The digital transformation is happening around the world. Entrepreneurial thinking, flexibility, and readiness for change are essential to meet the digital transformation — especially for established firms in Germany and the U.S. Yet, how can we become leaders of the digital transformation in minds and actions? Mindfulness meditation has scientifically shown to produce new brain cells. Essentially, mindfulness can help to create openness and flexibility in the human mind. What if we would use the power of mindfulness to get to the core of the digital transformation? What if Germany and the U.S. would use mindful acts as means to grow jointly? What if mindfulness could help to connect US and German startups, small and medium enterprises, and corporate firms? Imagine the economic power! Imagine the impact we all could make towards the future!
The digital transformation requires re-thinking within and across firms and nations
The startup community of Berlin is prospering and growing. In 2016 Berlin startups employed 17.000 people in the city. More than 50 % of those startups are digital businesses (Berliner Venture Capital Report, 2016). Established German firms like large corporations and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are focusing on this entrepreneurial ecosystem to learn from it. Established firms, especially, experience the pressure of the on-going digitalization. Smart homes, connected cars, digitalized productions (Industry 4.0) are not just a future vision any more. They are already part of our daily lives. Electric cars and autonomous driving are increasingly moving into the center of how we envision the smart city. Artificial intelligence through self-learning information systems is what keeps R&D labs of most startups, SMEs, and corporations busy. The digital transformation is happening everywhere, and firms need to act upon it in order to keep up and to satisfy the changing customer needs. Only thus will they be able to keep generating profits and to maintain jobs.
We need new forms of learning, knowledge transfer, and collaboration
Many of the established German firms are therefore trying to learn from German startups through incubation, joint venturing, and investments.
However, startup incubation in Germany happens mainly for German startups – not very often do German startups meet US startups in those incubation spaces. A few exceptions include the German Silicon Valley Accelerator, who made it their vision to send 12 German startups per year to the Silicon Valley. Joint venturing is regularly hampered by very different mindsets of startups and established firms. And differences in mindsets are even more notable when it comes to Germans versus Americans “doing business”. In addition, investments in startups are still considered as “risk capital” by Germans, instead of “venture capital” as the Americans call it.
Despite that fact that we all — Germany and the U.S. — need to manage the digital transformation, we miss means for transfer of knowledge and learning from each other. We miss openness within our countries and beyond national boundaries. Mindful entrepreneurship and innovation could pave a way across those boundaries.
Mindful entrepreneurship and innovation to pave the way for digital transformation
Mindfulness has been inspired by Eastern philosophies, including Taoism, Buddhism, and Zen. Harvard professor Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as "Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." Russ Harris, a management coach, connects mindfulness even more to our Western world: "Paying attention with openness, curiosity and flexibility." Research has shown that mindful actions can reduce stress. Within only six weeks of meditation, participants of mindfulness studies have repeated lower heart rates, which leads to lower risks of heart attacks (David & Hayes, 2011). Regular meditators have also reported increased self-awareness and emotional intelligence (Slaghter et al., 2011). That is, they were better able to understand themselves and others. Finally, mindful actions have shown to increase the production of grey cells. Put differently, mindfulness can make people more open, curious, and flexible. In the end, mindfulness shows that learning doesn`t stop with age, rather it can make the human being smarter as it gets older (Harris, 2017).
Mindful actions like meditation, non-violent communication, and/or yoga might increase openness in business contexts. Thus, it might leverage opportunities to learn from each other and to collaborate. Essentially, mindful entrepreneurship and innovation could become our gateway to meet the digital transformation.
More happiness, efficiency and collaboration for Google employees through mindfulness
First endeavors to implement mindfulness have already been made. Google started their program called “Search Inside Yourself” (SIY) in 2007 (Tan, 2012). Inspired by the ideas of Daniel Goleman on Emotional Intelligence and Jon-Kabat Zinn Google engineers made it their task to develop and implement SIY, which included regular meditation, journaling, and joint reflections. All participating employees were allowed to meditate daily at the desk or in quiet rooms to calm their minds; journaling should help them to let particular emotions out and thus support self-understanding; and jointly and regularly the participants reflected on how meditation affected their working routines. Tan (2012) highlights that through tailoring a program for critical minds like engineers and scientists, they managed to increase the level of happiness, collaboration, and efficiency of many Google employees.
Mindful action increases emotional intelligence and brain cells
Looking at incubation spaces and startups: What about joint mindfulness meditations at the beginning of meetings between German and US startups, and established firms? Facilitators to such meetings might also provide tools to conduct communications that are shaped by attentive and active listening. Thus, genuine empathy, understanding, and learning from each other could be established.
Establishing a mindfulness routine might even support collaboration of inter- and transdisciplinary teams of firms of all sizes (startups, SMEs, and corporations). As we have heard before, collaboration regularly suffers from misunderstanding through different mindsets. Mindful action is said to make people more open, but also to make them take their “ego” out of the equation. What if that could be the starting point to create new, shared mindsets? — Mindsets of openness for different ideas from different contributors, mindsets that allow for creativity from all angles, disciplines, and backgrounds. What could this possibly mean for R&D and development in the context of digital transformation? We could bring startup founders, engineers, designers, investment bankers, and CEOs together. What momentum could we create, if they all listened openly, without judging, on equal terms to each other?
From risk-aversion to present-minded risk taking and smart investment
Finally, talking about risk versus venture capital: German established firms are often said to be risk-averse. US capital investments are notably faster, higher, and more risk-oriented. Although we would like to call Berlin a small sister of the Silicon Valley, there is still much to learn from the U.S. regarding the willingness (and power) to invest. Mindful action is also said to establish an inner sense of certainty and security, as well as presence and clear-mindedness. This might positively contribute to decision-making of collaborative cohorts about investments in startups, joint projects of startups with established firms, or even firms beyond national boundaries. We do not want to talk about necessary legal structures for international conglomerates of entrepreneurial and innovation systems.
Mindful actions within transdisciplinary teams opens doors for change
But what is important to keep in mind here, mindful action creates openness for learning and collaboration, which might even advance how we deal with digital transformation on a transnational level. It might make new forms of collaboration in the context of Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, or Autonomous Driving possible, where the smartest actors exchange knowledge, learn from each other, and collaborate on entirely novel levels.
The digital transformation is part of our daily lives, and requires new ways of transfer of knowledge, learning from each other, and collaboration beyond boundaries. Openness has received a totally new meaning in this context. To facilitate openness, we need disruptive means. One of which could be mindfulness – and supporting mindful actions. This may sound simple, philosophical, or even religious. Yet, the truth is: Advisors to manage the change in firms are at loss presently. SMEs and corporations that contribute to 80 % of the German GDE do not even know, if they still exist in 10 years from now. In order to keep jobs, incomes, and profits, we should consider any means available to us. Especially, if they help us accommodate changes in the mind of the humans – and might even make each and every one of us calmer, smarter, and more collaborative.