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  • Writer's pictureDan Berger

From Buddhism to Business: A Retro on How I (Unknowingly) Applied Buddhist Concepts at Social Tables

I’m sure I’m very late to the party of connecting Buddhist teachings to leadership in business but after reading @JackKornfield’s The Wise Heart, I’m inspired and I just can’t help it. In this post, I’m going to connect what we put into practice at Social Table to Buddhist teachings I’ve learned.

Before I begin, a disclaimer: I’m most likely butchering many of the Buddhist fundamentals. My goal is simply to share the concepts. My apologies in advance for any mistakes or misinterpretations.

Using Mindfulness to Find Awareness and Correction In Buddhism, mindfulness is an important pathway for holistic awareness of our mind, and thus correcting our actions. As a leadership team, we practiced this by constantly and critically reviewing, questioning, and upgrading many of the things we did as a company. We were one of the only companies in the #DCTech scene to release a full diversity report, after making a public pledge to diversify our teama. In addition to that, we started each executive team meeting with a mantra centered around our commitment to improvement.

Having Pure and Good Intentions

Buddhism talks about the importance of having pure and good intentions. Our company was what Robert Kegan refers to as a deliberately developmental organization. At the heart of this commitment was to help every employee be a better person, both in their personal and professional lives. We were also very committed to the continuous development of employees. Again, putting our money where our mouth is, we gave every employee a learning budget.

Visualization for Focus Buddhism uses visualization as a way to focus the mind, meditate, and manifest. We used

@CameronHerold’s Vivid Vision to help employees visualize where the company was going so there was no ambiguity around why we were doing what we were doing. We wanted each employee to have complete clarity so they can visualize the impact their work will have.

Finding Refuge Buddhism believes we need a refuge, a safe place we can escape to. We designed our office to be a sanctuary, not just for employees but for the #dctech community at-large. Inside the office, we had different smaller spaces for employees to escape to. We hosted more than 100 events in the first year after opening our new office in 2016 ranging from virtual reality meetups to Hackathons.

Rituals for Reinforcement

Buddhism has many rituals that help reinforce key concepts and reconnect with what matters. We had many different recurring events and practices from event-based to time-based… from silly to serious… all meant to reinforce our values, goals, and priorities. GTC or “Global Takeover Congress,” our monthly all-hands that started with a live audience “radio show” style conversation about the hospitality industry, is a good example. One smaller ritual was a device-free breakfast club every Thursday.

Beginner’s Mind

Kornfield quotes Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki’s “beginner’s mind” concept, which is an open-mindedness to the unknown. When it came to developing new products, considering new strategies, and anything else we never tried before, we admitted our ignorance and thus had a learning mindset. This was so core to us that one of the company’s values was ‘Every Day is a School Day.’

Learning about Buddhism through Kornfield’s eyes gave me a perspective I never had. It validated that intuitive leadership decisions we made and helped me realize they rested atop many ancient practices.

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