Mind The Gap – The Case for Mindfulness at Work | Matthew Bellows, Yesware | BoS USA 2015

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Mathew Bellows, Yesware

You’ve likely heard of Intel Corp’s mindfulness training for 100,000 global employees. Maybe you know that Google, Aetna, General Mills, Goldman Sacks and many other companies sponsor mindfulness programs for their workers. You might be experimenting with a mindfulness program at your own company.

In this direct and personal talk, Matthew Bellows, CEO of YesWare, explains why. Drawing on 25 years as a meditator and 20 years as an entrepreneur, Matthew links mindfulness and work in a way that makes clear why training in this skill is so helpful for managers in the 21st century.

Slides, Video, AMA & Transcript below

Slides from Matthew Bellows’ talk at BoS USA here

Video

 

AMA

 

Upcoming AMAs:

Art Papas, CEO, Bullhorn
Tuesday 28 March 2017 at 17.00 GMT.

Register for Art Papas's Hangout here

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Transcript

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: I’m really excited to be back, thank you so much for having me! It’s an honour to be here and speak to so many – I was saying to Mark I was at an investor conference earlier today and thus the suit and I got here around just before lunch and I felt like I was among friends already. So it’s really good to be back!

I wanted to start this brief talk and discussion with a little story. I’ve been a sales person for start-ups my whole career, bag and quota carrying guy, sales manager guy and all the companies that I worked for, and the two I’ve started I’m basically the sales and marketing person. So my first company I started in 2001 in a bootstrapped company. We built up and sold it to a company called C-Net. It was predicated on the idea that people would play video games on their cell phones. Which in 2001 was arguably a little bit of a crazy idea. We sold that and we got to $3 million a year and sold that.

For the last 5 years, I’ve been CEO of a company called YesWare, which makes software for sales people and we have 700,000 users, we have customers like Bachs, Twitter, Avril and many others. Maybe some people here use YesWare? Anybody? Please come see me if you have questions or suggestions. And about 2 months ago, my vice-president of sales resigned. She had family issues and had to move back to San Francisco so I had to – while we kicked off the VP of sales, become the inner VP of sales again. And this story happened while I was running the sales team. I had two reps focused on the S and B category, Kyle and Blair and they each had about 500 accounts assigned to them. They were both crushing their number. We both had – they had tons of leads coming in the S and B category and they had 500 accounts to their names and I was just like guys! What’s going on? This is an obvious problem. You can’t handle 500 accounts a piece. And sort of put on my sales VP hat and I started thinking and you can see they’re nice, smart, hard work millennium guys. And I was like do I promote someone? Do I bring someone from the mid-market territory? Do I quickly hire some more people? What do I do? And I came up with a solution and I told the manager here’s what we’re gonna do. And I thought basically let’s get back to work. Now all of you who are managers know – like what are you, an idiot? You’re not dumb! And sure enough, Kyle and Blair’s manager came up to me about 45 minutes later and he said Matthew, so Kyle and Blair don’t think it’s a good idea to bring someone into their territory. They don’t wanna share the leads with somebody else and would like to have a meeting with you to explain why that is.

Now in addition to being the CEO of a start-up, I am also a Buddhist. And I’ve spent many thousands of hours meditating and contemplating compassion and generating kindness and extending goodness out to people in the world and I try in the company to live these values. We have an open and transparent culture that sort of like celebrates diverse opinions and all these different things. But I am also under a fair amount of pressure. I am not super patient and here’s the revenue chart that my investors are expecting from me. Triple, triple, double is the mantra at my board meetings. Triple this year, triple the next year and double the next year. So my first reaction honestly when the manager comes to me is basically to be like f* off! Go back to work! Tell them no, I’m not gonna have a meeting with them to explain something that’s totally obvious. And then I paused. And that pause is what this talk is all about.

So in the Buddhist lingo, the space between the first instinctual response and a second more reflective or contemplative response is called the gap.

And those of you who remember Ann Log movies will recognise this. There’s two parts to an analogue film strip. There’s the image which is in the middle and then there’s the frame around the image. And there’s something called five phenomena which basically if you move the images through a light at the appropriate speed, about 60 frames/second, our brains don’t see the individual images and they associate the movement between the frames as motion. And so at the right speed, we miss the frame between the images and we just see the images moving. Our brains are basically tricked.

Maybe you see the analogy already. The first part of the film is the content, the image. The way the sales manager looked, what he said to me, the room around him. The second part is the gap, the space between the frames. The biggest achievements in our lives, the lowest of the lows and the last argument you’ve had with your boss, the biggest career things you’ve ever done in your life, the time you first sold your start up for x millions. Each of these things that feel so solid and monumental, they’re actually made up of frames and gaps. In between each of these little moments that we’re experiencing now, there’s a gap.

So life becomes a string of moments strung together with gaps. Spaces with nothing going on between them. But the situation is at the speed at which we’re moving and we’re under so much pressure and there’s so much going on and we have so many varieties of inputs, the phenomenon kicks in just like with the movie and we completely miss it. So I’m gonna argue in this talk that recognising the gap and learning to appreciate it actually is a crucial management skill. It opens up the world to different approaches that form habitual patterns and gives us the opportunity to reach creative solutions that will be good for your business.

In his award winning book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel talks about 2 systems of thinking. System 1 is fast, habitual and system 2 is slower, more considered and open to data and to different ideas.

And generally, system 1 is sort of looked like as fighter. Someone comes at me, what do I do? Punch? Fight or flight? Run? What do I do? Luckily, as humans we have another system, system 2. So we have a choice between fight or flight. We can pause and wait, we can do nothing. And in this case it’s good, because it was my son jumping around the corner at me and if I’d punched him I’d disappoint him and if I run away, if I had run away, he would have been laughing at me for the rest of my life. So according to Common, when we engage our system to thinking, we can bring other things into consideration. And we can contemplate the best solution for our problem.

You are all familiar with these problems. Sales managers of course know your number. What’s your number for the rest of the month or quarter? What’s your target for the year? These are all system 1 questions, questions that you’ve internalised so you know at the top of your head. System 2 on the other hand, are questions that you want to spend more time analysing. Is our message resonating with the market? Do we have enough sales activity, etc.? And the gap that Buddhists talk about is the space between system 1 thinking and system 2 thinking. In the world that we live in, with so much pressure, even though we aren’t really in a life or death situation, it sometimes feels that way. And one big problem with missing the gap between these two things and just blowing right through it is that we apply system 1 thinking to system 2 problems. Are you with me so far? So like the situation I faced with my S and B team, if I apply my system 1 approach, unpredictable, crazy, unimaginable motion responses happen and things quickly spin out of control in ways I never could have predicted. And believe me, I know this from experience.

It’s very much like the First World War. Some terrorist kills an archduke in Sarajevo and then Austria and Hungary attacks and Russia moves to back them up and Germany thinks this is a good opportunity and I’m gonna invade France and Belgium and Luxembourg and pretty soon you have 16 million soldiers mobilised and 16 million people killed.

In my personal example in the story, I tell the S and B manager f-off! The manager tells the guys no; he’s not taking the meeting. Get back to work. The guys either they react or more likely to build up resentment and say what a jerk! I don’t wanna work for that a-hole anymore. And suddenly my S and B team which was killing their numbers suddenly miss their numbers again or they go off and work for someone else or they start sowing seeds of discord and the other team is thinking is he gonna yell at me next? And then we missed the number for the quarter and then my board is like he’s missed two quarters in a row. Is he really the guy to build a billion-dollar business for us?

In an even broader context, we all want to be good managers, we want to be kind and we try to be understanding, but when the pressure is on, sometimes we make mistakes and we react badly. When we do that, and even when the system and situation is resolved, it doesn’t resolve, right? Emotional baggage clings like barnacles on a ship and slows everybody down. People’s motivation decreases and their drive for success declines and therefore the company starts to lose momentum. You know this, obviously, intuitively and you’ve experienced both with managers you’ve reported too and managers that sometimes report to you.

But two researchers about 10 years ago, Tony Simons and Judy Parks, actually did an experiment to figure out if this was true. They interviewed 6,500 hotel workers at about 650 chains across the US and Canada and they basically asked those people to rank on a 5 point scale, how closely their manager’s actions match their words. In other words, I think I’m a nice manager and I try to be one, I am a good person. Do I act like a good person? When the pressure is on, do I do what I say I’m gonna do? And they took all the survey results and they cross-referenced them with the financial data from the hotels, with customer survey feedback and with employee retention date and etc and they found an amazing thing. One eighth of a point of difference on that 5-point scale would account for 2.5% additional profit. 2.5% of revenue, additional profit, if you move 1/8th of a point on that 5-point scale. In other words, it was the single biggest factor in the hotel’s success was the correlation between managers who talk and managers who walk as according to the employees.

I have to do a brief aside here because in the preparation for this talk I read a book called the halo effect. Anybody read that? It imposes that all these studies are totally bullshit. Basically it says like successful companies, people looking back on successful companies will correlate the success to anything that you ask them about and failing companies they will correlate it to anything you ask them about. So basically it’s saying you can’t believe any of these studies but nonetheless, it’s all we have to go on the moment. And I think we know it intuitively and maybe this number is wrong, but we know it intuitively, managers who walk the talk are better. Directionally, that’s right.

On a personal note though, this sort of mismatch between wanting to be a good manager and behaving as a good manager when stressful situations come up, the tension there and the sort of our accumulated mistakes they create a dissonance in our life. We think of ourselves as good managers, good people and yet we know in the past there are some examples of times when we haven’t behaved that way and so we avoid those situations. It’s painful. We’re successful and yet, I totally messed that up. I’m gonna avoid that person, it’s too painful to go there. And if we arrange our life to avoid the people with whom we’re had disagreements and unfinished baggage, we reduce and reduce the scope in which we can work and work is a contained environment but then we leave work and sometimes these feelings boil over into our family life and we by mistake cause injury to people that we love. So to avoid these costs, and to get better at seeing the gap, we need a plan. Life is a string of moments, between those moment there’s a gap. We miss that gap; we react with fight or flight. We apply system 1 behaviour to system 2 situations and when faced with the conflict, we’ve got to get beyond system 1. We’ve got to slow down the movie in some way. We’ve got to find the gap.

So the first way to do that is you create more time.

You’re a crazy person, you say! How? You can’t create more time! But I can. And so can you. For those of you who have ever had a life threatening experience, you know that time slows down. Everything gets very clear and suddenly 10 seconds become 10 years. For those of you who have spaced out on your way to work, you know that you wake up and you’re at work then. And you totally missed that entire time, what took a half hour to drive was compressed to 10 seconds because you’re not paying attention, it’s not a good idea.

So you’ve had these experiences before, but the best way to show it to you and remind you of this feeling is just to do a quick little exercise. So I’m gonna ask everyone to please turn off your cell phone or close your laptops for a bit. And just be silent for 30 seconds. Ready? Go. Isn’t that just the longest 30 seconds of your entire life? But it was no longer than the previous 30 seconds. The point is that time is relative to your experience. If you pay attention to it, it can be much longer. So you can change your experience of time by practicing and removing obstacles and well the way I did it was I lived in the mountains for a year and meditated for 6 or 12 hours a day. Luckily, you don’t have to do that.

Here’s my favourite app for this. There’s lots of apps from Mindfulness now, mine’s called Headspace and basically it’s a free trial app you download through your cell phone and it gives you a 5 to 10 minute daily guided meditation. You fire up the app, you put on your headphones and basically this British guy who trained in Tibet as a monk walks you through an introduction to Mindfulness. It’s really good! In fact, it’s so good, I wish I had had it when I was living in the mountains, I probably could save myself a year of time or something. It’s actually so good that yes, we pay our employees to use Headspace after the 30-day trial. So I would recommend if you’re curious about this, to give that a try.

Now hopefully you know about the gap. And you know about the importance of minding the gap and you know you can train yourself to see the gap more often. Do you do this all the time? Are you like constantly on the lookout for the gap? Is it like a paranoid thing? Luckily it’s not. But to show you when to look for the gap, I have to tell you about the 3 poisons. The 3 poisons are another Buddhist concept and basically the 3 things that really mess up our life. Passion which is represented as the bird, aggression which is the snake and ignorance which is the pig. In our life, these refer to as I’ve said 3 base neurotic behaviours.

Passion

Is like the desire to cling on to something, either the smooth talking salesman who always brings people to them and people love being around him and he’s so interesting or my experience to this is like seeing a beautiful woman walking down the street and – the first thought I thought of was wow, beautiful and how great! My second thought was – and I’m a happily married guy. I’ve been married for 17 years. But I still – I’m totally seduced by this thing, but this is my neurotic passion aspect.

Aggression

Is like counter-attack – anything that remotely is threatening is instantly seized upon as grounds for aggression. Pre-emptive strike. Some of you may have encountered people like that, especially investors.

And ignorance

Is like whatevs, it’s all good. Don’t worry! This is my personal style. Don’t worry about it, it’s fine. I gotta work on my talk again? I’d rather play hearthstone. It’s fine.

So the point is when you notice the 3 passions and the core ignorance when you notice aggression coming up, that’s when you look for the gap. Usually these are not on display. Usually we go about our lives and we don’t even notice it. But when it comes up and we say oh, there’s the snake! Oh, that’s the pig, that’s ignorance. That’s somebody basically blocking out. That’s when you look for the gap. Ok?

So that’s the plan, develop mindfulness, mind the gap, practice 5 to 10 minutes a day and so that when conflicts arise, you can switch from your habitual system 1/whether it’s passion, aggression or ignorance to a more reflective approach. And then you’ll have a new creative and open situation, which you can’t really predict. If you practice this way, you will not be alone. You probably heard that Intel has a mindfulness training program for 100,000 of its employees. Google has a mindfulness training program, so does Goldman Sachs, so does Green Mountain Coffee.

The factory workers of Green Mountain Coffee report dramatic decreased factory accidents once they’ve gone to the mindfulness programs. Edna has reported much lower healthcare cost for workers who have gone to the mindfulness training programs. They are lots of quantitive reasons why you might want to investigate this, but I was trying to describe to you the qualitative reasons, the situation and the personal situation – how we do this at YesWare? Here’s a concrete example!

The guy on the right there is called Jim Rosen. Jim is a successful software executive here in Boston, long time meditator. He’s trained himself, he’s been trained as an executive coach and very early on in our history I asked Jim to come in and build a mindfulness program for us. This mindfulness program includes executive coaching for everyone at the company. It includes a variety of different body centred mindfulness practices like Tai-Chi and yoga, kickboxing, Pilates as well as sitting meditation classes in our office. And then he meets with people individually to talk about their practice and I asked him and he said if any of you want to send him an email and say how could a mindfulness program work for me? He said he’d be happy to write back to you. So if you want to learn more about how to roll it out, send it to Jim. I actually don’t get any money from this, this isn’t a paid endorsement of any kind. I just know that he does really good work and to bring it out to your company might be helpful.

So just to wrap up my story of my S and B team. Luckily, in this time, because of my training and I don’t always do it – I did mind the gap, I didn’t lash back at the manager and instead I thought about these guys. And I thought about their situation, millennials, just out of college. First time they ever had a job. It’s kind of natural that they would be defensive with their job, they wanna keep what’s going. Change is hard and uncertain. And then I thought about the business and thought wait, if we have more leads coming in than we can deal with, then these guys are letting leads follow and we’re not serving customer demand, we’re not doing it as fast as we can, we’re gonna get a bad reputation for not following up quickly on a sales lead and what good is that if we can’t follow up on a sales lead? So I went to them and I said – actually the first thing I said was ok, I’ll take the meeting. And we got in the room and they told me why they were here and how wrong they thought I was and I described to them my perspective, I understand where you’re coming from and here’s the reality of the business. And I said what should we do?

And I don’t remember who it was that came up with it, but one of the guys said well actually I’m gonna be on vacation for a week next month and I know Ian in another territory is getting married so why don’t we bring him in temporarily and make sure we have coverage and then they won’t get used to sharing leads to 3 people and then we can get a pipeline going and get the operational systems going so that we can hire more and more people into the territory. Duh! I was like of course! That’s obvious! Why didn’t I think of that? But the point is I didn’t think about it and the point is by them thinking about it, they owned it. It was their idea, not my idea and so they could execute it without feeling like it was pushed down from me.

So I think it’s worth contemplating how a mindfulness program should work with your company and it’s worthwhile doing, but more importantly than that, what I would ask each and every one of you to do is the next time somebody comes at you with some aggression or some snipe or some mean underhanded comment. Or when you see somebody trying to pull you in and suck you into their world and you’re not sure you want to go there, look for the gap! Don’t react immediately. Just wait for a minute. Your world will open up, the linear reel of your film will change and you will have a lot more options to discover creative approaches to the problems that you’re facing. Thank you!

Upcoming AMAs:

Art Papas, CEO, Bullhorn
Tuesday 28 March 2017 at 17.00 GMT.

Register for Art Papas's Hangout here

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Q&A

Mark Littlewood: Thank you very much, Matthew! I don’t often call a talk beautiful but that really was and I really appreciate the 30 seconds as well. It could have gone on forever actually. Maybe that’s jet lag setting in. Who’s got some questions or comments? Who uses mindfulness? 5 people. It’s quite a big business, the company that you mentioned here Headspace – just a $30 million funding budget. But they are – I mean they’ve been very successful in finding people that want to tap into this.

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: Yeah, I mean the pituli scent of the meditator in the mountains has thoroughly waffed it off this activity. It is very much a thing that’s helpful for people of all types. The data backs it up. Here’s a question, here’s two.

Audience Question: You are Buddhist, but is mindfulness inherent Buddhist or can someone be Christian and practice mindfulness as well?

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: What a wonderful question! No. Yes, mindfulness it totally Buddhist. No, I’m just kidding. No one owns the patent on mindfulness. It’s a human thing and it might even be a sentient thing. It just happened to be the way that I could connect to it, but there are plenty of other examples of Christian mystics to contemplative mystics and Muslim traditions and Jewish contemplative traditions across the board. It’s very much a human thing.

Audience Question: Yeah, hi! You mentioned taking a moment in the situations where you’re encountered with some of those evils or whatever you want to call them.

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: Poisons.

Audience Question: Right. I guess my question is; there are situations where folks maybe don’t have that patience. You don’t necessarily have the space to or feel like you have the space. Does that come down to boundaries or how do you mitigate that? When you’re feeling like pressured into that situation.

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: Well that’s the whole talk. I think that’s a very good question. The first thing is it’s probably very hard to do right off the bat. Like you have to hear about it, think about it, practice and then exercise and you don’t always get it right. The genesis of this talk for me was not a time when I actually minded the gap. The genesis of the talk was when I didn’t mind the gap and I blew up at a team and they were all like – so it’s a path aspect, you try and you fail and you try again and you succeed and get the benefit and you try again and you fail. Yes.

Audience Question: So this is great for the person who is practicing mindfulness, but what about the other side? So if the person that you’re engaging with is say passive aggressive and keeps doing things to the letter, but not the intent of the request, how do you deal with that situation?

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: Thank you for that! It’s a very good question because being mindful or minding the gap does not determine how you’re going to act in responding to the situation. So it doesn’t mean that you always result in being nice and kind and wonderful and understanding and all that. It opens up the realm of possibility to respond in the best way or what you think is the right way. So in that situation the first thing to do is you give them space and their trip, there’s no reaction particularly. You just sort of let them play out their trip and sometimes that’s enough for some people to go like I’m just totally – and they can bring themselves out of it. And the manager, you see it happening again and again and then you talk to them about it. I see you do this behaviour and when you do this behaviour it makes me feel like – do you see that? Am I missing something here? And you kind of unpack it but without the space, you can’t get in there. Without the space, it just becomes a ping pong match back and forth so someone has to be brave enough to step back and not immediately react, which pushes the other person to react again. The bravery aspect of this is that basically first with your own mind and then with other people and your relationship to them, no matter where they’re at, you can have a chance to basically give them the opportunity to be themselves and you can react to them in an open way and that sometimes just flips the whole thing and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you realise that this person is not gonna work out and then you fire them.

Audience Question: Matthew, thank you for your talk. Can I just say that for me, mindfulness you can call it emotional intelligence or managing one’s emotions has been really fundamental in terms of leadership but can I just say that sometimes when people refer to finding or minding the gap, that is actually very challenging at times to do that. And that sometimes I think it’s useful to understand just the biofeedback that you get or other ways of recognising that you’ve missed the gap that you’re into, that you’re getting emotional, you’re reacting to a situation. Do you have any other tips for how you maintain that gap or find the gap?

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: What do you mean by biofeedback?

Audience Question: Just noticing when your heart is racing or if you’re suddenly speech is speeding up, that sort of thing.

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: So I think everybody has different reactions to the speed in which we move and everybody has different signals. I mean I try to point out three very low level, basic signals, passion, aggression and ignorance. So when you see manifestations of that in your life, that’s the sign to look for the gap. But how those manifest for you might be different for me and how they manifest for you. So a little bit like this gentlemen’s question over here, how do you do it, it’s a practice. It’s an ongoing sense of oh, this is my life. I’m getting to know myself and when I feel comfortable in a situation and when I need to be more mindful going in. And I feel like it’s very much – I’m 47 years old so I’ve had a lot of opportunity to make mistakes and so to get the feedback and I think it’s very much an individual path in that way.

Audience Question: What we’ve been talking about here can also be recapped in a different way by going by the mantra of respond, don’t react. There’s a quote that I’ve heard in various contexts, kind of again seeing the difference between the initial instinctive reaction, the kind of fight or flight type of response versus a pondered or a considered response.

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: I think so, it sounds good. Respond means you listen to what’s happened and you’re responding to that as opposed to just reacting off the cuff?

Audience Question: Yeah.

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: Yeah, I could see that, sure.

Audience Question: Thank you!

Mark Littlewood: Can I ask a question? If you’re in a company and there’s a zen saying that you should meditate for 20 minutes a day unless you’re too busy, in which case you should meditate for an hour. Now you will see all these big organisations and there’s some fires going off and the sales to be done and it’s just getting too much. So you go off to a room to spend two hours –

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: I do?

Mark Littlewood: Maybe you do. I don’t know. I’m painting a picture. Given this kind of need for Headspace for people that aren’t practicing being mindful, does that create tension, issues with he’s off to do his – and as you were fighting the enemy?

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: He’s going off into the mountains again to do his thing and we’re left actually do the work.

Mark Littlewood: Yeah. All that they’ve said.

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: They haven’t told me that. But I think actually this is my situation and I kind of wish it was different, but honestly I don’t have time to meditate for an hour or two a day anymore. I have 3 kids and I’m happily married, I have a software company to run, I like to coach lacrosse in the spring.

Mark Littlewood: So kids, family, software company, that was enough. Anything after that –

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: Yeah, so I asked my – and this problem I think is faced by workers in all industries, not just software companies. And I remember I was a waiter when I was in college and after college and I was talking to my meditation teacher about this exact issue. I don’t have time! How do I do this? I’m waiting tables and when the rush hits, you’re on it. You’re back and forth and running and all the espresso and double cappuccino and the bill and the cocktails. And I was like how do I do it? And he said you don’t have to go slowly. Just pay attention to the speed, feel your body as it moves through the space. Just be aware of how quickly you’re moving. And I was like that’s interesting. So you can actually be mindful as the busy CEO of a software company because it’s not about separating yourself into a different world, it’s actually about being here right now, in wherever you are. And that suddenly means I can practice all the time.

Audience Question: Hey, Matthew! So I was curious about the mountain retreat. Where did you go? Did you pick a style or anything in particular? And then my other question would be even though you’re very busy today, is it still an everyday process?

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: Yeah. So I went to study Buddhism, which is a Tibetan American style of Buddhism so that retreat was in Colorado, which is about 2 hours west of Fort Collins. About 2 hours out of Denver. And yeah, so I still practice just about every day. Short sessions, 5 to 10 minutes, sometimes an hour on the weekends, sometimes retreats where I can go and be away for a weekend or something like that. Sometimes I forget and I do it again the next day.

Audience Question: I guess sort of less of a question and more part of the discussion if that’s cool. So there’s a Buddhist monk and peace activist who wrote a book called the art of power, which talks about business and mindfulness. And one thing that he says, so when somebody is asking for quick tips when we’re so busy is that actually the connection between mind and body is breathing. So if you don’t have time to practice, you can just breathe. What? That’s crazy but it’s true. So breathing is literally that connective tissue and it takes very little time to do through one cycle of breathing. That’s all I’ve got. Mic drop!

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: Wonderful points!

Audience Question: The word passion is one that we usually use in a positive context, especially for a software development conference.

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: We’re killing it, dude!

Audience Question: I’m very passionate about that. How would you relate the meanings that positive meaning of devotion to something you love with that – the poison side that you’re talking about?

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: Basically there’s two aspects to passion. There is the wisdom aspect and the neurotic aspect, just like there is an aggression and ignorance. And the wisdom aspect is love, just open hearted love. And that’s a wonderful thing. And then the neurotic thing happens when we try to attach to that and to perpetuate that and keep that feeling going. We run up stories to keep ourselves in that state of mind because it’s so wonderful. If you’ve ever had a relationship with someone and you knew it was over 6 months before you could break up, you know what I’m talking about. So the love that I feel for my work is absolutely fine. Then I start to associate my ego and my self-worth with my job and I start to doubt and get afraid of losing my job, that’s the neurotic aspect of it. They’re very close actually.

Audience Question: Have you tried taking mindfulness into your family? In other words, does your wife or kids practice this? And if so, how has that helped?

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: So my wife is a Quaker so she – her tradition has its own kind of mindfulness. That’s a good question about it – they have a contemplative practice of their own. My kids are curious about it and sometimes they come up to the meditation room with me and sit for 5 minutes and then they can’t do it. I’m out of here! This is stupid! And I just be here now and I’m like where else would I be? Of course I’m here, this is all I’ve got. And I’m like – but my son did come out of some of the session with me and he said dad, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re gonna miss a lot of jokes.

Audience Question: Hi, Matthew! Over here! So what really changed on your company after the mindfulness and before it? Like what can you see the difference from the people that work with you? This is because of the training?

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: This is a difficult question. Honestly, it’s very tempting to try to quantify it and there are plenty of studies out there that do this with surveys and all these things. It’s very susceptible as the halo effect as the study that I’ve mentioned or any of these business studies. People attribute their personal success to the things you ask them about. And if the company is failing, they say it’s because the CEO is always off in his mindfulness program. And if the company has great success, it’s because the CEO took the mindfulness program and we succeeded. It’s hard to disentangle those two things. The reason why I think it’s important is much more about the personal experience that I try to describe, IE I could see a very concrete situation which arose in my world which I know is analogous to lots of other people’s worlds. Living in stressful situations, somebody throws something at you, you need to deal with it on the spot or not, my habitual response would completely have messed it up. So I don’t have a before and after snapshot and anyway in business it’s hard to have petri dishes where you’re running the tests. But I do think it’s important because of the experience that I’ve had as a business person. So this was my attempt to try to share that. But there are studies out there which you could read and they all say the right thing. So I welcome you to read them, but –

Audience Question: I live in Boulder, Colorado and somehow I knew where they asked where did you do your retreat it was gonna be not far to Boulder. So there’s a lot of the – the thinking is in the area. I was gonna address the passive aggressive question, stems some training and some workshops and things with horses around mindfulness. And the idea of – you can’t make someone do something, you can’t make them think a certain way and working with horses was very similar because you cannot physically make a horse do something that it doesn’t want to do and it’s all about creating space and creating a sort of shared goal with that horse. And sort of reacting and acting in that way because I think there is some sort of parallel to people who are not sharing the same stated goals as you that you might be explicitly saying they’re going to do – and I just offer that. There was something, moving in to Boulder, I thought it sounds a little hippy dippy, but there’s something really powerful there about getting someone on your team that doesn’t want to be.

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: I think everyone in this room can identify with that. That’s a great question.

Audience Question: Mine might be easy. Multitasking, I just want to hear your thoughts.

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: You can’t do it. It’s tempting to think you can do it, but actually your mind is single threaded. It’s just very fast but what happens when you try to pour lots of different objects into a single threaded CPU is that it gets fragmented and there is switching. So all the – and there are real scientific studies on this one, because it’s easy to test what happens when people gets lots of inputs poured at them and how they reacted switching between tasks. So what I try to do or we try to do at YesWare is basically break everything up into discrete chunks and make sure that people have time to do their work and that when they’re in meetings, they’re at meetings. So we ask everyone to close their laptops, turn off their phones. If you’re gonna be in a meeting, focus on it. If you’re not having fun, or it doesn’t help you, leave the meeting. All the meetings are optional. We ask our manager to book our meetings only in blocks of time and individual contributors to block out big chunks of the day to do their work. So on their calendar there is a big doing my work appointment. Because when it comes to it, task switching it costs much more than it actually achieves.

Audience Question: My question is about the practice and lifestyle. How much the lifestyle affects the mindfulness? Because in practice you do 5 minutes a day. What about food, sleep, exercise? Does it? I thought they are bigger factors than practicing because if you are healthy and fresh, then maybe you are more in control of a situation than practicing 10 minutes a day?

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: I see. Well I think they all help. Sleeping well helps, exercise helps, taking care of your responsibilities as a parent helps. And I think it’s really up to the individual to figure out what the right balance is with all the different things. And I think it’s different at the different stages of life. So I think now I don’t have a lot of time to do practice. I do practice and do meditation practice as a way of touching in and reminding myself and just giving myself a little time. I feel it’s my time with myself, my time alone. And just for 5 or 10 minutes a day it just reminds me there might be other times when I can do it for longer and there might be times when you can exercise for 4 hours a day instead of 1 or do whatever you want to do for 4 hours instead of 1. I think it’s up to you to figure out what the right mix is for you.

Mark Littlewood: You’re paying for your staff to have mindfulness, but they access they get in Headspace. Any information about how much they use it?

Matthew Bellows, Yesware: So we do a number of things like that. We allow everyone to have an executive coach, we pay for gym memberships for people, people use the app and in classes and things like that and I explicitly don’t track those things. One because I wanted to be anonymous and I want people to think that they don’t have to go to check the box and 2 because I’ve just got bigger things to worry about frankly. But I would say overall, across all the different mindfulness benefits and classes that we do, I would say approximately between 20 and 30% of employees take advantage of it. The majority doesn’t. But you know what? That’s totally fine with me because I’m not here to legislate mindfulness. I’m here to run a company but I think this is helpful in running a company and if you want to use it, you can.

Mark Littlewood: Great! Matthew, thank you very, very much!

Upcoming AMAs:

Art Papas, CEO, Bullhorn
Tuesday 28 March 2017 at 17.00 GMT.

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