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Engineering Enlightenment

Intelligence and mental agility have always been key drivers of innovation in the tech industry, but now emotional intelligence is also gaining credibility as an important contributory factor. Chade-Meng Tan, a former Google engineer, now leads a programme called Search Inside Yourself (SIY) which purports to transform an individual’s outlook on work and life through meditation and emotional intelligence exercises.

Over 1,000 Google employees have participated in SIY, the principles of which are the subject of Tan’s book, ‘Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path To Achieving Success, Happiness (And World Peace)’, a New York Times bestseller.

Meditation has become increasingly popular in Silicon Valley, with traditional Buddhist techniques being revamped and given thoroughly modern monikers such as ‘Neural Self Hacking’. And while some may dismiss this adoption of Eastern mysticism as nothing more than Eat, Pray, Love on a corporate scale, there are many who maintain that these practices can be adapted and reshaped to foster greater creativity and innovation. As meditation coach Kenneth Folk told Wired back in June; “All the woo-woo mystical stuff, that’s really retrograde. This is about training the brain and stirring up the chemical soup inside.”

In a recent Huffington Post piece, Tan outlined his “curriculum for emotional intelligence”, which helps people fulfil their personal goals, “with goodness and world peace as unavoidable side effects.” This includes three easy steps:


According to Tan, meditation strengthens “the ability to bring the mind to a state that’s calm and clear, and to do it on demand”. He also believes that meditation is to mental wellness what exercise is to physical fitness: “There are some things in life where, if you improve one thing, everything else in life is improved. If you improve physical fitness, it improves your home life, success… The same is true for meditation. If you are fit mentally and emotionally, every aspect of your life improves.”


Neuroscientists have found that meditation helps individuals to cultivate an empathetic state in the brain, as it sparks activity in the left prefrontal cortex, which is associated with positive emotions. Tan often opens his SIY seminars by encouraging audiences to picture two people, and then simply to wish them happiness.


Says Tan: “To create sustainable compassion, you have to be strong in inner joy… Inner joy comes from inner peace.” You can train inner peace, he says, by forming your own meditation habits: “Habits are highly trainable, and habits become character.”

Cultivating and empathy in yourself encourages a similar approach to your home life, and then subsequently your working life. It is this reward that Google and many other companies are hoping to reap. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is a high profile supporter of a compassionate management style.

“The one thing that all companies should be doing,” says Tan, “is promoting the awareness that compassion can and will be good for success and profits.”


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