One of the major news stories this weekend was the flotation of Facebook for 100 billion dollars. It was interesting that a major profile in the New York Times (a version of which was reprinted in the Observer) carried the headline, “The Education of Mark Zuckerberg“.
“What’s most interesting about Mark is how he developed himself as a leader,” says Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, who has known Mr. Zuckerberg for years. “Not only did he have an incredible vision for the industry, but he had an incredible vision for himself.”
“He is a sponge in terms of learning. He has a higher ask-to-talk ratio than anyone I know,” says one of Mr. Zuckerberg’s friends, who, like many people interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity, given the imminent I.P.O. “He is constantly asking ‘Why? Why? Why?’ and he has a very clear sense of what he is good at and somewhere between average and mediocre at.”
There are several interesting points here, but let’s focus on just three.
1. Highly successful individuals know how little they know, and are always seeking new information about the world around them. They are life-long learners. They respect people who know more than they do about particular topics, and they seek out those who can help them learn. They know how to ask key questions. They are also very good listeners.
2. Highly successful individuals have high levels of ‘personal intelligence’. They are honest about themselves – their strengths, weaknesses, possibilities and disabilities.
3. Highly successful individuals are creative and imaginative. They understand the world around them, they understand themselves – but they also have a vision of how the world might be, and what they themselves might become.
Key questions for educators:
How do we educate for knowledge and understanding not only about the world around us but also the world within us? Do we pay attention to whether learners have high levels of personal intelligence? Do we know how to develop young people’s commitment to lifelong learning? Do we know how to develop their creativity and imagination? How much time do we invest in developing these sorts of attitudes and abilities?
The Zen of Google . . .
. . . was the title of another article in the New York Times this weekend, which was reproduced in the Observer’s NYT supplement.
One of the key components of spiritual intelligence is an understanding of human values and human virtues, and an ability to demonstrate one’s ability to live by those values. The practice of virtuous behaviour is essential.
In terms of personal intelligence and self-knowledge, it’s one thing to be able to make a long list of human values and virtues, and it’s quite another to be able to identify which of them you as an individual really subscribe to and also manifest in day to day living.
Among the hundreds of free classes that Google offers to employees, one of the most popular is called S.I.Y., for “Search Inside Yourself.” It is the brainchild of Chade-Meng Tan, 41, a tall, thin, soft-spoken engineer who arrived at Google in 2000 as Employee No. 107.
Think of S.I.Y. as the Zen of Google. Mr. Tan dreamed up the course and refined it with the help of nine experts in the use of mindfulness at work.
The class has three steps: attention training, self-knowledge and self-mastery, and the creation of useful mental habits.
If it sounds a bit touchy-feely, consider this: More than 1,000 Google employees have taken the class, and there’s a waiting list of 30 when it’s offered, four times a year. The class accepts 60 people and runs seven weeks.
Richard Fernandez, director of executive development and a psychologist by training, says he sees a significant difference in his work behavior since taking the class. “I’m definitely much more resilient as a leader,” he says. “I listen more carefully and with less reactivity in high-stakes meetings. I work with a lot of senior executives who can be very demanding, but that doesn’t faze me anymore. It’s almost an emotional and mental bank account. I’ve now got much more of a buffer there.”
Mr. Tan’s first book, “Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace),” is out this month, with a foreword by his friend and S.I.Y. collaborator Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence.”
“As technology pushes us faster, we have to adapt to new ways of doing business in this new millennium,” says Mark Tauber, senior vice president and publisher at HarperOne. “We believe that Meng’s book lays the groundwork for a new national conversation about work and what work means to us.”
But what is Mr. Tan’s ultimate goal? A Buddhist for many years, he says without irony that he wants to create world peace. “I don’t want to sound megalomaniac, but my whole life is about doing something for the world, from as far back as I can remember.”
Born and raised in Singapore, Mr. Tan describes his childhood as “very unhappy.”
“In Singapore, the way to distinguish yourself is to win competitions,” he says. But public attention and external rewards brought him no satisfaction. “It wasn’t making a difference,” he says. “I wasn’t any happier. There was a compulsion to be the best.”
ABOUT 50 people file into an amphitheater filled with soft, comfortable seats in the bright primary colors of Google’s logo. This week’s class is about motivation.
For the next two hours, employees partner up and perform exercises to identify and share emotions. The teachers set a gentle, welcoming tone, so the class offers students a place to question why and how they behave. Here, simply wielding superior technical skills or ferocious intelligence won’t cut it.
“We need an expert,” Mr. Tan says as the class begins. “That expert is you. This class is to help you discover what you already know.” To illustrate his point, he shows a slide of a pile of four smooth polished stones, balanced atop one another. “We’re looking for alignment, finding our deepest values, envisioning how they’ll take us to our destination and the resilience we need to achieve that.”
One exercise asks everyone to name, and share with a partner, three core values. “It centers you,” one man says afterward. “You can go through life forgetting what they are.”
In one seven-minute exercise, participants are asked to write, nonstop, how they envision their lives in five years. Mr. Tan ends it by tapping a Tibetan brass singing bowl.
They discuss what it means to succeed, and to fail. “Success and failure are emotional and physiological experiences,” Mr. Tan says. “We need to deal with them in a way that is present and calm.”
Then Mr. Lesser asks the entire room to shout in unison: “I failed!”
“We need to see failure in a kind, gentle and generous way,” he says. “Let’s see if we can explore these emotions without grasping.”
Talking about failure?
Sitting quietly for long, unproductive minutes?
“The notion of S.I.Y. is more radical or countercultural here at Google than anywhere else,” says Mr. Pabon, who took the class in 2009. “The pressure here is really quite intense. It’s a place filled with high achievers trained to find validation through external factors.”
Eric Chang, 44, who took the course twice because he was too busy the first time with work demands to attend all the classes, says: “I would go to S.I.Y. with a healthy engineer’s mentality. My attitude was always, ‘Prove it!’ right up until the end. ‘We need to see a controlled experiment! We need to see proof!’ “
Mr. Chang came to the course at a moment of personal and professional crisis. A software engineer at Google since 2004, he had seen colleagues burn out and quit — or work, as he did, with stress-related back pain.
“I’m from Taiwan,” he says. “Half of Silicon Valley is born elsewhere. It’s the immigrant mind-set to thrive on stress, go to the best schools, work hard. No one realized that way of working was really unsustainable.”
Then, when his mother lay dying in Toronto, his punishing schedule never allowed enough time to visit her. “Our growth was explosive, with constant demands to keep scaling the system,” he recalls. Exhausted by his ever-expanding workload, he says he began exploding easily and often at his wife and young son.
“I knew I had to get help,” he says. “The question was when and where.”
Since taking S.I.Y., Mr. Chang and his wife agree that he’s changed a great deal — becoming calmer, more patient, better able to listen. Perhaps most helpful, in a culture of 80-hour workweeks, was the camaraderie of the course’s buddy system.
One tool the course teaches is S.B.N.R.R. — nicknamed the Siberian North Railroad but really short for Stop, Breathe, Notice, Reflect and Respond.
“Business is a machine made out of people,” says Bill Duane, an engineer in rockabilly spectacles who works in site reliability, helping to ensure that Gmail works smoothly. “If you have people, you have problems. You can have friction between them or smoothness.”
Mr. Duane took S.I.Y. four years ago and considers it as sort of an organizational WD-40, a necessary lubricant between driven, ambitious employees and Google’s demanding corporate culture. Helping employees handle stress and defuse emotion helps everyone work more effectively, he says.
Bob Sidebotham, 58, an engineer currently taking the course, agrees. “I work in a group that wasn’t very communicative, and half of them work in Germany,” he says. “What I appreciate about the class is not just learning to meditate but using it in real life. It’s more about small attitudinal changes.”
Johanna Sistek, a trademark lawyer, says the emotional skills she refined in the class help her focus on her many tasks.
For Karen May, vice president for leadership and talent, S.I.Y. is a useful tool on several levels. “We have great people,” she says. “Now how do we keep them? Teaching employees with terrific technical abilities also means helping them to develop presentation skills and communication skills, helping them to understand their impact on other people, their ability to collaborate across groups and cultivate a mentality from which great motivation can spring.”
Can S.I.Y. translate to other companies and corporate cultures? One of its tenets is mindful e-mailing. Mr. Tan says it’s too easy to focus on the message we’re sending, and not on its recipients and the possible impact on them. When recipients don’t know the intent behind the e-mail — as is often the case — they tend to assume the worst, like anger or frustration on the sender’s part. “We frequently get offended or frightened by e-mails that were never intended to offend or frighten,” Mr. Tan writes in his book. “If we are emotionally unskillful, then we react with offense or fear, and then all hell breaks loose.”
S.I.Y. principles are vital in any workplace where value is typically based on intellectual machismo, Mr. Allen adds. In a high-I.Q. environment, he says, I.Q. itself is not a differentiating factor, but “emotional intelligence, E.Q., is.”
Or, as Mr. Pabon says: “The reason I think it will be broadly applicable is that everyone struggles. ‘Am I the smartest person in the room? What if I’m not?’ They’re worried about losing their job. Everyone’s got some fear of not being able to survive.”
How insane is all that? It’s brilliant that Google have set up these courses, but how come the world is full of academic and intellectual high-fliers who are completely dumb when it comes to personal intelligence, emotional intelligence, social intelligence and spiritual intelligence? How come so many people don’t even begin to be half-way intelligent in these areas until middle age, if at all? How come millions of supposedly intelligent people don’t even realise these areas of intelligence exist, let alone that they don’t possess them?
If we can change our education systems, we can change the world. We need education for ALL of the intelligences, and not mere schooling which caters for either one of them or none of them. Google needs people with all of their intelligences fully functioning, and so does the world. Facebook, as well as Google, needs people who are creative and imaginative, as well as intellectually able. And so does the world.