Leistungen // Laterales Management

zen is conquering german companies via google

Meditation sessions were extremely popular at the World Economic Forum in Geneva in 2015 and 2016. Top managers and politicians attended them to gain inspiration.
Global digitalisation will change at least half of all jobs over the years to come. We therefore need fresh, new routes to innovative ideas. In response to this trend, GOOGLE devised a ‘new’ seminar concept four years ago. "
Search Inside Yourself" is the seminar that is an absolute must for trainers and coaches – even outside the USA. SAP and McKinsey have now bought and introduced the seminar concept in Germany. A new seminar myth seems to have been born.

As experienced trainers, we wanted to find out more about this seminar and met in Berlin with a further 100 people at GOOGLE’s offices. In 2016, the seminar had already been held in Hamburg and in the autumn it will also be held in Munich. Since we worked with colleagues from IBM when our company was first being set up and also carry out training sessions in the USA, we were familiar with the US training style and its typical “ … spend three minutes thinking about the values that particularly drive you in your personal and professional lives …” – with all its strengths and weaknesses.

Content of the Google “Search Inside Yourself” seminar

The seminar is designed to alternate basic psychological content or explanations with meditation or mindfulness exercises. The content dates from the 1980s. It is based on the psychotherapeutic mindfulness concept developed by Ellen Langer, information obtained from neuroscientific research and the concept of emotional intelligence developed by psychologist Daniel Goleman. Goleman believes that emotional intelligence consists of the factors self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy and leadership. He understands leadership as influencing others or convincing them of the merits of your own ideas. These five topics are accompanied by meditation exercises during the seminar.

Both trainers therefore also had the skills needed for this purpose. The seminar was led by a German psychologist and an English architect, who had spent six years practising Zen in India and the Himalayas.

Assessment of the Google “Search Inside Yourself” seminar

Anybody who expects new information on mindfulness, Zen or neuroscience will be disappointed. The content of almost all the theoretical parts dates back 20 to 30 years and scientific findings are presented as statistically relevant without being subjected to any kind of scrutiny. The results of more recent research such as those on cognition by Daniel Kahneman or Gerd Gigerenzer are scarcely considered in the concept.

Benefits of the Google “Search Inside Yourself” seminar

Trainers and coaches may particularly profit from the seminar's 12 exercises. They are not all new but the US style in which they are presented is very valuable in terms of one’s own consultancy practice.

Denkwerkstatt für Manager advises companies on occupational health management (OHM) and psychological threat analysis (PTA). This also includes holding seminars on health and management. And the learning experiments from the seminar could be used to extend our repertoire. However, we do not think it would be a good idea to carry out the seminar 1:1 in Germany for the following reasons:

  1. The seminar is tailored to the US management market. From our perspective, neither the content nor the exercises work in Germany. A large part of the exercises is based on the positive thinking developed by Martin Seligman. The environment in German corporate culture is different and is far less hierarchical than in the USA. The management style is more cooperative here and differences of opinion and discussions take place more openly and in a more constructively critical manner. The seminar, however, focuses heavily on conditioning employees. This is counterproductive for corporate cultures that which encourage autonomous action.

  2. The seminar concept is based on the emotional intelligence concept developed by Daniel Goleman, which has been subjected to little empirical investigation. Rational intelligence (IQ) is quantifiable and valid. Emotional intelligence is not. Companies would therefore buy a seminar concept, which has simply not had its effectiveness reviewed.

  3. In terms of leadership and management, the key concepts developed by Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis are not mentioned. The seminar gives the impression that positive psychology and emotional intelligence with a bit of Zen are the key to better self-management in a business context. This approach is too simple for companies using management programmes and therefore cannot be conveyed to many managers.

  4. Values are discussed in the seminar without mentioning the values of Zen, contemplation, yoga, Kabala or Sufism. On the afternoon of the second seminar day, a Zen master appeared and declared that he was delighted by the simplicity of the training concept and the potential it offers. This would lead to violent objections from many serious Zen colleagues. Zen and contemplation exercises were once developed in monasteries and are closely linked to questions of faith. This context is not mentioned. Why? The examination of the questions, where do we come from and where are we going, provides the cultural basis of the community of values of the four leading global religions. This context will have to be established in European enterprises and the management of many companies is already familiar with it.

  5. The greatest weakness of the Inside seminar is that it suggests that meditation or even Zen meditation can be learnt quickly and easily. Anybody who has learnt yoga knows how long it takes to follow this path successfully. Zen meditation is an even longer path to spiritual insight. It takes time even to learn Zen Light. At the end of the seminar, participants are advised to spend 10 minutes meditating per day in order to achieve mindfulness in one’s daily life. At this stage some of the Berlin participants had misgivings about the sustainability of this training investment.

What does this now imply for companies?

Companies with long-term personnel and management development programmes will not buy this concept from Google the way it is presented. The seminar can be incorporated as a mindfulness component in existing management training and in occupational healthcare. Its content must be adjusted and separated from the concept of emotional intelligence as there are better basic concepts for management and occupational healthcare.

Conclusion on the Google “Search Inside Yourself” seminar

It is worth attending the seminar for two reasons:

  1. There were well-trained coaches and trainers participating in the seminar who are clearly able to classify the seminar and the exercises in the cultural framework of values. The discussions with colleagues during the breaks and in the evenings were very valuable in this respect.

  2. It is to GOOGLE’s credit that it has made mediation acceptable for many commercial enterprises by way of a seminar concept. And it will give the market for mindfulness trainers a further boost for their mindfulness in organisations.