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Max St John

Why mindfulness matters: the business case for mindfulness at work

Showing 'Mind the gap' message on a London Underground platform edge

You might have noticed that mindfulness has hit the mainstream. Global businesses are getting their employees to meditate en masse, an all-party parliamentary committee declared their ambition to make Britain a ‘mindful nation’ and we’re even talking about introducing it to schools.

I believe it’s here to stay, and that it’s a foundation piece for any organisation that wants to navigate complex change and make life better for its people.

I’ve been practicing mindfulness personally for a few months, and recently trained in mindful leadership with Joel and Michelle Levey, founders of Wisdom at Work and George Por, founder of Community Intelligence. These people have been helping organisations develop mindful working practices since the 70s, working with the World Bank, NASA, the US army, Google, Intel and others.

It’s led to us introducing it into our routine at NixonMcInnes, and offering it to clients, so I thought I’d to share my business case for mindfulness at work and why I think organisations need to pay attention to this movement.

Why mindfulness and why now?

We live in increasingly complex times. The world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Many of us are overloaded by information and overstimulated by an always-on culture.

In the middle of all this, we are required to think and act creatively, faster than ever before.

Making smart decisions is getting harder and we’re getting increasingly stressed in the process.

Mindfulness practices help us to see the true reality more clearly, be more open to new sources of information without getting overwhelmed and make wiser decisions. All while improving wellbeing.

This is why businesses like Intel, NASA, Google, the World Bank, have been running mindfulness programmes at scale for years.

They’ve realised that it improves our:

  • focus and productivity
  • emotional intelligence
  • creativity and innovation
  • adaptability and flexibility
  • personal resilience to stress

And, to live life more fully – and if your workplace is helping you to do that, in service of better work, surely everyone is a winner?

What is mindfulness?

At its core, mindfulness is a set of reflection and meditation practices that allow people to see reality more clearly and calmly, enabling them to make more informed decisions.

There are thousands of schools of mindfulness, from ancient Buddhist practices to the Mindfulness-based stress reduction programmes.

Boiled down the common threads are:

  • Attention: being fully present, paying full attention
  • Intention: having a clear purpose and intention in your awareness
  • Attitude: remaining open, accepting, yet discerning and curious

Put simply, it is paying attention with clear intention, open and curious to what emerges.

This is in contrast to mindlessness where we’re restricting our view to only our immediate thoughts, emotions or information, closed to other available data and simply reacting instead of reflecting on the best option open to us.

Elain Langer, a Harvard University psychologist, takes it further to describe a set of mindful behaviours in a work context:

  • Making new categories and remaking old ones: being smart and conscious about the labels we apply to people and tools to give us more options for creating good work
  • Adjusting automatic behaviour: noticing patterns of mindless automatic behaviour that don’t help us, and making different choose that do
  • Taking new perspectives: welcoming new information, not clinging to opinions and spotting related information in seemingly unrelated subject areas
  • Emphasising process over outcome: letting go of set outcomes and seemingly mammoth goals, instead breaking them down into smaller, smarter decisions
  • Tolerating uncertainty: helping people get comfortable with the unavoidable fact that the world is an unpredictable, chaotic place, and not get sucked into simple answers to complex problems

What is shared mindfulness?

At NixonMcInnes we believe that no one of us is smarter than all of us – in short, together we can come up with better solutions to complex problems.

This underpins all of the work we do.

A study at MIT showed that the collective intelligence of a group is much greater than the sum of the individual members and not correlated to the IQ of the smartest person in the room.

However, it only becomes really powerful if everyone is contributing fully, mindfully aware of all the available information and paying attention to others.

This is where George Por’s concept of shared mindfulness for collective intelligence comes into play.

In an organisational context, individual focus, productivity and lower stress are massive benefits in themselves but our collective mindfulness creates something different.

By all being more mindful, with a shared intention we can start to realise the learning organisation – an organisation that’s able to continuously transform itself in the face of complexity.

How do you do it?

Getting your whole company meditating together tomorrow might feel a bit daunting.

It’s important to know that it’s not all about deep meditation. Talking, eating, walking can all be done in mindful ways, that open up possibilities for new understanding.

One very simple practice used in a major US healthcare organisation is the “pause, presence, proceed” approach that you can try for yourself.

At any point in a group meeting or as individuals in their daily work, try this simple three-step process:

  • Pause: noticing that you need to focus or that something’s bothering you – a difficult conversation or worry about something, take a conscious pause.
  • Presence: get settled in your chair, close your eyes if it feels comfortable to do so and focus on your breath.
  • Proceed: once you feel calm and clear, make a decision about what you need to do next.

One of the questions that kept coming up in the course I recently attended was ‘how do I get buy-in?’

Joel and Michelle Levey, who have worked with many, global businesses over the past 40 years, say that there are three key considerations to getting everyone comfortable with a mindfulness programme:

  • Context: be clear about the why e.g. how does this programme fit with the organisation’s purpose?
  • Content: how does the content address the most pressing problems or opportunities? What benefit does it realise?
  • Process: what does the programme look and feel like?

The key thing is not to focus on the tool (mindfulness or meditation), but the purpose, problems and benefits.

Whether you’re  interested in this from a personal or professional perspective, my experience training with the Leveys, introducing reflection in our meetings at NM, and my own practice tell me that the potential benefits are massive, and you should probably give it a go.

This post was filed under Working culture Comments are currently closed.


  1. Brilliant summation of the day and the possibilities of mindfulness. John

    Posted 13th June 2014 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
  2. Dear Max, I’m inspired and delighted by your brilliant, clear, informative, and inspiring summary of compelling insights regarding the business case for mindfulness and mind-fitness training as a vital success strategy for realizing enhanced business results and bringing a deeper wisdom to work. It’s great working with you and I’m inspired by the depth of your insight regarding this important work!

    Posted 13th June 2014 at 11:37 pm | Permalink
  3. Mindfulness is here to stay.

    FT March 2014: “KPMG, Goldman Sachs and Unilever – and the Bank of England – have presented mindfulness in wellbeing seminars and encourage staff to use meditation apps…”

    Google encourages employees to take a mindfulness according to the NY Times.

    Mindfulness is embedded in my work and the benefits are massive.

    Posted 14th June 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  4. George Pór

    Max this is a well-argued rationale that can help anybody struggling with how to introduce mindfulness training in their organisation.

    Thanks also for mentioning the _shared_ mindfulness focus of my work. Here’s an illustration of the need/opportunity that I’m responding to with it:

    “An increasing number of people pick up contemplative practices― meditation, prayer, yoga, walking in nature― and integrate these into their daily lives. Many organizations researched for this book have set up a quiet room somewhere in the office, and others have put meditation and yoga classes in place. This practice opens up space for individual reflection and mindfulness in the middle of busy days. A number of them go a step further: they also create COLLECTIVE moments for self-reflection…” (capitals added – GP)

    Shared mindfulness practices enable greater collective intelligence and wisdom, an enhanced capacity for mindful collaboration, heightened situational awareness, greater personal and organizational resilience, and inspired engagement with fast-moving, strategic challenges and opportunities.

    Posted 15th June 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  5. George Pór

    The quote above is from “Reinventing Organizations,” Frederic Laloux.

    Posted 16th June 2014 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  6. George Pór

    hi Telmo,

    Woild you say more about how you’ve embedded mindfulness in your work and what benefits you and/or your stakeholders are experiencing?

    Posted 16th June 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink