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The Tao of Tan

Published on Saturday, 20 Sep 2014
Book: Search Inside Yourself
Author: Chade-Meng Tan
Publisher: Harper One
Photo: istockphoto
Chade-Meng Tan

At last, that welcome rarity - an offering from a business guru that is a veritable page-turner of proven wisdom and "infotainment". Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) is thoroughly enjoyable and packed with messages, advice and insights that had me muttering "right on" every few pages. And, in places, cheering out loud.

The Taoism-tinged title is a harbinger of plenty of goodies inside these pages. Okay, the "world peace" bit is something of a cheeky stretch, but one can't fault the rest.

The book's author, Chade-Meng Tan, was one of Google's first engineers - employee number 107. He is also the founder and president of the Tan Teo Charitable Foundation, dedicated to promoting peace, liberty and enlightenment.

He is also a founding patron of both the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stamford University and the World Peace Festival. In top-tier business circles, this is as saintly as they get, and Tao's inner goodness reveals itself throughout this book.

Tan's thesis has been explored before, but never so elegantly: if a business made uncompromising efforts to find ways in which employees were not only better compensated and had more job satisfaction, but were also happier, healthier and more content with their lives, how much more efficient and profitable would it be? A holistic question, to which Tan provides common-sense holistic answers.

Tan explains how a work culture devoted to peace of mind and mental balance truly yields more productivity and profitability. Thereby everybody wins, even the grumpiest and most stone-hearted boss.

And he also, intriguingly, links his workplace concepts to world peace. "Like many others wiser than me, I believe world peace can and must be created from the inside out. And if we can create a world where most people are happy, at peace, and compassionate, we can create the foundation for world peace."

The approaches Tan advocates, which stress developing and valuing emotional intelligence and mindfulness training, have been addressed before, but not with such lucidity and graspable detail. Of particular benefit is the section on "emptying the mind" to release work-related stress and other psychological toxic waste.

He addresses and explains concepts and methods that would benefit any business organisation. What is mindfulness and mindfulness meditation? How does it help us perform better for our employer, help us become more intuitive communicators, or overcome negativity?

Citing a multitude of scientific studies (softening this input with humour), Tan describes in an easily digestible manner how and why these practices make us better people and better workers.

One of the many terrific sections here focuses on how to raise one's game as a listener. Tan explains that, like all worthy and important endeavours, we have to work at being emotionally alert and responsive.

Then he sets out what the reader needs to do to enhance his or her emotional intelligence - a step-by-step process actually adapted from an early computer programme Tan developed for Google.

Another compelling section is entitled "My Emotions Are Not Me" - a series of reflections on pain. Generally, it's not the pain that hurts, Tan says, but the idea of the pain (the same with fear).

"The theory is that aversion, not the pain itself, is the actual cause of suffering; the pain is just a sensation which creates that aversion," he says. "Hence, if the mind recognises this and then becomes able to let go of aversion, then the experience of pain may lead to greatly reduced suffering - perhaps no suffering at all."

Later on, he takes readers through the practice of "the sacred pause" and something he calls the "Siberian North Railroad" - stop, breathe, notice, reflect and respond. These, he explains, and can be used to deal with difficult emotions and thorny people in the workplace.

Another maxim he dwells on is "pleasure, passion and higher purpose", which teaches how to be comfortable with the idea of failure as a means to success. He later examines the importance of empathy, especially as applying to managers, and how mindfulness helps us achieve greater empathy which leads to greater trust.

Tan doesn't shy away from workplace politics either, and excels in instructing the reader on how to proceed with those "difficult conversations" that are an unwelcome feature of almost all work environments. What's Tan's answer? Enhanced mindfulness and empathy, naturally - and a bit of meditation beforehand.

Fear not, there's no New Age dross in these pages. Even though Tan almost writes like a Buddhist monk, he employs empirical evidence whenever he can.

The book glows with warmth and positivity. It might just make the world a better place. Or, at the very least, your world.

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