Monday, June 22, 2009

What has mindfulness got to do with business?

In a society where doing is the mantra, stillness of the mind is a concept that still means to many anything from waste of time to a new age ideology. However, there is a growing body of research in business and scientific disciplines that is revealing the benefits of stilling the mind through practices like mindfulness. In this posting, I will be discussing how mindfulness can help you in your business and then open it to discussion about what you do to be mindful and how that is helping you in your business.

As a multidimensional construct, mindfulness has been studied as including observing, describing, acting with awareness, and accepting without judgment (Baer et al 2004). Let us see how each of these qualities can be useful in a business context.

Observing: This refers to being aware of what’s happening inside us and in our external environment. In the absence of stillness, our minds are racing. It is like looking out of a car window – do you notice the scenery better out of a still car or out of car driving at high speed? When the mind is still, you can be more cognizant of what is happening inside of you and make a note of the changes in your environment. As a businessperson, you have many responsibilities to get stuff done. But it is equally important to stop and look – really look at your customers, look at your competition, look at the changes in technology, your environment. In the second step of mindful marketing, I talked about learning from your environment. But to really learn from the environment, you have to first stop, and observe.

Acting with awareness: This refers to taking action with hundred percent attention and focus. It is the nature of the mind to be in the past or the future. Very rarely are we right here, right now. Are you fully here as you read this, or are you also thinking of what you need to do next along with any number of other thoughts? If our mind is oscillating between the past and the future, what we are doing right now does not have our full attention. This has many ramifications on our work and well-being. Most people go about their days and lives doing jobs with their minds busy doing its own thing. This reflects in the quality of job done but is also a cause of disillusionment, detachment, and stress related with our work. If we could do what ever it is we are doing right now with hundred percent attention and love, our work becomes worship, a joy. This mental state of operating where the person is fully immersed in the task at hand, has also been discussed as flow, a concept made popular by Csíkszentmihályi.

Accepting without judgment: This refers to a non-judgmental evaluation of the present situation. This is a very important aspect of mindfulness that allows us to be open to what is. The nature of the mind is to judge. Even before we have fully experienced the situation we are judging because our past experiences have shaped our perceptions of how we view the world. This means we are not seeing what is as is, but based on our perception of what is. Many of our struggles stem from our judgment of a situation as negative, which causes resistance in our mind. As business people, we resist competition, we resist changes in customers’ preferences, we resist resistance in our employees, we resist new technologies, and we resist anything perceived as a threat to our comfort zone. For a minute can you drop this resistance and just accept what is – move the energy from the mind to the heart. How do you feel? From this place of acceptance and openness, approaching any situation, however challenging it may be, becomes an interesting and enjoyable activity.

Describing: This refers to the ability to articulate precisely what one is feeling or observing. This is an important trait for managers or leaders in dealing with diverse groups of people and difficult situations. Finding the right words to communicate in a challenging situation can be difficult, especially if the mind has its own dialog going on. A still mind is in touch with what is happening and can find the right words to communicate effectively in any situation.

How mindfulness has helped me in my work
Does it not seem most natural for business leaders to possess the above qualities of keen observation, acting with awareness, non-judgmental acceptance, and ability for accurate description? And the good news is that these qualities can be nurtured through mindfulness practices like meditation, breath work, tai-chi, and yoga. There is a lot of research on the benefits of mindfulness (and you can find some of it on my website). In this posting I am interested in sharing my personal experience and listen to your experience with mindfulness as a practice and its benefits to your work.

I have been practicing the Sudarshan Kriya, a special yogic breathing technique (Pranayama) developed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a world-renowned humanitarian and spiritual teacher. This 25 minutes of rhythmic breathing stills the mind and allows me to go deeper into my meditation practice. Over a period of time I have found that my mind has slowed down so I don’t react to situations immediately based on old patterns but can pause, assess the situation, and choose my response to the situation. The space created through breathing allows new ideas to emerge. It has certainly increased my creativity and response-ability.

I will share some specific examples of how this way of being has influenced my work.
Open to challenges with equanimity: Starting a new business in a slow economy is challenging. I hear people tell me this all the time. But I have never looked at it this way. I am doing what I love and to achieve my goals I am open to learning from my environment. When I started out as a consultant to bring mindfulness in business, I thought I am doing something very unique but I soon discovered there are many people doing this very successfully and for much longer than I have been. Why should people consider me when there are many experts to choose from? This question can be intimidating but I chose to stay open to what the situation has to teach me, and indeed it did. It helped me to develop a more focused vision of what I want to do and what are the unique attributes I bring to my work. In addition, staying open has taught me so many different ways to move forward and build energy around my work. Approaching people, emails, Google, Blogging, and in so many other ways, I am continuing to learn and move forward, one step at a time.

Staying present to what is: As a consultant facilitating corporate workshops, I have to be present to really listen to what participants are saying and find solutions or be able to guide them how to find solutions. This requires 100% attention and non-judgment of my own abilities. It is easy for the mind to start racing in a challenging situation and trigger counter-productive thoughts such as, ‘I have no clue what is going on.” But returning to the breath brings me back to the present moment and stay with what is happening without any judgment. I stay open and I trust, and I have always found there is a solution, a very logical action that is the next step. Sometimes the answers don’t come right away and I am comfortable saying I don’t know the answer and need more time. Very often this is the case when I don’t have enough information, so I go back and dig out more information and in that the answer appears.

Creativity happens: some of my most insightful ideas come to me during my meditation, even though I am not looking for them in my meditation. But they just pop up – creativity happens – it is not my doing. I have found that when I cease to struggle with a problem, when I stop resisting the problem, it is very simple, the solution is right there. Very often in the face of a problem our old patterns kick in, but again, breathe and come back to what is happening now, and it is very obvious what the next step should be.

Clarity and end of resistance: Writing is an important part of my work as a researcher and consultant. When I joined the PhD program I came in with the assumption that I cannot write and writing was a struggle. Each sentence was constructed with so much effort, which is the opposite of how I feel today. Now, I love writing, and it just flows (most of the time). Over time I have discovered two things. One, writing is hard in the absence of clarity. If you are not clear in your head, what you write will reflect that confusion. Regular breathing and mindfulness through the day helps me stay clear and focused and writing from that clear place is easy. Second, I found that much of struggle was a result of my resistance to writing. Once I dropped the resistance and simply wrote, I found that I could write. As simple as that, stop fighting and just do what needs to be done. Moving from the mental fight to the accepting heart has made my all aspects of my job a joy.

Align with true purpose: It is said that if you work in alignment with your true purpose, you will be supported. This statement may be hard to prove scientifically but I have found in my life over and over again, that when I work in alignment with my purpose I move forward much faster – new ideas will emerge, or people will show up, or situations will open up such that I can move in the direction of my goals faster.

These are just some of the ways mindfulness is helping me in my business.

What do you do to be more mindful? How has that helped you in your business?


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Inspiring Quotes from iAM Women

Meeting I:

"Deb, although I don't know you, I can see the impact you are having already. Look how many women you brought to this Circle today." Cheryl, 6-18-09

"Life is a magic carpet ride, and those of us on the fringe are getting the wildest ride." Karen, 6-18-09

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Top Ten Secrets to Social Network Superstardom by PAUL CHANEY

When I started this Blog, my purpose was to create a forum of exchange for women in business to discuss our challenges and find innovative solutions that are consistent with our purpose. But being new to the world of Blogging, I started to read about how to create one, what is the Blogging etiquette, what are the essentials of a good Blog. In the process, I have discovered how important Blogging and other social networks are becoming in marketing your business. But again, using Blogging only to market your business will backfire, if you do not have meaningful content. So keep your Blogging focus on sharing your expertise and building community with other like minded people, including your customers and competitors/colleagues. Let good marketing be the outcome of your Blogging and not the purpose for your Blog.

This is one article that I found to be very informative, especially for people just starting out, and also consistent with the idea of authentic participation. The humorous writing style makes for an easy read.

Just to give you an idea of the content I have included the titles for the ten points he discusses.

Top Ten Secrets to Social Network Superstardom by PAUL CHANEY

1. Pull, don’t push
2. Win the right to be heard
3. Content is STILL king, but conversation is queen (and conversion is the prince)
4. Authenticity and Transparency are social networking cornerstones
5. You don’t have to be on every social network
6. Give and you shall receive
7. The rules of marketing still apply
8. Social media is a mindset, not just toolset
9. Be yourself, whoever that may be
10. That's where you come in

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Law of Attraction Marketing with Graphic Girlz: Attraction Marketing for Conscious Entrepreneurs

I am linking this article because it re-iterates the importance of knowing your inner purpose and the relevance of the online space to create energy around your work. Also, love the idea of discovering your "magical keywords"

Law of Attraction Marketing with Graphic Girlz: Attraction Marketing for Conscious Entrepreneurs

Sunday, June 14, 2009

3. I Love What I Do, But Marketing, That Stresses Me Out: The 8 Steps in Mindful Marketing

Are you one of those people who has something to offer to this world, but does not feel comfortable marketing it? This blog posting is a response to people’s fears and misperceptions about marketing. I started writing this posting as one, but it ended up being so long that I have split it into three separate postings, addressing each of the purposes stated separately:

1) To bring awareness to some reasons for negative perceptions about marketing

2) To clarify the meaning of marketing and differentiate it from related terms like selling and advertising

3) To lay out the eight steps in marketing as a systematic and natural aspect of living a mindful life

I started writing this posting as one, but it ended up being so long that I have split it into three separate postings, addressing each of the purposes stated separately.

Enjoying marketing as a natural process: The eight steps to mindful marketing

Part 3 of 3 of “I love what I do, but marketing, that stresses me out.

The third posting in the series is intended to provide a new perspective on marketing that is a natural expression of who you are – a mindful woman in business. The eight steps of a marketing plan described in part 2 of this series are not cumbersome, intimidating things you have to do but are simply an external manifestation of who you are internally. This is the inside-out approach to marketing.

I will be taking each of the steps in the traditional marketing plan and providing a new way of thinking about it so that you can think about each of these steps as a mindful expression of your inner purpose.

1) Your purpose, the business mission

The first step in traditional marketing starts with having a mission statement. Now, coming up with a statement that reflects your business purpose, your core competencies, and how you will meet needs of your target market, may seem like an intimidating task for some or a lot of work in the least. Instead, you can focus on your inner purpose and special gifts that can touch this world in very positive ways. Think of the people who are looking for something you have to offer and how you can help these people. Having a clear vision of your purpose and specific ways in which you will make that happen is the first step in mindful marketing. If you do not have a clear idea of where you want to go, you will never get there. So, the first step is a quiet reflection of the following:

· Your purpose

· Specific ways in which you will enact your purpose

· What you will bring to your work that is uniquely you – what you love about yourself, your talents, and what you enjoy

· Broadly, needs you will be meeting of people

Now, most of you would have already reflected on the above or some of the above points. And if you have, staying connected with that clarity of purpose, write it down and that is your mission statement. When you write the statement, think as if you are speaking to your customer. What do you want to tell them about your purpose, about what you can do for them, and what it is that make you “You.”

You can read more about finding inner purpose here.

2) Learning from the environment, a situational scan

The situational scan described in part 2 refers to an examination of the environment, internal and external to the business. The purpose is to stay in touch with the changes in your business environment – changing technologies, consumer culture, competitors, and so forth. As we get more busy and more comfortable with systems that work for us we are less inclined to study the changes around us. We know that the only permanent thing is change. You can either fear it or embrace it as your teacher. Changes compel us to find new ways of thinking and as such are responsible for innovations and improvements. In this context, I would also like you to think about competition. It is so important to be aware of what other people in your business are offering. Competition can be seen as a very healthy force that is constantly challenging you to improve and grow. If you are open, and curious, and want to grow, learning about and from your environment is a natural outcome of who you are. So, look around you, notice, Google, read, talk to people, try new experiences, explore new subjects, research, and continue to grow – because if you are not growing forward, you are going backward.

You can read more about environmental scan here.

3) Understanding your customer needs, target market

This step is about really understanding and connecting with your customers. At this point your focus moves from your inner purpose to how you can meet specific needs of others. You may be driven by a higher purpose, but if the people that you are targeting do not feel a need for that product, then you are wasting your energy on the wrong market segment. It is important to identify people who need your services and then communicate with them in a language they understand, using channels of communication they use. Learn as much as you can about your potential customers so you can connect with them most effectively. While you will be engaging in tangible processes like market research, trends analyses, and collecting information about your potential customers, also trust intangible processes like your intuition to connect with potential customers. Know that if you are operating from a place of higher purpose, that you will be connected with the people who need your service.

4) The unique ‘you,’ your positioning

As a business you can position yourself uniquely by differentiating along factors like product attributes, pricing, brand image, service quality, and delivery channels. Within the mindful marketing framework, this is not something you will artificially create, but will be a natural manifestation of the unique ‘you.’ For example, as a marketing consultant, my unique positioning is my experience and knowledge in integrating science, business, and spirituality. This is not a strategic decision that I took but was a manifestation of my many years of meditation, business experience, and academic training as a marketing PhD, coupled with my inherent passion for inspiring people and finding better ways of doing business that are holistic and mindful. So, make a list of your skills, past experiences, and other attributes that you will bring in meeting your customers needs in a way that no one else can.

5) What you have to offer, your product

Now that you have a clear vision of your purpose, your customers’ needs, and your unique positioning, you can describe what products and services you will be offering. This is an external manifestation of your inner purpose in specific and tangible ways. So, if my inner purpose is to bring mindfulness in business so that people are in touch with their highest purpose and can express that in profitable ways, I have to find ways to make that happen through the services that I offer. I decided to manifest this through consultation, research, and workshops. This step involves making a detailed list of the products and services that you will be offering in terms of detailed attributes and services. It is again important to think in terms of the solutions you will be providing. So I am not just offering mindfulness workshops to corporations, but I am offering solutions that motivate their employees, that help to deal with stress at work, that improve team-work, and enhance creativity.

6) Communicating and educating, the promotion

This includes all the activities involved in promoting and selling your product. This is the fun step where you get to share your work with people. Yet, this is the step I have found many women in business with a purpose having trouble with. So you have this wonderful gift to offer, but you do not want to or perhaps know how to sell your product. Maybe the problem is in the way we situate our attention. Focusing on selling can be a problem because it creates expectations and moves us away from our inner purpose. The solution is to stay with your inner purpose and focus on reaching people who need your service. You are not selling but helping people satisfy a need. Describing what you do is a way of communicating with people who need your services and educating people about things that you may have learned and would like to pass on now. I realized the importance of shifting energy from selling to helping during events I was organizing for a non-profit organization. As long as my focus was on getting the number of people we needed to meet the quota given to us, I was stressed and my attention was wrongly situated in meeting quotas. When I re-connected with what was my initial purpose and went with the energy of simply spreading awareness of the workshops to people who needed this, I found unexpected success and joy in the process of sharing information about the workshops.

7) Understanding your value, the price

There are many ways to set a price for your product. The easiest is a combination using your cost and the price of similar products available in the market. But before you do that, also reflect on how you value your own services. Be clear about how you are benefiting people and what is the value you are providing them. Having clarity of the value you provide to your customers will help you reach a price that is fair to your clients and to you for the time and energy you are devoting. Pricing can be a very tricky process and one area that can benefit a lot from bringing mindfulness to the internal and external factors that influence the price you will charge for your products. The right price is subjective and requires mindfulness of all factors starting from how you value your services to your relationship with money to all the external factors in the environment including your customers and competition.

I have written about mindful pricing tips here.

8) How will your customer find you, the place

The last aspect that you need to consider is the delivery options or the places where your customer can find you. It is important to be aware of the places that your customers are likely to find you. In today’s world this can be a very creative process because there are so many ways of reaching out to your potential clients. Keeping the focus on helping people through your purpose, be creative and find ways to build an energy around your work – be it online through your website and blogs, through newsletters, articles, retail outlets, partners, and other social networks that reach out to your potential clients.

The above process reflects the iAM Approach, which is based on mindfulness, authenticity, and innovative thinking. When your work becomes an authentic expression of who you are and you are mindful and open to new perspectives, life becomes an enjoyable journey.

As a mindful marketer, the above steps reflect my way of being and operating in the marketplace. What are the challenges you face in marketing? What are the solutions you found that have worked for you?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

2. I love what I do, but marketing, that stresses me out: Understanding Marketing

Are you one of those people who has something beautiful to offer to this world, but does not feel comfortable marketing it? This blog posting is a response to people’s fears and misperceptions about marketing. There are many (mis)interpretations of what marketing is and the purpose of this blog is:

1) To bring awareness to some reasons for negative perceptions about marketing

2) To clarify the meaning of marketing and differentiate it from related terms like selling and advertising

3) To lay out the eight steps in marketing as a systematic and natural aspect of living a mindful life

I started writing this posting as one, but it ended up being so long that I have split it into three separate postings, addressing each of the purposes stated above separately.

So, what is marketing? What purpose does it serve?

Part 2 of 3 of “I love what I do, but marketing, that stresses me out.”

According to the American Marketing Association, the largest marketing association in North America, “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” The Chartered Institute of Marketing, which is noted as the world's largest marketing body, defines marketing as "The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably." The two definitions bring out the essence of marketing, which is understanding people’s needs and finding ways to meet those needs in a way that is beneficial to the customers, partners, and society at large. Now, companies can deviate from this purpose or do a bad job of implementing the purpose, but marketing is intended to perform a very important function in society.

I will briefly lay out the scope of the marketing strategic process so we do not confuse marketing with a small aspect of it and can truly appreciate the potential it has to benefit the world. Marketing strategy involves three stages – planning, implementation, and control. I will be focusing on the planning stage in this blog. Implementation basically refers to systematically implementing the plan and control refers to comparing the results with the plan to evaluate performance and make required improvements.

The eights steps in a marketing plan

1) Your business mission: The first step is having a clear mission statement, which defines your business’s core purpose, specific needs you will be satisfying of your target market, and your unique competencies that sets you apart from other businesses. The mission statement provides the framework for setting your objectives, values, and your business culture.

2) The situational scan: This step involves what is generally called the SWOT analysis. The SWOT analysis stands for a systematic study of the firm’s inner strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats in the firm’s external environment. It is important for the business to stay in touch with factors in the environment that affect its business like the changes in consumer culture, technology, competitors, the economy, and political changes.

3) Your target market: If you try to make everyone happy, you will not make anyone happy. Based on an understanding of what you have to offer and the environment decide on what kind of consumers you will be serving. Try to get as much information about your target market as possible, like demographics, personality traits, their lifestyles, their preferences of communication channels, their needs, any other information that helps you understand and serve them better.

4) Your positioning: This step requires that you identify how you will meet your customers’ requirements uniquely vis-à-vis other businesses. What is it that you will be doing that is different from others? How do you want people to see you? What is your brand personality? You can differentiate your product or service along different variables like product attributes, pricing, services that you provide, brand personality, and channels of distribution. For example, Dell has positioned itself using price as an advantage while Apple has used its strong innovation and style as differentiating features.

5) Product; This step deals with specifying the product features and attributes and relating those with customers’ needs. It includes new product developments, services and warranties, and branding activities.

6) Promotion: This aspect of marketing involves all those activities that inform customers about your product with the purpose of building a brand image and/or sales. It includes advertising, sales promotions, publicity, and personal selling.

7) Price: This step involves setting a price for your product, including all discounts. There are many ways to determine the right price for your product. The easiest pricing strategies are based on your cost plus adding a margin and using competitors as a reference point.

8) Place: This step involves deciding the ways in which the product will be made available to your customers. It requires selecting all the distribution channels that are most expedient for delivering the products available to your customers. For example, many big companies use a combination of channels such as the internet, retail outlets, and catalogs to make their products easily accessible to their customers.

The eight steps illustrate that marketing is more than advertising and sales. In fact, advertising and sales are one aspect of promotion, which is only one of the eight essential elements in a marketing plan. Now you know what marketing entails. But this presents new problems - someone new to marketing may find it intimidating to think of all these things that need to be done to make your product available to your customers. So, next I am sharing a new perspective on what I like to call mindful marketing, which is a natural outcome of who you are and not something you need to do.

1. I love what I do, but marketing, that stresses me out: Common Misperceptions about Marketing

Are you one of those women who has something beautiful to offer to this world, but does not feel comfortable marketing it? This blog posting is a response to women’s fears and misperceptions about marketing. I started writing this posting as one, but it ended up being so long that I have split it into three separate postings, addressing each of the purposes stated below separately.

There are many (mis)interpretations of what marketing is and the purpose of this post series is:

1) To bring awareness to some reasons for negative perceptions about marketing (which you can read below)

2) To clarify the meaning of marketing and differentiate it from related terms like selling and advertising (this post can be found by clicking on the highlighted link)

3) To lay out the eight steps in marketing as a systematic and natural aspect of living a mindful life (this post can be found by clicking on the highlighted link)

Why do you dislike or avoid marketing? Some answers…
Part 1 of 3 of “I love what I do, but marketing, that stresses me out.”

It is not uncommon to find marketing associated with negative feelings ranging from complete hatred for it, to fearing it, to finding it extremely stressful. And there are good reasons to feel that way about marketing. Part 1 of the posting deals with some reasons for the negativity around marketing.

Marketing, a double-edged sword: Marketing has earned a bad name because of its misuse by big companies who have put their shareholders’ welfare before other stakeholders’ wellbeing. As such it is easy to mistake marketing, which is merely a tool, as the cause of evil. It is not marketing but the collective consciousness of the people using the tool that needs to change. Marketing, as a tool, can be used to bring more awareness and benefit people or it can be misused to benefit only a few – like any other tool, it is a double-edged sword.

Difference between marketing and bad marketing: The other negative association we may have with marketing is our personal experience as consumers who have at some time or the other been victims of aggressive sales people, junk mail, and bad advertising. Clearly, there are many examples of bad marketing – marketing that is not thought through properly or focuses narrowly on some aspects of marketing or does a bad job of implementation. And again, it is easy to generalize the effects of bad marketing to the whole discipline of marketing. I find this transference of bad marketing to the entire field of marketing very interesting, because this doesn’t happen in other fields. For example, there are many examples of bad music but that doesn’t make us dislike music all together; or there are many bad books, but we do not shun writing because of that; and there are bad accountants; but we do not shun accountancy? I suspect this has to do with people lacking a clear understanding of what marketing is and what are its benefits, while we are quote aware of the negative impact of bad marketing.

Fear of the unknown: Feelings of fear can arise because it is natural to fear the unknown. Because our training was in an entirely different discipline, we do not really know what marketing entails. Lack of our personal understanding of marketing coupled with a general misunderstanding of what marketing really involves, makes marketing very elusive and therefore avoidable.

Marketing the sacred will make it profane: This way of thinking applies especially to women in spiritual healing or pursuits that they hold as sacred and feel that marketing such services will in some way be irreverent or inconsistent with their values. Again, the basis of such perceptions arises from misunderstanding the purpose of marketing and what it entails. Whether it was Mother Teresa or spiritual teachers like Deepak Chopra, each one of them has used marketing in some form or the other to be able to maximize the scope of their service to people. You can either do it with awareness and do a good job it or do it without awareness and do a bad job of it – there is no escaping it entirely. As you will read in part 3 of this posting, marketing can be a natural outcome of who you are and as such is an enjoyable process.

Lack of clear purpose: It has been my personal experience that when I am not clear in my own head about what I want to say, it is hard to write about it. And also, if I am not passionate about what I have to share, it is hard to speak about it. So, if you are hesitating to market your product or service, it may well be that you are not sure about what it is that you are offering or how it will benefit your customers.

Too busy: No doubt life is busy and stressful for most people, and especially for women as we juggle our love for our families, work, and inner journeys. Multi-tasking can either drive people to procrastination or getting stuck in routines that we are comfortable with but preclude creativity and openness to learning about things we do not already know. I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” It is important, especially in stressful times, to learn new ways of marketing that will save you time down the road and to have a clear marketing plan that allows you to plan for your time and efforts effectively.

In most cases, the negative perceptions about marketing are due to a misunderstanding of what marketing is, so I will address that in my next posting.