When an idea or tool has the support of some of the world's leading entrepreneurs, influencers and businesses, it's hard not to imagine what it could do for you. Such is the case with the practice of mindfulness.
Business leaders including Amazon's Jeff Bezos, LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner and even Oprah have touted its benefits.
The practice has been adopted by management gurus, business schools, high-tech firms, investment banks, hospitals and the military as a way to improve organisational and individual performance and wellbeing. And there has been a rise in mobile apps that encourage people to meditate regularly.
Entrepreneurs and businesses can benefit from knowing that mindfulness has been a long-standing practice in Buddhism, where it is practiced in a holistic way and within a specific ethical framework.
Much has been written about the health benefits of mindfulness, such as stress reduction. But there are also a number of benefits for entrepreneurs and business leaders. By consciously managing our thoughts as they enter our minds, we can maintain focus despite being surrounded by business 'noise'.
By understanding the true origins of mindfulness, businesses and entrepreneurs can realise the benefits while also mitigating the risks
For entrepreneurs, mindfulness practice offers numerous benefits, including improved creativity and cross-cultural agility. Practicing mindfulness clears space in our mind so that we can generate new, better ideas.
We notice and consciously put away the different 'noises' taking up valuable space in our consciousness. The result is innovation and the ability to think outside the box – key ingredients in fine-tuning your business model, strategies and ideas.
Mindfulness is about having a growth mindset – making sure our mind is agile enough to notice our attachments, such as that things need to be done in a certain way, and thus being able to choose not to be attached to the familiar.
A 2015 review on 'Contemplating Mindfulness at Work', published in the
Journal of Management, suggests that mindfulness training could improve our rationality, as we focus on the present instead of past experiences by letting go of attachments, including long-held beliefs, assumptions, personal biases, and the status quo.
This helps entrepreneurs improve their cross-cultural agility – an increasingly important skill in a globalised world.
From handshakes and bows to more subtle ways of communicating, cultural behaviours are likely entrenched and can be difficult to notice. This creates situations in which you might cause offence or miscommunicate and potentially lose out on an opportunity.
Mindfulness improves your cultural agility as you notice unconscious behaviours, urges, or biases, so you can revise them based on the knowledge that you guide yourself towards a better action.
Like all practices, there are potential negative outcomes when mindfulness is conducted without the proper training. By understanding the true origins of mindfulness, businesses and entrepreneurs can realise the benefits while also mitigating the risks.
In modern workplaces, mindfulness often focuses only on pleasant or superficial benefits. It is offered as a technique for eliminating specific problems such as stress, or achieving outcomes such as enhanced productivity, making it a 'for-gain' approach that may be at odds with Buddhist traditions, many of which take a 'no-gain' approach.
If mindfulness is a way of 'being' and business activities are a way of 'doing', incorporating mindfulness training in business practice can be a way towards maintaining the yin and yang of being and doing for a more balanced state in our daily busy-ness.
Jane Qui is an AGSM Fellow and senior lecturer in the school of management at UNSW Business School. A version of this post appeared on Inside Small Business.