At first pass, the word Zen conjures up images of dark rooms, with incense burning in the corner. There’s probably a person sitting in full lotus murmuring, “ohhhooooommm” over and over again. Not exactly the person you may take business advice from.
On the other hand, the word Zen conjures up images of inner peace and tranquility. There are several principles and concepts often linked to the practices of Zen, such as: simplicity, focus, and awareness.
Perhaps as managers, we can take some concepts from the practice of Zen and apply them to our own management practice, achieving a greater level of inner peace and tranquility. (trivia fact – did you know Steve Jobs practiced Zen?)
Let’s take a look at these three principles in more detail.
As humans, we tend to over-complicate where we don’t need to (especially at work). We have meetings for meetings sake (think Dilbert). We create process where we don’t need process. And we spend hours writing that email which could’ve been easily solved with a 10 minute phone call. The list goes on and on.
Contrary to popular belief, acting simply does not mean doing as little as possible. It means doing as little as possible to achieve a particular result.
To be simple, it means always asking, “Why is it this way?” and “How can it be better?” It means rethinking what you do until the clutter has fallen away to what is essential and useful.
Look to your own organization and see if it could use some process de-cluttering and simplifying. While it may take a lot of work, it will be worth it in the end.
There’re volumes of stories about businesses and organizations operating inefficiently by taking too broad of focus. They either sell too many different products, offer too many different services, or their departments struggle because they have a “hodge-podge” list of responsibilities. They lack focus!
Focus (like simplicity) also takes the right mindset. The more narrowly you can focus your organization the better. As a manager, you need to balance organizational needs with your team’s ability to focus and keep their eye on reaching a clearly defined vision.
Sometimes that means sacrificing a new offering in order to maintain the right level of focus on your current offerings.
Finally, awareness is a critical skill of any manager. Measuring organizational performance, having a pulse on team morale, understanding potential risks and assessing your team’s level of focus are just a few of the areas a manager must have awareness to.
When you combine the practices of simplicity, focus and awareness, you have the ability to be amazingly successful. And after all Steve Jobs used these same principles to build Apple. And that seemed to turn out pretty good