Tag Archives: mindfulness

Everybody “Does Quality”

(Image Credit: Lucy Glover of Lucy Glover Photography, San Francisco, CA)

In the October ASQ Influential Voices topic, CEO Paul Borawski asks how pervasive the quality function is in organizations, and asks how its value can be increased:

My question is, how well understood and embraced are the contributions of the quality professional beyond what is traditionally thought of as the quality function?  My hope is that use of quality is widespread; my fear is that it is not.

I welcome your insights, your experience, and your thoughts on how to increase the value of quality in organizations beyond what is traditionally thought of as the quality function.

Everybody “does quality”. That’s part of the problem, AND part of the solution.

Part of the problem: About 10 years ago, I was in an organization where people found out I was the “quality person” – and immediately, I was kind of marginalized by my peers. After all, THEY were all about quality too, and they were very vocal about it! They were all esteemed scientists, engineers, and professionals, and they had spent their whole lives studying and working hard to ensure that EVERYTHING they thought and produced was of the utmost quality. Me coming in as the person who “knows a lot about quality” was tantamount to a put-down… because, of course, they had been doing very well as “quality professionals” long before I arrived on the scene. So who was I to come in and say that my unique specialty was quality?

Part of the solution: As quality professionals, we need to recognize that we’re not a closed society. I think we should actively work to recruit the “non-quality” people who have a strong personal conviction about high quality operations and products into our community. Furthermore, we should strive to look beyond the Lean and Six Sigma and Baldrige and ISO standards and continually remind ourselves – and one another – that we simultaneously work with the conditions that give rise to quality, the quality of processes, the quality of products, the consequences of quality, and innovation – or quality for tomorrowWe can facilitate explorations of issues like these:

To increase the value of quality philosophy and practice in organizations, we should recognize that everyone is (to some extent or another) committed to quality. If they are not, should they really be a part of the organization in the first place? Are they practically and emotionally aligned with the organization? We can provide them with technical support and moral support to expand their understanding of quality and innovation, and help them leverage their unique skills and perspectives to advance themselves as individuals and as members of a collective.

Inspiration is the Fuel, Mindfulness is the Tool

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

I always thought mindfulness was some sort of Zen-like state of nirvana and bliss. (Great for improving the quality of my life in general, but maybe a little too fluffy and spiritual to have any practical value at work.) But, like a lot of others, I tried really hard to develop mindfulness and become more mindful. Even if it wouldn’t help me get more done at work, I was still on board to get that blissful feeling. So I read lots of books! I tried to meditate. I found out I am really, really bad at meditating because I get distracted far too easily. But then I kind of found a way to back-in to a mindful state by just getting happy about stuff. But still, no real useful value for work. Until yesterday, when I realized what mindfulness really is! And this revealed to me just how useful mindfulness can be at the office.

Mindfulness is being able to focus on whatever you want to, or need to, at your command. 

(For example… having problems getting that report done for your boss? If you had trained yourself – practiced your mindfulness – you might not be procrastinating so much. You’d just be able to hop into your mindful state at will, and start being productive without a struggle, or a wandering mind.)

Mindfulness also means being able to shut out any distractions that keep you from your focus – eliminate them from your reality, so that they are just not there. Mindfulness means that you’ve developed the ability to propel yourself into flow, which is your groove of optimal productivity.

If inspiration is the fuel that catalyzes productivity, mindfulness is the tool that will help you pick up those items on your to-do list and start making progress on them without resistance.

So practicing mindfulness… you know, all that breathing and paying attention to the flow of your thoughts… they are just exercises to help you develop your “focus easily and on command” muscles. 

How I Achieved Mindfulness (Without Meditation)

(The image at left, created by artist Alice Popkorn, is licensed under Creative Commons.)

Thanks to a tweet from Valdis Krebs (@valdiskrebs) yesterday, I was directed to an article entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure in Eight Weeks.” The bottom line is that people who participated in a mindfulness program – where they meditated and did other “mindfulness exercises” for at least 27 minutes a day in an effort to reduce stress – overwhelmingly achieved that goal. At the end of eight weeks, using MRIs, the researchers observed:

increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.

Wow! So that means all I have to do is learn how to meditate, practice it daily, and all of a sudden not only will my anxiety and stress fade away, but I’ll be smarter, more self-aware, and more compassionate.

There’s only one problem here. I really suck at meditation. I’m easily distracted, and furthermore, I’m a “quality expert” which means I can’t NOT try to be more efficient, effective, productive, etc – avoiding waste is my nature!! Even if I had the skills to do it properly, meditation has always felt, to me, like wasting time. (Darn it.) I even spent weeks and weeks last summer trying to become more mindful. Didn’t work. I finally stopped beating myself up for not focusing hard enough on being mindful and letting it slip away.

I’m sure there are a lot of people like me. You’d like to become more mindful, more self-aware, more able-to-enjoy-the-moment… but it’s hard to do. And meditation is just not helping. And so you keep anxiously moving from moment to moment, trying to be here now, but there’s way too much to think about and get done and it’s never going to end.

One day this past December, I was driving on the interstate in the middle of the afternoon. The road was laying itself out in front of me, the trees were swaying in the light wind and the low solar angle, and I was checking out the dents in the Nissan driving in front of me. And then it dawned on me… Wow, I am TOTALLY here in this moment RIGHT NOW! This must be what mindfulness is all about! I was experiencing all of the tiny details of the moment, perfectly content where I was in my seat, and where I was along the path from there-to-home, and it really didn’t matter what I was doing or not doing. Or what I had or didn’t have. Or what would happen tomorrow or not. Or what would happen an hour from now… or not. Or who thought what thoughts of me… or not.

It just didn’t matter… none of it. I was just pleasantly entangled in the moment, and totally content. (And this is not like me… I knew something had changed.)

I spent the next few days wondering how in the world this instant mindfulness happened. All of a sudden, it was all over the place. I remember mindfully eating chicken wings. Mindfully cutting my nails. Mindfully packing my bookbag to go to work. It was all around me, and there’s nothing I did to make it happen, or so I thought.

A few weeks later I figured it all out. Mindfulness is not something you can GO GET, it’s something that comes to you. All of the focused meditation and breathing I could have done would not have made me more mindful, at least not beyond the ephemeral moments of its immediate impact. And it comes to you when you consciously choose to do things that make you happy.

I had made a decision a few weeks prior to do something that would make me happy at least once a day, and to stop doing things that did not make me happy. If I really had to do something I didn’t like, I consciously found a way to do something happy as a component of doing the thing I wasn’t interested in. If I just didn’t have the energy to do something happy, I’d go take a nap (assuming that my attitude was a result of being tired – and usually, it was). I stopped trying to force the outcomes on my to-do list and get things done, and decided that I would attack only those items that I could really be happy about doing. Furthermore, I decided that I was going to stop lying to myself and others. If I wasn’t enjoying an activity, I would find a way to stop doing it – and if I was enjoying something, I would find a way to do more of it.

This is all a work in progress. But I can say that after a few weeks of my “focus on doing stuff to make me happy” exercise, I got mindfulness for free, and so far, it’s staying with me. No meditation. No breathing, other than what I had to do to stay alive. No past, no future. No worries.

Zen and the Art of Social Media Blackout

In May, when I decided to disconnect from checking social media and email over 500 times a day to write Disconnected: Technology Addiction & the Search for Authenticity in Virtual Life, I had no idea how contemporary the idea of disconnecting from social media would become.

Give me your Droids, your iPhones, your Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates, your text messages, your Google Chats! Let’s see what happens to life as we know it if we take a time capsule way back into the mid-1990’s, stop clicking on our mobile devices, and start engaging more with the real world and real people around us. It sounds like such a trite experiment, and yet it’s one of those compelling exercises that can really help us understand the concept of mindfulness – the ability to live in the moment, slow down, and appreciate all that is for what it is. At least that’s what it did for me (as soon as I could compel myself to actually follow through to see what would happen – technology detox is NOT easy and I am a self-admitted addictive multitasker).

Like the experiment being run at the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania university that’s garnered so much press this month, my personal exercise was more of a brownout than a blackout. Face it – life totally without technology can be impractical and unproductive in many ways, especially when you have a job that relies on it. But how much is too much? That’s the trick I wrote about in my book… avoiding technology asceticism (blackout) while setting pertinent Rules of Engagement that limit social media technology use (brownout) to promote mindfulness. It results in you using technology rather than it using you.

So what’s going on in Harrisburg? According to Paige Chapman at the Chronicle on September 9, 2010:

Professors have experimented with assigning technology fasts for their students—by discouraging gadget use for five days, for example, or rewarding extra credit for a semester without Facebook.

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is going one step further with a “social-media blackout.” Starting Monday, the Pennsylvania institution will block Facebook, Twitter, AOL Instant Messenger, and MySpace on the campus network for a week. Faculty and staff members will be affected as well as students.

“Telling students to imagine a time before Facebook is like telling them to imagine living in a world with dinosaurs,” said Eric D. Darr, Harrisburg’s executive vice president and provost. “It’s not real. What we’re doing is trying to make it real.”

Here are some more of the links I’ve found over the past few days on the social media blackout concept. I’m listing them here for personal reference, and plan to grow it as I find more interesting links on the topic, but you might find the list useful too.

By the way. many people have asked whether my 42-day experiment resulted in a long term behavior shift… and the answer is YES, it did. Now, I only check my Droid, Facebook, Twitter, email and the rest about 50 to 75 times a day. This might still be considered a problem, but I’m pretty happy that I reduced my habit by a factor of 10. So are most of the people who have to interact with me on a daily basis.