Several weeks ago, I was asked to review the book, Search Inside Yourself, written by long-time Google engineer, Chade Meng-Tan (Meng for short). His official title at Google is “Jolly Good Fellow,” and after reading a couple of chapters of his book, it’s easy to see how he earned his title. Most impressive is that the lessons Meng shares in this book — essentially how to develop a greater sense of mindfulness — have been codified into a course that is offered to all Google employees. Given the success of the company over the last ten plus years… I’d say he (and they) are doing something right.
Before diving into some of the core elements of the book, it’s worth noting that I am a fairly spiritual person. And while I’ve grown up in organized religion, I am a great respecter of all religions, particularly those that focus on the positive elements of man, God and the universe. Because of that attitude, a lot of Meng’s book made total sense to me and I can honestly say that I’ve been unofficially practicing/living many of the tenets of the book without knowing it. With that said, you don’t need to be a religious person to appreciate Search Inside Yourself. However, before you decide whether you want to read the book, it’s worth asking yourself a simple question. Do you believe that you can become a better person by being more introspective, mindful, empathetic and humble? If the answer is no, then you are probably better off skipping this book (and the rest of the post).
Two things in particular struck me about this book that validate its credibility well beyond anything I could offer:
- The pull quotes are arguably the most impressive I’ve ever seen. Case in point, when you get a former U.S. President (Jimmy Carter), the Dalai Lama and John Mackey, the co-CEO and co-founder of well respected, Whole Foods, that says something.
- Meng knew that in writing this book he would have a number of skeptics questioning his methodology and possibly writing off his innovative course as quackery steeped in eastern religion and philosophy. Instead, Meng backs up all of his research with 3rd party studies and research and digs into the scientific and physiological reasons behind what he’s advocating.
Five pragmatic things that I took away from the book were:
- Strengthening one’s mind and getting good at focus and mindfulness is akin to riding a bike. The first several times you do it, your balance (focus) falters and the corrections to stabilize yourself are exaggerated. Over time, the adjustments become less noticeable and riding evolves into a subconscious and often, calming, activity.
- One of the important steps in the book is learning how to better focus in order to be more mindful and thus more in control of one’s own emotions. On page 55 of the book, Meng teaches us a simple exercise that takes place during walking.
- On page 57, Meng also provides details on an exercise that anyone in business could benefit from and that is mindful listening. As someone that has spent the last 15 years of my life getting better at listening, this easy-to-implement advice was a welcome recommendation.
- For anyone that lacks the empathy gene, the exercise on page 169 is straightforward yet transformational in its ability to remind us to be a better human being.
- Who in life hasn’t had to have a difficult conversation with a boss, child, client, vendor, spouse or employee at some point in their life? In many cases, some of us are unlucky enough to have several difficult conversations a month. The process Meng spells out on page on 223 is one that I plan to start using immediately.
The good and bad of this book is that the concept is relatively simple. It is singleminded in its approach. But it can only be effective to those that are willing to spend time putting it into practice. It’s hard to say whether or not business people will adopt the smart lessons and philosophies Meng shares in this book. Taking a look at the pervasiveness of the company that Meng works for — Google — I’d say he’s got better than a fighting chance.