// The Cultivation of Attention and the Process of Leadership Development

Sustainable Business & Attention: Vertical Leadership Development

December 7, 2011

Leaders in the sustainable business movement are not automatically inclined to come up with the most innovative sustainable solutions in the way that Ray Anderson of Interface did (see my last post for context on this). There are solutions categorized as the “low-hanging fruit” (like recycling office paper and offering carpool and public transit assistance) that are relatively easy to conceive and execute. According to the “Leadership and the Corporate Sustainability Challenge” research report by McEwen and Schmidt of Avastone Consulting (2007), the more innovative solutions require a different mindset. McEwen and Schmidt write, “Mindsets, the nature of their development, and the headway gained through the expansion of consciousness, are often overlooked in the larger sustainability discussion” (p. 4). Mindsets in this context are defined as “interior patterns of mind, or frames of reference, from which individuals see sustainability and its importance” (p. 6). It is the vertical development of one’s mindset that is important, hardest to attain and thus most overlooked. As mindsets expand vertically (to greater depth and thus less familiar territory), “an individual’s current way of meaning-making [shifts] to a broader, more complex mindset(p. 6).

The figure below is adapted from Susanne Cook-Greuter’s (2004) article Making the Case for a Developmental Perspective. vertical-development1Horizontal development is “expansion at the same stage (developing new skills, adding information & knowledge, transfer from one area to another)” (p. 3). Vertical development is “transformation…new more integrated perspective, higher center of gravity” (p. 3). Downward development is “temporary or permanent regression due to life circumstances, environment, stress and illness” (p. 3).

This vertical development is well researched and documented in various leadership developmental theories such as those by Susanne Cook-Greuter (2004) and William Torbert (2004). The innovative sustainable solutions, beyond the low-hanging fruit, require a leader to have “a broader, more complex mindset,” i.e. a mind at the later stages of development. The vertical development of a leader’s mindset is a “core underlying force for accelerating sustainability gains” (p. 4).

The Ray Andersons of the world are few and far between. According to research conducted by Joiner and Josephs (2007) on leadership developmental stages, “less than 10 percent of managers have mastered the level of agility [more complex mindset] needed for sustained success in today’s turbulent business environment” (p. v) . The later stages of leadership are “where people can tap into their creative potential by participating in the development of solutions that benefit multiple stakeholders” (p. 94). One becomes available to engage with stakeholders beyond just employees, suppliers and shareholders – e.g. the natural environment and affected communities (p.113)(p. 270) — making business challenges (and business solutions) much more interesting, more complex and more sustainable.

It is through the “capacity to live ‘in attention’ that you can move into and through” the later leadership developmental stages (Joiner & Josephs, 2007, p. 221). Joiner and Josephs found that, at the later stages, leaders are much more likely to have an attentional practice. This includes psychotherapy, shamanic drumming, yoga and various forms of meditation (p. 222). Attentional practices help to create leaders who can identify and implement the more innovative sustainable business solutions; the leaders who can pick the high-hanging fruit.

Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the founding chair of the Presencing Institute, would agree. He has co-designed and delivered award-winning leadership programs for clients including Daimler, Pricewaterhouse, Fujitsu, and Eileen Fisher. Scharmer (2009) recognizes the challenges that humans face:

  • We have created a thriving global economy that yet still leaves 850 million people suffering from hunger and 3 billion people living in poverty (on less than two dollar per day)…
  • We invest significant resources on our agriculture and food systems only to create nonsustainable mass production of low-quality junk food that pollutes both our bodies and our environment….
  • In spite of alarming scientific and experiential evidence for climate change, we, as a global system, continue to operate the old way—as if nothing much has happened. (pp. 2-3)

According to Scharmer (2009), identifying and implementing innovative sustainable business practices that will contribute to solutions for the challenges above requires a recognition of the blind spot in leadership—“the place from which our attention and intention is happening….the inner place from which we operate” (Scharmer, 2009, p. 11). “[T]he essence of leadership is to shift the inner place from which we operate both individually and collectively” — this inner place is the “structure of attention” (p. 11).

Joseph, Joiner and Scharmer agree that one’s attention plays an important role in leadership development and sustainable business. Joseph and Joiner’s (2007) work focuses on a leadership developmental theory, and Scharmer’s (2009) work focuses on a social field theory. While a leader’s attention plays an important role in their theories, these thinkers do not provide practical instruction for the cultivation of attention. The Buddhist practice of shamatha does provide practical instruction on cultivating one’s attention (see my post on this). And, as Joseph and Joiner have indicated above, there are other choices. With regards to my attention coaching, this attention cultivation practice is not meditation based. I will be sharing more about my practice in this blog in the future.

This blog post, and those before it, have been an exploration of the following question: In the quest for sustainable business, how might the cultivation of attention contribute to the process of leadership development? This journey started in October 2011. These posts have been a result of my work in my PhD studies at California Institute of Integral Studies. (Possibly you were wondering why my writing appears so academic. Now you know why!) I plan to continue to blog this PhD research journey, but at a slower pace. Do come and visit my space when you can. I promise to share faithfully and honestly about my journey to help change business for the good.

Cook-Greuter, S. R. (2004). Making the case for a developmental perspective. Industrial and Commercial Training, 36(7).

Joiner, W. B., & Josephs, S. A. (2007). Leadership agility: Five levels of mastery for anticipating and initiating change (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Scharmer, C. O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Schmidt, J. D., & McEwen, C. A. (2007). Leadership and the corporate sustainability challenge. Roswell, GA: Avastone Consulting.

Torbert, W. R. (2004). Action inquiry: The secret of timely and transforming leadership. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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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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