Wisdom 2.0: A day of mindful insights

flickr :: jishnu_nandy
flickr :: jishnu_nandy

Wisdom 2.0 is three-day event aimed at addressing an important and timely issue:

"The question for most of us is not if we will use the technologies of our age, from cell phones to social media, the question is how can we do so with mindfulness, meaning, and wisdom?"

It is an ambitious undertaking, to say the least, but the first day showed that Soren Gordhamer (author of Wisdom 2.0) has put together something unparalleled. The afternoon included thought-provoking discussions and insights from technologists, venture capitalists, Zen abbots, publishers and neuroscientists. I’ve never seen such a diverse array of thinkers gathered for an event focused on unifying seemingly disparate ideas (i.e., technology and mindful compassion).

Here are just a few of the highlights for me:

Don’t steal people’s attention

Chris Sacca (VC and advisor to Twitter) was both funny and insightful in his comments throughout the day, and the first seed he planted was the notion that many people create content that steals people’s attention, with no value in return. We should see everything we contribute to people’s digital streams (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, blogs) as something that is stealing their precious attention. Not everyone is equipped to be a content producer. With this in mind, it’s easier to think twice about whether or not to tell people you just spilled your latte.

Humor and playfulness are essential to mindfulness

For such a serious topic at the conference, something with deep philosophical implications, it was amazing to me how light-hearted the day felt. Humor was abundant. There was lots of laughter in every session, both from the speakers and panelists, and from Soren as moderator. This lighthearted tone made it easier to discuss some of the difficult questions being addressed, and in a very humane way. One of the panelists (Leah Pearlman, author of Facebook for Dummies) described a number of different games she played to stay mindful with technological disruptions (e.g., “Haiku Friday” for emails, challenges to see how much battery life you can have at the end of the day, subject-line-only emails). Chris Sacca summed it up at the end of the day saying, “Humor is a vehicle for truth (which is why Fox News doesn’t have a Daily Show).”

Connection happens in real life

Connection was a persistent theme throughout the day, with discussions centered around whether technology makes us more or less connected in the world. While there are plenty of points of view, it seems many agreed with Roshi Joan Halifax, who said the most precious gift she has to give is her real physical presence, and that the quality of actual face-to-face presence is irreplaceable by technology. At the same time, technology has enabled us to make so many more connections, some of which we can bring into the real world. Human beings are social, and the ways we use technology shows both the good and bad sides of the way we socialize and separate ourselves into groups of shared interest.

Technological evolution is a one-way street

In the same way that realizations are not reversible, neither is technological evolution. We have these amazing (and frustrating and distracting) tools and technologies in our lives. They are not going away, so we had better find a way to live with them in a way that enhances our lives and connections to people and the world. Greg Pass (CTO of Twitter) pointed out wisely that “information overload” is a glass-half-empty way of looking at the world. By changing our mindset to look at the amazing things technology and a richness of information enable, perhaps we can learn new ways of letting information flow past us, only seeking out those things with meaning.

Chance favors the prepared mind

Tony Hsieh (iconic and inspiring CEO of Zappos) engaged in an interview with Chris Sacca. At one point, he described some of the hiring questions they use at Zappos to build a fantastic culture. One question they ask people is to rate themselves on a scale from 1-10 on how lucky they are in life (1 = Bad luck follows me everywhere, 10 = Blessed). Applicants are then asked to look through a newspaper and count the number of images. At places within this newspaper, headlines read “The answer 37…Stop reading and claim $100 for finishing early.” In their experience, there is a h4 correlation between people who feel lucky and those who notice the headlines and stop the test early. People who feel unlucky plod through the scripted task. Zappos believes this sense of luck shows people who are open to new opportunities, who will find and take different paths proactively, rather than just doing what’s expected. It’s an amazingly simple insight, but a powerful one. In my mind, the greater message here is that mindfulness, too, can be achieved, but you have to open yourself up to it in every aspect of your life, and create those paths worth pursuing, rather than waiting for them to be given to you.

So what’s next?

Day two of the conference is up shortly, with another amazing array of speakers, not to mention interesting attendees. I’m looking forward to serendipitous conversations and another day well spent in search of deeper meaning.