Mindfulness>mindlessness: Exploiting the Power of Uncertainty

These are uncertain times for schools, families, businesses, and/or communities.  And with uncertainty there can be a tendency, on the part of those that are the leaders or those who assume leadership to try to take charge of the future by asking others to implement “their” plan – as if leadership should be able to ‘chart the best course’ into the future. As if leadership has or should have the “answers” to the uncertaincy.  In a sense, this approach says others should be mindless as they follow the one or few that are to be mindful.

I would suggest that this is a time where interdependent thinking is called for.  This is a time where we can come together and think together to meet the opportunities of the future.  Interconnecting in a mindful way makes a lot of sense to me!  And it really begins with encouraging everyone to be mindful!  Just by having everyone in the school, family, business or community acting in mindful ways can be very productive – especially if htey share a mission.

Once again the power of the shared mission can’t be over stated. In the example to follows musicains in orchestras – who obviously share the mission of quality renditions of class music – were either mindless or mindful in their individual performance. The results are interesting and thought provoking.

Ellen Langer is the author of eleven books, including the international bestseller Mindfulness, which has been translated into fifteen languages, and more than two hundred research articles and is a professor in the Psychology Department at Harvard University writes:  In a study conducted with Timothy Russell and Noah Eisenkraft, orchestra musicians were instructed to be either mindless or mindful. In this case, being mindless meant replicating a previous performance with which they were very satisfied. The mindful instructions directed them to make the piece new in very subtle ways that only they would know. (They were playing classical music and not jazz so the novel distinctions were indeed subtle.) Their performance was taped and then played for audiences unaware of our instructions. We found that not only did the musicians much prefer playing mindfully, the mindfully played pieces were judged as superior. Everyone was in a sense mindfully doing their own thing and the result was a better coordinated outcome.


In more than 30 years of research, we’ve found that increasing mindfulness increases charisma and productivity, decreases burnout and accidents, and increases creativity, memory, attention, positive affect, health, and even longevity. When mindful we can take advantages of opportunities and avert the dangers that don’t yet exist. This is true for the leader and the led.

In sum, there is no best way to do anything independent of context, so the leader cannot have privileged information. When leaders keep everyone in their place with the illusion of knowability and possession of this privileged knowledge the benefit to them is that we “obey” and leaders feel superior. The cost is that they create lemmings. Their mindlessness promotes our own mindlessness which costs us our well being and health. Net result, the leader, the led, and the company all lose.

It’s nice to imagine a company (or I’ll add: a school, family, friend group, team, and/or community) where everyone is mindful. But it will take some time to achieve the ideal even if possible. Meanwhile, we need leaders whose major, perhaps only task is to promote mindfulness in those around them. By learning how to exploit the power of uncertainty maybe all of us will wake up.”

Are you a leader that can learn how to or are all ready good at – exploiting the power of uncertainty?


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