Tech companies find their inner Zen

Companies like Intel and Google are helping workers meditate to innovate

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All of the mindfulness and meditation going on at Google can largely be traced back to Chade-Meng Tan. Google's employee No. 107, Tan worked as an engineer at the company before spearheading its mindfulness program, creating a motivational course and then writing the associated book Search Inside Yourself.

meditation room at Google
A meditation room at Google offers employees a place to recharge themselves while they're at work. (Photo: Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld)

While Tan may be Google's symbolic Zen master, Duane stepped in to broaden the operation to emotionally, and even spiritually, nourish the company's hard-driven employees. As Duane describes it, Tan was the founder and now Duane himself has become the CEO of Google's mindfulness project.

Google, which has become a leader in incorporating mindfulness into the workplace, generally offers about a dozen mindfulness courses at a time.

And it's not as though the classes -- with titles such as "Managing your Energy," "Neural Self-Hacking" and "Meditation 101" -- are attracting only a handful of attendees. Many of them typically have waiting lists of 200 to 300 people.

For Duane, there's a reason that meditation is catching on so quickly at tech companies.

It's all about the science.

"I heard meditation was good for you and my response was, 'Whatever, hippie,'" Duane said. "I put it in the same box as homeopathy and crystals and auras. As someone deeply in love with science, I just thought it wasn't part of my world."

But then life -- a fast-paced job and a dying father -- began to take its toll on him.

"There's a certain point where it just catches up with you," he explained. "I tried the bourbon-and-cheeseburger method, but that only goes so far.... I started to learn about the neuroscience of emotion. The notion that what I was feeling wasn't random or broken but these responses of anxiety and worry were rational responses when you look at it from the context of our evolutionary background."

Simply put, humans are descendants of nervous monkeys. Our fight-or-flight response hasn't changed even though we're working in cubicles instead of fighting off tigers.

"To understand the functioning of emotion, it made it safe for me as an engineer, as a scientist, to believe it's possible to change these functions," Duane said. "Mindfulness is a way to hack this mechanism."

Intel's Qua Veda
Qua Veda, a research analyst at Intel. (Photo: Intel)

Qua Veda, a research analyst at Intel, had similar ideas and began what has become a grass-roots push to bring mindfulness to the company's workforce.

"A few years ago, people took multitasking to be a great virtue," Veda said. "But it's about finding that quiet, centered place within so you're functioning at a much higher level of performance.... It's not just about stress reduction but having a capacity for insight and awareness, and engaging on a whole new level."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said it makes sense for companies, especially tech companies, to embrace meditation.

"Most technology companies will invest in things that help them get the most productivity out of their workers," Moorhead said. "Whether it's on-campus living, restaurants or meditation, the company wants to get more work out of their employees. Given the extensive hours and pressure this relatively younger workforce is under, free meditation classes don't surprise me."

This article, "Tech Companies Find Their Inner Zen," was originally published on Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter, at @sgaudin, and on Google+, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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