Search Inside Yourself [Book Review]

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Think Before you Speak!

No, this isn’t another post about Google + although the rapid rise and excitement of Google’s latest and greatest social network is the impetus for this post (that was originally to be titled, “Shut the F*ck Already with the MySpace Comparisons). However, with all of the recent tweets, status updates and blog posts predicting the demise of either Facebook, Twitter or both a la MySpace, I couldn’t not share my thoughts in a space that allowed for more than 140 characters. What I can tell you is that while I have seen too many big companies fail over my lifetime to not know that it can always happen again, if Facebook and Twitter fail, it won’t be for the reasons that MySpace did.

For starters, let’s clarify that MySpace did NOT fail because a newer, shinier object came along in the form of Facebook OR Twitter. MySpace failed because of several fundamental flaws in the way it operated, particularly once it was purchased by Rupert Murdoch (btw, Businessweek wrote a great article that goes into all the details of the rise and fall of MySpace).

In particular:

  • Once Murdoch purchased MySpace, there was significant pressure to deliver revenue (not necessarily a bad thing). Unfortunately, this forced MySpace to ramp up the advertising opportunities on the site which led to a lot of spammy ads for unsavory products. As a corollary to this, Twitter and Facebook are both venture backed and private. While both are feeling pressure to deliver more revenue, innovation has taken precedence over money.
  • MySpace made the fatal mistake (I’ll call this the AngelFire Boner) by allowing users to customize the background, fonts, layouts of their pages. While creativity is good, allowing for 8 billion different user interfaces (UI) across 350 million pages is not. UI 101 calls for putting things in the places where users expect to find them. Some people are good at this. Most people are not.
  • Demographics – while most companies love to attract the 18-35 set (male-skewed), there is a downside to this strategy. This demographic tends to be technology-savvy and fickle. The combination of the two allows them to pick up their “ball” and take it to a different ballpark whenever they like. You’ll notice that Twitter’s demographic came out of the gate closer to 32 than 22 and Facebook’s fastest growing (and most dedicated) segment right now are women over 40.
  • Lack of developer commitment. While Twitter and Facebook have both fostered rich ecosystems of developers, MySpace never went down this path.
  • After a few months of MySpace being the apple of Murdoch’s eye, a new “jewel” in the crown emerged when Murdoch opted to court and ultimately purchase the prestigious Wall Street Journal.
Does this mean that the rise of Googe + (which is still has only 5 million more users than photo sharing site, Instagram, and the same number of users as location-based service, foursquare) won’t kill either Twitter or Facebook? No. But if it does, it will be for different reasons than those that dethroned MySpace. To that end, I responded to a tweet by Edelman EVP and uber-blogger, Steve Rubel, regarding a post that tech-blogger, Robert Scoble, wrote the other day about how Twitter had become boring and what it could do to fix that problem. My message to Steve was that “Twitter has become like electricity. Boring but critical.” Facebook will be around for a while longer because of the “barriers to exit” it’s created with the over 40 set. What this means is that Facebook owns most people’s social graph and it has taught most parents and grand parents how to post, comment and share. For this reason, it will take a pretty significant change to get these people to leave (privacy be damned!)
What do you think?

Tiny Bubbles, Beancast Style

Sunday night, I had the privilege of participating in Bob Knorpp’s BeanCast show for the third time. This go around, I joined big thinkers, Joe Jaffe, president and chief disruptor at Crayon, Bill Green, owner of Make the Logo Bigger and Adverve and Matt McDermott, assistant creative director at, Renegade.

http://www.odeo.com/flash/audio_player_standard_gray.swf

During the show, we covered a lot of ground (Bob demands a lot of his guests):

  • Google’s realtime search – namely, will it make a difference and will marketers care?
  • Astroturfing – why it’s a bad idea.
  • Method’s “bubble” ad – should they have pulled it?
  • Augmented reality – does it have legs?
  • Abbey Klaassen – do we agree or disagree with Abbey’s assertion that advertisers are missing the boat on doing more around Super Bowl ads.

Great show. I highly recommend that you check it out here (mp3), here (show notes) or here (iTunes).