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2011 November |

Sustainable Business

November 29, 2011

Business is a hugely influential force, and much of business operates single-mindedly based on monetary profit at the expense of social and environmental concerns (Bakan, 2005; Hartmann, 2010; Korten, 2001). Because of this, many people see business as the devil incarnate. But the growing sustainable business movement is showing that this influential force has considerable potential to contribute to the quality of life on earth for all (Anderson & White, 2009; Hawken, Lovins, & Lovins, 2000; Kofman, 2006; Sisodia, Wolfe, & Sheth, 2007). (Read about an MBA program whose mission is to help change business for the good.)

While business can feel like a large, impersonal force much of the time, it is comprised of the personal—people who are conducting work through relationships with other people. At the forefront of business are its leaders. It is these leaders who can often lead business awry, and it is these leaders who can change business for the good. One of these leaders was Ray Anderson, who started Interface, Inc. in 1973.

Interface became a world leader in modular carpet operating on a “business as usual” model with a single bottom line of monetary profit. In 1993, Anderson read The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken and Amory and Hunter Lovins. Upon finishing the book, he realized that what he had created with Interface (by then a global corporation) was a monster. He vowed to change the way business was conducted there. Anderson wanted

Interface, a company so oil intensive you could think of them as an extension of the petrochemical industry, to be the first enterprise in history to be truly sustainable—to shut down its smokestacks, close off its effluent pipes, to do no harm to the environment, and to take nothing from the earth not easily renewed by the earth. (p. 2)

This was 1994 and Anderson was sixty years old. He did what he set out to do before he died just this year—he created an exemplary model for a sustainable business.

We need more leaders like Ray Anderson!

Stay tune for next week’s post on sustainable business, leadership and attention…

Anderson, R. C., & White, R. (2009). Confessions of a radical industrialist: Profits, people, purpose–doing business by respecting the earth. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Bakan, J. (2005). The corporation: The pathological pursuit of profit and power. Free Press.

Hartmann, T. (2010). Unequal protection: How corporations became “people” - and how you can fight back (2nd ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Hawken, P., Lovins, A., & Lovins, L. H. (2000). Natural capitalism: Creating the next industrial revolution (1st ed.). New York, NY: Back Bay Books.

Kofman, F. (2006). Conscious business: How to build value through values (annotated edition.). Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Incorporated.

Korten, D. C. (2001). When corporations rule the world (2nd ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Sisodia, R. S., Wolfe, D. B., & Sheth, J. N. (2007). Firms of endearment: How world-class companies profit from passion and purpose (1st ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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Attention and Buddhism Take 2

November 27, 2011

Last week I posted on the topic of Buddhism and attention. This post is a continuation of that theme.

According to Wallace (2006), the ten stages of attentional development are: directed attention, continuous attention, resurgent attention, close attention, tamed attention, pacified attention, fully pacified attention, single-pointed attention, attentional balance, and shamatha.

Directed attention “is simply being able to place your mind on your chosen object of meditation for even a second or two” (p. 13). Continuous attentions mean “that now and again you can remain centered for a sustained period without completely losing track of your object of attention” (p. 30). Resurgent attention means “that most of the time you remain engaged with the object [of attention]” and “there are still lapses when you completely forget the object, but you quickly recognize them and patch up the holes in the continuity of attention” (p. 43). Close attention is when one’s attention has “acquired a kind of gravity such that it can’t be easily buffeted by gusts of involuntary thoughts and sensory distractions” (p. 59). This stage of attention is an initial form of mindfulness. Tamed attention is where “involuntary thoughts continue to arise, but instead of their tumultuous outpouring like a cascading waterfall, they now flow like a river moving smoothly through a gorge” (p. 78). Pacified attention exists when

involuntary thoughts pass through your consciousness like a river slowly flowing through a valley. As the mind becomes more at ease, thoughts flicker like butterflies through the space of awareness, and you are able to passively witness the entire sequence of thoughts arising, playing themselves out, then vanishing. (p. 100)

Fully pacified attention is the state wherein

involuntary thoughts continue to course through the mind like a river slowly flowing through a valley, but as your mind settles more and more deeply in its natural state, there is nothing for them to attach to. In the absence of grasping, you are not attached to them, and they have no power in themselves to afflict you. (p. 117)

Single-pointed attention is where one realizes a “high degree of unification of attention: wherever you direct it, your awareness is coherent and highly focused;” whereas in preceding stages “involuntary thoughts arose like a river slowly flowing through a valley, now the mind feels calm, like an ocean unmoved by waves” (p. 132). Attentional balance exists when one’s attention is highly focused “effortlessly and continuously for at least four hours” (p. 143).

The final stage is shamatha. The previous stages “entail many incremental changes, but the actual accomplishment of shamatha involves a radical transition in your body and mind” where “this shift is characterized by specific experiences that take place within a discrete, relatively brief period of time” (p. 156). The first sign of the experience is “heaviness and numbness on the top of the head” (p. 156) like a palm has been placed on your head. It does not hurt and it is not harmful. You experience “mental pliancy, in which your mind is fit and supple like never before” (p. 56) where you are free of mental dysfunction [and] you can focus your mind without resistance on any meaningful object or task” (p. 156). You also experience “the movement of vital energies moving in your body” as if “you are filled with the power of this dynamic energy” (p. 156). You are now free of physical dysfunction where “your body feels buoyant and light like never before” (p. 156). The bliss associated with this physical and mental freedom eventually subsides and a state of equanimity occurs.

Imagine leaders who have achieved later stages of attentional development! I think some interesting possibilities can emerge as a result.  Next week I’ll start to explore the topic of sustainable business as I continue on this thread about attention, leadership and sustainable business. Stay tune as I continue to explore this passion of mine…

Wallace, B. A. (2006). The attention revolution: Unlocking the power of the focused mind (1st ed.). Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.

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Buddhism and Attention Take 1

November 20, 2011

While Western psychology has focused on attention since the late 19th century, the Buddhists have been students of attention for the past 2,500 years (B. A Wallace, 1999). Western psychology looked at attention from the behavioral perspective (in the period of 1920-1949), from the information processing perspective (in the period of 1950-1974), from a model perspective (early 1970’s and on), and now from a neuropsychological perspective (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, pp. 4–23). For 2,500 years, Buddhists “have formulated elaborate, sophisticated theories of the origins and nature of consciousness and its active role in nature; but their inquiries never produce anything akin to an empirical study or theory of the brain” (B. A Wallace, 1999, p. 176). However, their major contribution has been

examining and probing the mind first-hand, and the initial problem in this endeavour was to train the attention so that it could be a more reliable, precise instrument of observation….Thus, the first task in the Buddhist investigation of the mind is to so refine the attention and balance the nervous system that the mind is made properly functional, free of the detrimental influences of excitation and laxity. (B. A Wallace, 1999, p. 176)

This type of Buddhist attentional training is called shamatha (also referred to as samatha), which involves various attentional meditation practices. In The Attention Revolution, B. Alan Wallace (2006) further describes “shamatha [as] a path of attentional development that culminates in an attention that can be sustained effortlessly for hours on end” (2006, p. xii).

Stay tune next week for more on shamatha…

Johnson, D. A., & Proctor, D. R. W. (2004). Attention: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Wallace, B. A. (1999). The Buddhist tradition of Samatha: Methods for refining and examining consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6, 2(3), 175–187.

Wallace, B. Alan. (2006). The attention revolution: Unlocking the power of the focused mind (1st ed.). Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.

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Attention - A Brief History in Psychology

November 9, 2011

While psychology is considered a dominant discourse on the topic of attention, “interest in attention began in the field of philosophy” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 4). Philosophers mostly focused on the role of attention in consciousness awareness and thought and conducted little experimental research on the topic, but “their conceptual analysis of attention laid the foundation for the scientific study of attention in ensuing years” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 5).

According to Johnson and Proctor (2003),

During the period from 1860 to 1909, the study of attention was transformed, as was the field of psychology as a whole, to one of scientific inquiry with emphasis on experimental investigations. By 1909, many phenomena of concern to contemporary attention researchers had been discovered and investigated, and the study of attention was central to the field of psychology.

The views of William James (1890) on attention influenced the work of these early psychologists. I’ve written about James’ definition in an earlier post. James (2007, p. 416) further classified attention in the following fashion:

It is directed either to

a. Objects of sense (sensorial attention); or to

b. Ideal or represented objects (intellectual attention)

It is either

c. Immediate; or

d. Derived.

Attention may be either

e. Passive, reflex, non-voluntary, effortless; or

f. Active and voluntary.

The first classification indicates attention can be directed to stimulus that is physically present, as well as stimulus that is not. The second differentiates between attention which goes to stimulus that is interesting (immediate) or to stimulus that is associated with another interesting thing (derived). The third classification distinguishes attention which is drawn automatically towards a stimulus (referred to today as “exogenous control”) from attention which is deployed toward the stimulus voluntarily (referred to today as “endogenous control”).

In the period from 1920 to 1949, the research on attention slowed down because much of the psychological “research shifted to a behavioral emphasis” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 23). One of the important works on attention during this time period was that of A. T. Jerslid, a developmental psychologist. The major finding from Jerslid’s work had to do with the task-switching paradigm—the time to complete a list of tasks is longer when tasks alternate instead of just a single repeated task. There is a switching cost when going from one task to a different task (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 15). Another significant discovery during this time was the “psychological refractory period effect” by C. W. Telford (an educational psychologist) which is the observable delay of a second task when two tasks are being done “at more or less the same time” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 178). During this time period, J. R. Stroop “published what is certainly one of the most widely cited studies in the field of psychology, in which he demonstrated that stimulus information that is irrelevant to the task can have a major impact on performance” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 16), which came to be known as the Stroop effect.

The period from 1950 to 1974 was characterized by a major interest in human information processing, thus yielding “considerable information about the mechanism of attention, specifically those involved in auditory attention” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 20). The most important development was the information processing model of attention from D. E. Broadbent. Broadbent’s filter theory says that “information is held in a preattentive temporary store, and only sensory events that have some physical feature in common (e.g. spatial location) are selected to pass into the limited capacity processing system” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 19); i.e., one set of inputs from one sense is allowed in for processing while another set waits in a buffer. Modern work on attention is said to have began with Broadbent’s work (Moray, 2006, p. 3).

In the early 1970s there was a shift from studying auditory attention to visual attention, and a view that attention is a limited-capacity resource: “Kahneman’s (1973) model is the most well known of these unitary capacity, or resource, theories. According to this model, attention is a single resource that can be divided among different tasks in different amounts” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 19). In the later part of the 1970s “Navon and Gopher (1979) proposed that attention was better viewed as multiple resources” because studies showed it was “easier to perform two tasks together when the tasks use different stimulus or response modalities than when they use the same modalities” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 20).

In 1980 A. M. Treisman and G. Gelade developed the highly influential feature integration theory “in which subjects are to detect whether a target is present among distracters” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 21). Then in 1987 came the view by R. L. Newman and D. A. Allport of attention as a selection-for-action where “attentional limitations should not be attributed to a limited capacity resource or mechanism. Instead the limitations are byproducts of the need to coordinate action and ensure that the correct stimulus information is controlling the intended responses” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 22).

The theories and views of attention from 1920 until the last quarter of the 20th century have predominantly originated from cognitive psychology (Ward, 2005, p. 23). In a recent period of research, “a major focus has been on gathering neuropsychological evidence pertaining to the brain mechanisms that underlie attention” (Johnson & Proctor, 2004, p. 22). According to Ward (2004), “neuropsychology is the application of psychological principles to the understanding and rehabilitation of brain damage” (2005, p. 30). According to Johnson and Proctor (2003) “neuropsychological and behavioral data promises to advance the study of attention significantly in the first half of the 21st century” (p. 23).

Other influential thinkers in psychology on the topic of attention include Christopher D. Wickens (applied psychology) and Michael Posner (neuroscience). At some point I’ll look into their literature.

The bottom line of all of the above: The phenomenon of attention has survived essentially intact from the articulation of early philosophers through to the more detailed observations of early psychologists such as William James, until by 1909 it had become a central focus of psychological investigation. This is important because it establishes the legitimacy and significance of attention, which is fundamental to my area of inquiry and exploration.

James, W. (2007). The principles of psychology, Vol.1 (1st ed.). New York: Cosimo Classics.

Johnson, D. A., & Proctor, D. R. W. (2004). Attention: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Moray, N. (2006). Attention: From history to application. In A. F. Kramer, D. A. Wiegmann, & A. Kirlik (Eds.), Attention: From Theory to practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA.

Ward, A. (2005). Attention: A neuropsychological approach (1st ed.). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

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Mindfulness and Mindful Leaders

November 2, 2011

When I talk about my exploration on attention, leadership and sustainable business, many people think that when I say “cultivation of attention” they wonder if I’m referring to mindfulness. I wonder to. Here are some definitions of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is usually associated with Buddhism. From the Theravadin Buddhist monk Nagasena, “mindfulness means attending closely to what is occurring in the mind and body” (B. A. Wallace, 2011, p. 56). Another Theravadin Buddhist monk, Buddhaghosa, adds to this definition by referring to mindfulness as a faculty that “remembers accurately;” i.e., the capacity “to retain, recollect, and bear in mind that which has been known” (B. A. Wallace, 2011, p. 56). Buddhaghosa goes onto say that mindfulness is not confined to past events. It is the faculty that holds “everything together, not with grasping, but with presence that can be directed to immediate experience” from moment to moment and is “not floating, not forgetting, and not disengaging” (B. A. Wallace, 2011, p. 56). Also, mindfulness can be prospective in nature without forgetting the present and past (B. A. Wallace, 2011, p. 57). In these definitions of mindfulness, one can be mindful of past, present and future occurrences.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and Zen Buddhist practitioner, established the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction treatment program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Over time, the medical community slowly recognized a relationship between mindfulness, emotional well-being and mental health. But there was a need for the Western medical community to agree on the distinguishable and empirical characteristics of mindfulness in order to conduct credible mindfulness research studies. Bishop et al (2004), psychologists and psychiatrists, have constructed a two-component model of mindfulness that moves “towards a definition that is more precise and that specifies testable theoretical predictions for the purpose of validation and refinement” (p. 231) . The hope is to have this definition adopted by the medical field “so that we can have a better understanding of mindfulness and mindfulness approaches to psychological treatment” (p. 231) According to Bishop et al, mindfulness is

a process of regulating attention in order to bring a quality of nonelaborative awareness to current experience and a quality of relating to one’s experience within an orientation of curiosity, experiential openness, and acceptance. We further see mindfulness as a process of gaining insight into the nature of one’s mind and the adoption of a de-centered perspective (Safran & Segal, 1990) on thoughts and feelings so that they can be experienced in terms of their subjectivity (versus their necessary validity) and transient nature (versus their permanence). (p. 234)

This definition of mindfulness is present-centered focus, whereas in the definition by the Theravadin Buddhist monks one can be mindful of the past, present and future.

Based on these definitions of mindfulness and attention, I see the relationship between these two terms as follows: mindfulness is a quality of awareness that can occur if attention is cultivated and deployed in a certain way. Cultivation of attention can lead to mindfulness, and maybe it is these “mindful” leaders that we need to identify the more innovative sustainable business solutions.

Much of what I have learned about attention came from mentors who were part of an awareness tradition that did not claim mindfulness as an objective. (Although, they appear to be quite “mindful” people.) For this reason, I hesitate to say that what I teach leaders is mindfulness. There is a lot involved to cultivating attention, and there is a lot involved to cultivating mindfulness. I’m more knowledgeable about the former.

Here is a blog about mindful leadership from the Take Charge leadership development and consulting group. They appear to have techniques to help leaders to be more mindful (they don’t specifically refer to “mindfulness,” just “mindful”). Their recent post dated Nov 1, 2011 is about the Occupy Wall Street movement and other recent events of unrest and protest.

I like this statement from their recent blog:

As leaders, we are often oblivious to the power we yield, the environment we create, the constraints that we place, and the ways in which we hold the passions and convictions of others in abeyance. Oblivious and mindless leaders are starting to stir; they recognize general discontent, ponder what to do about slipping engagement and trust scores, and wonder what it will take to get those people in line or on board.

And then the clincher:

The problem, though, is that they still look outside for the answers. The answers lie deep within.

I agree that deep within is a source of insight and freedom that remains untapped for the most part. What will it take for these “oblivious and mindless leaders” to seek help to touch this source of insight and freedom?

It is good to know that I’m not alone in teaching leaders about a source of internal power.

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