Blog: Learning Curve

A New Direction and Challenge Awaits the New Year

A new year often heralds announcements. True to form, I wish to use this space to announce our new direction, which will begin to unfold this week.

About three years ago, our team realized through our teaching, research, and client services that conventional notions of leadership—even the more innovative versions—were failing to manage the effects of our pace of change and information overload.

We recognized that the disruptive nature of change—especially as it relates to coaches, educators, and executives (our client base)—and its unintended consequences demanded greater attention and inquiry.

Leadership development today requires more than strategies for dealing with product life cycles, supply chains, and scaling or mission statements that encourage employee retention and optimization of teams and systems.

The onslaught of information and frequency of change revealed another critical dimension to our work: the well-being of the colleagues and the wellness of the culture to transform a business into a community.

Through much research and inquiry, we explored becoming more.

New Direction: The Human Side of Change

We began with a shift in direction, guided by our clients. Most come to us for leadership development—yet, we have noticed a stronger focus on cultivating learning than on developing leadership. This includes the learning, unlearning, and openness required to navigate the effects of our information-laden world of volatile change.

Today, the nature of change demands that we pay attention to learning to learn and to coping with unlearning.

This learning-and-unlearning dynamic is necessary to cultivate the very openness required to develop leadership mindsets today—to release outmoded views and deepen the commitment for an inclusive and sustainable culture.

We view this as the human side of change, which involves a three-phase methodology:

  1. AWAKEN. An inquiry into your being as body, mind, and language.
  2. INTEGRATE. A transition that expands mindsets to include your whole self.
  3. SUSTAIN. A life of contemplative practice to sustain awareness and action.

This focus on the human side of change through deep learning will now become our “north star.”

This realization began with the task of changing our name, expanding our brand, and birthing an evolving story.

Our Brand

Our new brand involves three interrelated elements: our name, our symbol, and our tagline, which come together to tell our story.

Our new name, Bhavana Learning Group, speaks to several elements of our new direction.

Our new brand affirms our shift to include Eastern wisdom and practice as a fundamental part of who we are becoming.

Our Name

Bhāvanā is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning “to seed” or “to cultivate.” It’s derived from bhava, which means “being, a state of body or mind.” The Buddha himself chose the word bhāvanā to describe a process of cultivation: the development of mental qualities, such as imagination and awareness, directed toward intentional change.

Typically, the topic preceding bhāvanā is the focus of cultivation. Metta bhāvanā in Sanskrit means to cultivate kindness. At Bhavana Learning Group, we view our work as grounded in a commitment of becoming.

We support learners in cultivating the soil of awareness and seeding intentional change as they develop the leadership to serve their colleagues and organizations within our field of learning.

Our Symbol

The symbol that accompanies the name embodies two messages.

The first message is represented by an image of the contemplative labyrinth.

The labyrinth was originally created by the Greek king Minos to keep the Minotaur (the part-man, part-bull beast) confused and therefore contained.

Today, the walking or meditation labyrinth is widely used in parks and public spaces of sacred reflection or practice. It is no longer used to confuse but to help one navigate a path through contemplation. By meandering, we find ourselves at the center for clarity and enlightenment.

The Bhavana labyrinth exemplifies the deep reflective process and confusion-and-clarity journey that leads to transformation and expansion.

The second message is illustrated by an image of an emerging sprout.

The emerging sprout represents becoming, which is central to our work at Bhavana. It reveals the journey of wisdom and practice that leads to growth and expansion from being grounded in contemplative practice.

Through our services, study, resources, and practices, we trust that this symbol will come to represent the unique and focused personal commitment involved when working with the professionals at Bhavana Learning Group. 

Our Tagline

The story of our tagline may now be more apparent.

It clearly acts as a prescription of wisdom and practice for becoming, which represents a deep part of our commitment as demonstrated in our programs and services.

However, there’s another dimension that is often overlooked.

The work of distinguishing being extends beyond inspirational or sentimental moments that often lean toward the aspirational. When we considered these three words, we wanted to convey a both/and approach that cultivates an interdependent view—the notion that becoming rests both on wisdom and practice.

Wisdom involves what is most significant. Bringing wisdom into everyday living requires deep reflection and an openness to inquiry—of our experiences, their immediate impact, and unfolding connections and consequences.

Practice includes what is most fundamental. These are the basics we tend to forget—the pausing, breathing, or clear-minded observing that form disciplines we dismiss or avoid as we reach for the aspirational. Yet these disciplined practices ground our being and open us to the moment, to each choice. With practice, we cultivate consistency that conveys credibility. In fields of human mastery, such as art, music, and sports, practice shapes our competence and credibility and deepens our capacity to generate.

We endeavor to live our commitment to integrate Eastern wisdom and practices with Western learning and business models. Thriving in a world of volatile change requires continual learning and unlearning from both the significant (wisdom) and the fundamental (practice).

Our Work

Working with coaches, educators, and executives requires a clear-eyed focus on human potential and the human side of change.

Expanding leadership capacity today requires a cultural awareness from an interdependent mindset. With contemplative practice, we can embody learning and unlearning to expand views, question knowledge, and deepen our wisdom.

We invite you to review our website, blog, and weekly digest over the next few months as our message and direction continue to unfold in programs, services, and opportunities to practice together.


tony-zampella-headshot Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group (previously, Zampella Group), which serves coaches, learning professionals and business executives. As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, his work develops mindsets for growing a culture of servant leaders.

His focus includes ontological inquiry, into the nature of being; Integral theory to
include Eastern wisdom and practice with Western learning and business models;
and, Zen Buddhism to sustain contemplative practice.


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Silent Night, Wholly Life

As we end another year, it seems natural to reflect on it. We take inventory, question assumptions, and pause. The notion of reflection requires a relationship with silence, a willingness to cultivate and appreciate moments of silence.

Silence can be a confusing topic—it may also be our best teacher.

In working with clients — coaching, and facilitating practice and meditation sessions — the idea of sitting in silence has surfaced, with appreciation for some and anxiety for many.

Some professionals become anxious in silence. They may not know themselves without the many distractions that invade our minds. Technology and related chatter are becoming systematically woven into our identity to alter our expectations.

For others, silence may reveal much: perhaps experiences they’ve identified with and would rather leave aside or perhaps doubts, insecurities, or fears from now or long ago. In silence, some may be confronted by waves of sadness.

Even with these reservations, I’ve found that most professionals wish to experience and increase moments of silence during mindfulness practice. That silence is key to increasing awareness and recovering our memory of the whole self. 

 Mental and Emotional Demands

Learning to engage silence may be the hidden gem of our modern day. Our lives involve interacting with mental and emotional demands, larger in quantity and frequency than ever in human history.

Mental Demands involve the degree to which you must exert mental effort to complete tasks at home and work. The fast pace and overload of our distracting lives require us to sustain the effort to continually bring ourselves back to the present moment. This takes energy that can drain us.

Consider how language shapes our affective life as well. New terms, acronyms, symbols, and concepts impact systems, processes, tasks, and applications with more updates and upgrades—all of which have become essential just to “prepare to work.”

Emotional Demands involve our affective lives. These include absorbing an exacting saturation of information: an avalanche of opinions, ideas, and attitudes from different perspectives and viewpoints that cascade without the time to decompress or recover to reflect.

Increasing amounts of content trigger anxiety and emotions that require a release. The everydayness of life—meetings, reports, traffic, packed subways, email/text messages, and reacting to comments, notifications, and emojis—activates emotions that shape our affective lives.

Silence offers the possibility of venturing beyond our preoccupations. Only quieting the mind can access the depth beyond the surface rhythm of life that shapes our views: our imagination, creativity, spiritual connection, and deep learning arising from insights tucked below.

Normalizing Noise

In his book Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, author and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explores the types of noise we consume. With awareness of noise, we can focus on something bigger than ourselves. (This brief video offers an instructive summary.)

Creating silence requires that we investigate the question, what is noise? Examining this question ventures beyond the auditory. Noise exists in both tangible and mental forms:

— Continual bells, dings, and pings of notifications pull us from any intended task.

— Pop-ups on websites, emojis, signs, symbols, snap-chats, and texts assault us, demanding a response.

— Commercials seed our minds through pop-up screens, billboards, grocery bags, park benches, and even receipts.

— Acronyms now crawl across our screens to convey and confuse us with vast details and information.

— Newsy-entertainment now monetizes attention, baits for clicks, and addicts us emotionally.

— Programmers engineer phone apps and social media to hook our attention (see 60 Minutes clip “Brain Hacking or, if international, this link).

— Small print agreements and warnings gild gadgets and services to convey risks and rights.

— TV narrators warn of the side effects and conditions of prescription drugs.

— Lights glow—bright, flickering, or subtle—in rooms creating “moods” that cloud perceptions.

— Multiple TV screens and channels line the walls in bars, restaurants, airports, and coffee shops, “entertaining us” while we eat, drink, or rest.

— Shelves full of clutter and trinkets fill space and grab our attention.

— Ruminations churn inside us as we fixate on assumptions, judgments, beliefs, or conditions.

Navigating the labels, signs, and signals often prevent us from enjoying the direct experience of life’s little pleasures. As you notice the noise, reflect on where you might reduce its tangible and mental forms.

Rescuing Our Attention

Noise pollutes our mind, mesmerizes us, and steals pieces of our attention. Like the low hum of an air conditioner, it becomes normal. Over time it fragments the self, increasing anxiety. Then one day, the AC is off, and we experience clean silence: our eyes rest, attention dwells, and listening expands.

In the silence, something new emerges.

In his book The World Beyond Your Head, Matthew Crawford offers silence as “a luxury good”:

In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle airport, what you hear is the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. There are no advertisements on the walls and no TVs. This silence . . . is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic airtight doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows itself, your neck muscles relax and after twenty minutes you no longer feel exhausted. The hassle lifts.

Crawford rightly notes that “because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back, you’re going to have to pay for it.”

From silence, we experience what is often ignored, unspoken, or not yet sorted out.

Adding silence in a conversation often leaves others sorting through deeper thoughts beyond reflexive or automatic responses. Managing the silence can be a struggle, as it invites the ultimate surrender: to give up control and accept the unpredictable.

Most of us avoid silence in a conversation, either to avoid the discomfort of another’s struggle or to satisfy our impatience for a quick answer. And yet, silence becomes a source of deep listening beyond our habitual assumptions, thoughts, and observations. With practice, listening becomes restful, new interest emerges, a connection is felt, and we are enlivened to be with another.

Teachers, health professionals, and managers can discover much here. If you want to connect deeply or receive something new, offer silence for others to sort through their often-concealed thoughts and for you to notice yours as well.

Cultivating Moments of Silence

In his book the Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh poetically states, “Nirvana is the complete silencing of concepts.”

Most of us live concepts of our lives rather than experience it directly. Consider the many times we have eaten food without tasting it, listened to a song without hearing it, or viewed something without seeing it? Unfortunately, this has become an all-too-familiar part of the everyday concepts of our lives that masquerade as experiences.

As we venture beyond these concepts, moments of silence connect us more fully with our experience. We can experience joy in simple tasks, the beauty of art, the smell of coffee, the wholeness of our self in each moment.

  1. Begin with connecting intentionally to your breath throughout the day. Pause regularly and take three conscious breaths.
  2. Create a pause between meetings and tasks. Add silence in conversations between speaking and listening. Sit in silence for five minutes periodically in the day.
  3. When pausing, focus on stopping the habitual energies, calming the breath, and resting into the silence of the moment.
  4. Bring silence to the final hour of each day. This can include calming, stillness, and reflection (see previous blog) that can support restful sleep and renewal.

With silence, we connect deeply with our whole self through our breath, body, and sensations. We can begin to concentrate and stay with a thought until it passes. With time and in silence, we can look deeply into the source of what arises and gain insight into our true nature.

This blog post is a complement to the following blog posts:

These 3 Conditions Will Cultivate Our Attention

Completing Your Day: Taking Measure of Your Life


tony-zampella-headshot Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group (previously, Zampella Group), which serves coaches, learning professionals and business executives. As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, his work develops mindsets for growing a culture of servant leaders.

His focus includes ontological inquiry, into the nature of being; Integral theory to
include Eastern wisdom and practice with Western learning and business models;
and, Zen Buddhism to sustain contemplative practice.

 


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Move Fast and Break Things: Had Enough, Yet!?

“Move Fast and Break Things,” coined by innovation guru and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, has become the ideology for disruptive innovation.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and PayPal and a venture capitalist, endorses it in his new book Blitzscaling. For Hoffman, “blitzscaling” (or moving fast and breaking things) involves releasing beta versions of products, then fixing and financing them as you grow—with an emphasis on scaling fast and first—to achieve first-mover advantage.

Go Big or Go Home

First-mover advantage confers many benefits on innovators who win rights to new territory and define the rules, roles, and routes. Gaining this edge creates markets beyond market share, and it does so in the image of those arriving first.

Those who have arrived are BIG: Facebook has defined social media; Google, the search engine; Amazon, online shopping; and Airbnb and Uber, room- and ride-sharing. Together, they’ve defined a “gig economy,” the realization of the Break Things ideology.

From Hoffman’s perspective, speed trumps accuracy, and whatever breaks can be the next avenue to innovation—until it’s not!

Breaking Fast, Breaking Bad

Recent effects of the Break Things ideology were addressed in a 2017 book by Jonathan Taplin: Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy. Taplin’s basic thesis is that Silicon Valley increasingly resembles “some kind of nightmarish children’s playground, populated by overgrown babies with no idea of the consequences of their actions.”

We’re going to be living with the aftermath of this ideology for years to come.

  1. Take Google-owned YouTube. Numerous times last year, it was found to be distributing and promoting disturbing videos to children. YouTube repeatedly vowed to address the problem, and it repeatedly failed.
  2. Then there’s Google’s recently acknowledged security hole in its Google+ social network and its admission that it had fired 48 people for sexual harassment over the last two years. 
  3. Facebook chucked any notion that it had privacy and security standards. Lapses include the Russia-linked 2016 election manipulation and the recent hacking that exposed the personal information of 30 million users, part of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. What’s worse, this rolling disaster has begun unraveling our social cohesion, undermining the company’s mission to strengthen social bonds. Breaking things means demolishing democratic and civic norms. Facebook’s response: they cannot police their own platform because they’ve grown too big, too fast.
  4. Twitter grew fast as a news feed, without the editors or regulation to ensure quality. Because it is so widely dispersed among nations, societies, and cultures, it cannot monitor posts, regulate bots, or manage its platform. Twitter lagged behind Apple, YouTube, and Facebook in banning Alex Jones of Infowars. It responded only after criticism from users mounted and journalists presented evidence of its failure to enforce its own terms of use. Twitter’s response was akin to Facebook’s: We’ve grown too big to monitor our platform.
  5. In addition to Uber’s numerous scandals, both Uber and Lyft have been sanctioned for flouting local laws and local sensibilities in their rush to seize local markets. This also spawned mini-violators such as scooter rental companies Lime and Bird (scooters have ended up blocking sidewalks and entryways, causing an uproar among non-scooter-using citizens.) Uber and Lyft not only broke ordinances that arguably protected the entrenched taxi industry, but they also contributed to increased traffic and massively depressed the wages of taxi drivers.
  6. Airbnb began breaking rental markets. A recent report by David Wachsmuth, a professor of urban planning at McGill University, examines what home-sharing is doing to New York City, presaging what other cities might expect. Airbnb raised rents that removed housing from the rental market and supercharged gentrification while discriminating against guests and hosts of color. Commercial operators transformed Airbnb from a way to help homeowners occasionally rent out an extra room into a purveyor of creepy, makeshift hotels.

A Broken Ideology

The Break Things ideology finds us scaling incompetence and only becoming competent when necessary, on the customer’s dime. This narrow strategy may work in Silicon Valley, where upgrading code is commonplace or where start-ups need to secure venture capital to go public in 24 months, but this impulsive mindset has real costs that we’ll be paying for a long time to come.

Facebook’s motto is no longer “Move Fast and Break Things,” but the results of that mentality are baked in. What Facebook didn’t realize is that moving fast can break things other than software code—it can undermine society and democratic norms.

View this 60 minutes clip — Brain Hacking (or, if international, this article) on how Silicon Valley is engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked, as examined by a former Google product manager.

As we’ve seen repeatedly, when you’re moving fast, you don’t have any time for reflection or to listen, learn, and gain perspective. You don’t have time to think about what exactly you might be breaking or the larger social consequences of what you’re doing.

Additionally, there’s even less time for public officials or the rest of society to catch up and monitor these occurrences.

The danger and consequences of the Break Things ideology reach well beyond Facebook, because the mentality was adopted everywhere and is still being promoted. The assumptions woven into our imagination have reinvented how we view business, success, public good, and leadership.

View of Business

The downside of scaling has spiraled into a focus on short-term thinking and win-at-all-costs tactics. This mindset conflates opportunism with opportunities. The former reacts impulsively to market conditions for advantage; the latter supports long-term growth, focusing on sustainable values. Think Zynga (whose board Hoffman served on) vs. Apple.

Steve Jobs’ return to Apple as interim CEO (1997) and his position as permanent CEO (2000) came with hard-fought wisdom. The pioneer of “insane products” shifted to creating a sustainable organizational culture as the source of innovation.

Paradoxically, it was that shift to sustainability that produced a string of insane products: the iMac in 1998, which reenergized Apple’s sagging PC market, as well as the iPod (2001), iTunes (2001), iPhone (2007), Apple TV (2007/11), App Store (2008), and iPad (2010) before Jobs’ death in 2011.

 

View of Success

Scaling itself isn’t a negative practice, but to what end should it be implemented?

Impulsive scaling that disrupts for the purpose of being bigger, faster, and first encourages short-term thinking and opportunism. Opportunism often looks like opportunity, but our loss of focus finds us spread extremely thin in our desire to gain advantage.

Consider Facebook’s recent psy-ops methods to delay, deny and deflect in the wake of its recent scandals. The New York Times revealed that both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg claimed to be so preoccupied that they knew little about Facebook’s political machinations:

Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.

Ironically, one of Sandberg’s “personal projects” is her Lean In book and curated cottage industry, which claim to empower women even while she’s overseeing a company that is disempowering democracy and dismantling personal privacy standards.

Scaling can also be intentional, focusing first on values in an organic manner. In this sense, leaders transcend opportunism.

Warby Parker is a great example of intentional scaling, leading with its mission statement. Since launching in 2010, Warby Parker’s founders stayed true to their roots by offering designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, all while leading the way for socially conscious businesses. They haven’t launched a shoe line, and they don’t sell handbags. They just do one thing, and they do it extremely well.

View of Public Good

The Break Things ideology reduces business values to an algorithm of codes and transactions, stripping it of social or moral responsibility. Business now teaches us to leverage any advantage for a narrow group of winners.

Regarding this void, former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter posits that “disruptive innovations won’t produce a better society unless we work to contain their harms and spread their benefits”(“America Needs to Align Technology with a Public Purpose”).

The issues at Google, Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, and Uber are due to their singular focus: cheap, on-demand services and goods. This kind of focus blinds us to the enduring costs to workers, society, or the public good.

Consider the glee with which Elon Musk revealed that humans must merge with machines to overcome the “existential threat” of artificial intelligence to make “everyone hyper-smart” (Axios). Musk’s suggestion reveals the tradeoff—public-good wisdom for market-driven smarts. His market-driven solution invites another problem: more ethical oversight.

High-level competency combined with a deep moral center once limited access to new technologies. Now, a low bar for entry cultivates blindness, enabling access to technology before any ethos ripens. All change is declared progress (disruption is key) without seeking any wisdom. We valorize smart over wise and the next big thing over the right thing.

Consider nuclear or cloning technology: we weighed both earnestly before releasing them into the marketplace. Employing the Break Things mentality certainly would have had disastrous consequences for society. A review of Oppenheimer’s thoughts on the A-Bomb is a useful lesson, as he reflected, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

We need a new ethos.

As Ash Carter puts it, “We ourselves—not only market forces—should bend the arc of change toward human good.”

View of Leadership

The Break Things mentality, emboldened by Silicon Valley’s bro culture, reduces leadership to being first and fastest. Missing in this market-driven equation is social responsibility.

Indeed, Silicon Valley has had two decades to mold our notions of leadership. Its versions idolize a brand that sounds more like sex than leadership: we start firm, pound hard, flip fast, and cash out.

Consider the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Twitter, Lyft, and Tesla; former CEOs at Uber, Zynga, and Instagram; and others endorsing the Break Things ideology. Beyond gender or sex, this bro culture honors an impulsive and opportunistic attitude that shapes our values, leadership, and success in business.

Here’s the rub. Even when we include more women in boardrooms, the message is clear: buck up, walk tall, and lean in. Our recipe for getting ahead: be tough like a man. We may tame it, but it remains our primary business DNA. It’s baked into our American ideals about who we are.

Zebras and Unicorns

For a sense of our testosterone-laden business models, read Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break by Jennifer Brandel, Mara Zepeda, Astrid Scholz, and Aniyia Williams. The authors call these models an urgent problem:

In this game, far more than money is at stake. When [venture capital] firms prize time on site over truth, a lucky few may profit, but civil society suffers. When shareholder return trumps collective well-being, democracy itself is threatened. The reality is that business models breed behavior, and at scale, that behavior can lead to far-reaching, sometimes destructive outcomes.

It’s been two decades since our seduction by technology and disruptive change. We are maturing to understand some of technology’s societal impact; the evidence thus far ought to give us pause. There are no quick solutions, but can we venture beyond the Move Fast, Break Things ideology?

Brandel et al, believe that it’s time to develop “alternative business models to the startup status quo has become a central moral challenge of our time. These alternative models will balance profit and purpose, champion democracy, and put a premium on sharing power and resources. Companies that create a more just and responsible society will hear, help, and heal the customers and communities they serve.”

I offer two additional resources that might offer some perspective:

Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin (2017)

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas (2018)


tony-zampella-headshot Tony Zampella is the learning specialist at Zampella Group, which serves Learning & Development Professionals. As an instructor, researcher, and designer of learning programs and contemplative practices, his work develops mindsets for growing a culture of servant leaders.

His studies include the work of Martin Heidegger and ontological inquiry, Ken Wilber, and Integral theory, and Zen Buddhism and contemplative practices.

 


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 “In times of change, those who are prepared to learn will inherit the land, while those who think they already know will find themselves wonderfully equipped to face a world that no longer exists.”

—ERIC HOFFER

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