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Mindfulness as a Management Technique Goes Back to at Least the 1970s

Jim Butcher – Harvard Business Review: “Mindfulness is now seen as a crucial skill in business. Meditation practices have the capacity to calm the mind, relax the body, boost resilience, and even increase situational awareness. The study of mindfulness — often defined as paying attention, nonjudgmentally and on purpose — is a regular part of the creativity and wellness culture at firms around the world. But although mindfulness may seem to be a fairly new phenomenon, it’s not. It first influenced business decades ago, through the development of an unmistakably hard skill that senior managers must master: strategic planning. Leaders today would be wise to learn from the past and to view strategic planning and mindfulness together. Before explaining why, though, a bit of history. Pierre Wack, who was head of Group Planning at Royal Dutch/Shell in the 1970s, studied meditation extensively with teachers in Asia and, later, with the famous 20th-century mystic G.I. Gurdjieff in Paris. Wack perceived the world differently than his colleagues in the energy business. Through his unique lens, he came to create what we know as scenario planning — a widely used strategic planning practice that now spans all sectors. An HBR contributor, he wrote two seminal articles about Shell and scenario planning in 1985. As Art Kleiner described in the The Age of Heretics, Wack had “a lifelong preoccupation with the art of what he called ‘seeing.’” To see, in Wack’s understanding, meant not merely being aware of an element of the environment, but seeing “through it,” with full consciousness. Planning well, in his estimation, required “training the mind.” As a longtime practitioner of scenario planning who met Wack and studied his approach, I consistently find that stories about his early days at Shell captivate executives’ attention as instructive lessons on how to look ahead. One scenario, in which it was presented that governments in Middle Eastern countries would effectively act as a cartel, largely came to pass with the rise of OPEC. Shell changed strategies and actions based on the findings of the scenario planning work, eventually allowing the firm to become an industry leader…”

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