Pristine bamboo forest at sunriseOn the 18th and 19th June I attended a “conference” called “Wisdom 2.0”. More than a conference, wisdom 2.0 is a movement of human beings from all parts of the world who travelled to Singapore to hear and discuss about the importance of compassion, wisdom and mindfulness in a digital age, and why generosity is beneficial to our own well-being and useful to the world.

The speakers came from diverse academic/professional backgrounds, religions and cultures, however their messages were consistent: There is an urgent need for a different kind of leader in the world; one that acts based on their wisdom (“Experience is the teacher”), their inner being (having complete consciousness), that see relationships beyond “a transaction” and puts the needs of others first (servant leadership).

Below I describe my key personal takeaways from this heartfelt forum, and in conclusion I aim to link these with how people learn and grow.

1. “There is a synchronised movement of consciousness in the word” (Father Laurence Freeman)

I was pleasantly surprised to hear about the magnitude of this global consciousness (defined as the state of being aware of and responsive to our surroundings) movement. Here are a few facts that were shared at the conference:

  • Over 30 million people are estimated to practice meditation on a regular basis in the US alone.
  • In October 2014, for the first time in history, there was a panel discussion on “ethics and finance” at the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group in Washington.
  • At the United Nations Headquarters there is a meditation room called “A Room of Quiet” where people can withdraw into themselves, regardless of their faith, creed or religion.
  • This year we had the first ever “White House Buddhist Leadership Conference” where 120 Buddhist leaders got together to “shape a common understanding of how to bring our various Buddhist practices into a troubled world”.
  • The archbishop of Canterbury is a former banker (this is also a symptom that there is an ethical crisis in the financial world

2. “We live in a period of ‘infenet’ = infinite net” (Daniel Siegel)

A key shift taking place in organisations around the globe arises from the adoption of technology and digitalisation: people can’t keep up, they are distracted and can’t keep a clear mind. “How can we be creative when everything has to happen yesterday”? (Rasmus Hougaard, MD Potential Project)

Research suggests that good ideas come from silence and stillness, yet “presence” is one of our biggest challenges as human beings, as according to research, 47% of the time we are not present: “People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy”. (Harvard Gazette, November 11, 2010).

How can we steward the next generation of leaders to be compassionate and wise in the midst of work demands and technology distraction? (Roshi Joan Halifax)

To better manage the challenges of constant connectivity, information overload and rapid changes, most speakers reminded us of the importance of mindfulness and meditation and some, like Dr Siegel, described how areas of the brain can develop with practice. Mindfulness improves wellbeing, mental health as well as physical health. It can help relieve stress, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and improve sleep to name just a few.

At a practical level, Rasmus Hougaard shared a few basic and useful tips to increase mindfulness in the office. These include switching off email notifications as well as allocating specific time for emails, taking a 45 second break for every 60minute of work, and finally leave mobile phones outside of meetings in order to be fully present.

Wisdom 23. “Can we think about meaning and purpose without a transaction” (Tenzin Priyadarshi)

Tenzin questioned whether “we are losing our ability to think long term” which he defined as the ability to suspend [expected] immediate returns; i.e. giving with zero expectation of return.

Going along with the same train of thoughts, Father Freeman advocated that the future of leadership is “leadership as a service” or servant leadership, rather than “accumulating stuff for our-self”. The Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation further challenges today’s traditional leadership style, often present in the political and corporate worlds, and which involves the accumulation and exercise of power by the person at the top of the pyramid.

Helping other people is also the cause to which Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne has dedicated his life. Dr Ari is the founder of the largest grassroots community organisation and provides services for 15,000 villages in Sri Lanka by helping people satisfy one or more of their basic needs. In order to help individuals and society to advance in peaceful means, Dr Ari has always been more concerned with the needs of others than with his: “erase the concept of self as much as possible from your head and develop selflessness” (Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne).

Reframing today’s leadership in the corporate world – personal takeaways with research evidence

  • Mindfulness should be part of everyone’s development journey: research demonstrates that in times of instability a mindful leader can respond to change with better focus and clarity, avoid repeating previous mistakes thanks to a thinking, emotional and intuitive mind.
  • Learning from experience (versus cognitive input): Individuals do not change what they do based on what they know, they change what they do based on what they have experienced and believe about themselves, others or a situation they are in. Research has shown that leaders whose attitude toward learning incorporate openness to experience and a willingness to gain something positive from experience, encounter more growth and development than leaders who do not have this attitude toward learning.
  • Moving towards servant leadership: servant leaders are both more highly regarded than others by their employees and are more productive as well (Research from Adam Grant). Sharing what leaders know based on their experience or providing career counselling are two small examples of what servant leadership involve.
  • There is a need to rethink corporate structures and reputations: the insights from the speakers are consistent with studies on the future of leadership (including our own). Younger generations expect more and more meaningful work and are not shy to challenge structures and corporate hierarchies.

To find out more about how “10 minutes of mindfulness practice really make a difference” click here:

The main speakers who intervened at Wisdom 2.0 Asia, and which I’ve referenced in my article are:

  • Daniel Siegel (Professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine);
  • Father Laurence Freeman (a Catholic priest and a Benedictine monk of Turvey Abbey in England);
  • A. T. Ariyaratne (founder and President of Sri Lanka’s Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement);
  • Jack Kornfield (one of the leading Buddhist teachers in America);
  • Tenzin Priyadarshi (President & CEO of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT);
  • Roshi Joan Halifax (Buddhist teacher, anthropologist, ecologist, civil rights activist, hospice caregiver, and the author of several books on Buddhism and spirituality);
  • Rasmus Hougaard (MD Potential Project)