisdom 2.0 movement. His core belief is that if you can reach people at their workplace, you can change how they are, and ultimately change the world. It’s becoming a kind of article of faith for the Wisdom 2.0 crowd. For Kevin Rose, it includes things as simple as providing people at work with high quality loose tea, so they have to “at least interrupt their momentum long enough to properly make a good cup of tea,” which they may then take the time to enjoy rather than simply gulp down.

Human resources departments at major technology companies are committed to providing access to practices that not only help their employees deal with stress, but to be more curious and strategic about how they go about their jobs. “We are very interested in the long-term well-being of the people we’ve invested in, particularly the managers,” says Stuart Crabb, head of learning at Facebook. “We want them to be role models for being present. The education system rewards people for being supersmart, but it doesn’t really develop wisdom. That’s sorely lacking.” Crabb notes that the “continuous stream of stimuli” that is the daily reality for tech workers, not to say the population at large, is a dangerous drug. “It looks like it’s very powerful and enabling but it also has the possibility of permanently derailing someone.”

Over the past year, Facebook has been adding about one hundred employees a month. Twitter has more than doubled its workforce. In this kind of growth environment, says Crabb, “Everyone needs to know the difference between sprinting and pausing. It’s very hard to talk about work–life balance to the generation of people who make up our workforce. It’s a big blur for them. That’s how it is for our founder. It doesn’t resonate if you try to tell them that they’re running a marathon, not a sprint, because at this rate they’ll be sprinting for a while. What we can teach them is the value of the pause. They have to break up their sprint into sprints.”

Facebook leaders don’t dictate how long an employee’s work sprint should be, or their corresponding pause, or when and how it should happen. They know employees are the best judges of what they need. “People who end the year without having taken a vacation are not heroes here,” Crabb says. “If you take time to figure out what the pause looks like for you and you take it, you will come back more refreshed and ready for the next sprint. And there will be one. If you don’t take the time to pause, you’re going to burn out and we’re going to lose you before we’ve got the best of who you are.”

Rich Fernandez, head of learning and organizational development at eBay, sees mindfulness practice as the best way for people to recognize the value of pausing and regulating themselves so they can make the best decisions. He talks about it as a form of “positive disruption,” because it interrupts “our default mechanism of doing more, more, more. We think there’s a linear relationship between time spent working and results, but so often the time away, the stop to rest, the long cup of tea, following our breath, replenishes us and brings insight. That’s what the neuroscience is telling us too. Yet our paradigms for leadership usually reinforce the linear approach—it’s about there and then, where you’re going, rather than how you are being. We are a values-based company, and our first value is to keep it human. When we get away from that, we need to positively disrupt the paradigm.”

Fernandez has been pleasantly surprised by how workers, when given a chance, take to having a real pause, and the company supports that. “When we do mindfulness talks, we pull employees away from the line for an hour and a half at a time. I saw 250 employees at an internet company sitting still for a talk for almost ninety minutes and then doing ten minutes of mindfulness practice. No one got up and left.”

Subscribe | Current Issue | Search Archives | Contact Us | Spotlight | Privacy Policy | Site Map | Employment
© 2008 Shambhala Sun | Email: | Tel: 902.422.8404 | Published by Shambhala Sun Foundation