Meditation Lessons for Startups Pt1

On my dauntingly long list of things started and stopped without reaching any sort of proficiency, you’ll also find meditating.
A few years ago, I got a chance to participate in a secluded seminar where a buddhist monk introduced a small group of people to buddhist meditation and some of the principles behind it.


If you’ve read Siddharta or anything about buddhist meditation, you’ll remember that meditation is a life-long quest for enlightenment.
However unreachable this might sound, already engaging in the art of meditation can enrich one’s life I was told.

Unfortunately, as with everything else, success doesn’t happen overnight. Give it a few years and you might be able to laser focus your mind on not thinking anything for longer than 30 minutes.

So how can startups, or people in startups benefit from meditation?

One of the principles behind meditation that stuck with me can be perfectly applied to the way startups are sprinting a seemingly never-ending marathon.

Imagine you’re in some river or lake water. You’re in constant movement and thereby stirring up the water all the time. As a result the water is muddy and you cannot see the ground. Meditation changes this and as the mud settles down, clearness in water, i.e. mind, is achieved.

In a startup you’re at all times building the bridges while walking them, trying to check off dozens of things every day from an infinite to-do list, while being uncertain whether you do the right things at all.
I love it. I wrote more about this in my post on joining Startups.

It seems obvious to me that once in a while, the stirred up mud has to settle down to give a clear view of goals, strategy, vision, or solutions to complex issues.

If this happens from time to time both on the individual and team level, I’d imagine that less time is spend pursuing wrong directions, and the important things are pushed forward faster.

Does this mean everyone should start meditating? No, but how about drawing your own analogy to this meditation technique: focus laser-sharp on not being disturbed or drifting off, settle down for a bit, and listen to yourself.



About making decisions

You’ll get nowhere if you can’t make decisions yourself and stand up to them. This probably holds true for many aspects in life but especially if you work in a startup. Btw: the answer is yes if you’re still facing the decision whether to join a startup.

Is throwing a dice to make a decision the best way?

Everyone of us is dealing every day with dozens if not hundreds of decisions. Our brain is both handling more conscious ones such as ‘what should I wear today?’ to the many subconscious ones that keep us afloat and guide us through our daily routines. Imagine you’d have to make a conscious decision every time about lifting your right or left foot next to do a step.

That would probably cost a lot of brain capacity and time. But how effective are you at handling decisions that need a conscious thinking process and action? Do you spend the right amount of time and energy on situations where your decision might have a big impact – relative to the time you spend on small-scale stuff?

Take my acquaintance Leo for example. If you’re tweeting a lot you should check out his startup Buffer. He has limited his wardrobe to white t-shirts, so he doesn’t lose any time in the morning to decide what to wear.

Now this might not be the right thing for everyone but it clearly removes unnecessary clutter in Leo’s daily life and he can focus on growing Buffer.

Aside decisions in your personal life, working in a startup has additional challenges around decisions:
– often decisions have to be made fast
– often it’s unclear who is responsible for making the decision, so you’ll have to make it yourself
– you’re hired to make the right decisions yourself in your area because the founders/CEO need to focus on their own difficult decisions – no time to hold hands
– many of the decisions have direct impact on the product, and can be seen by the customers and people using it
– there are dozens of opportunities, requests, offers, issues, problems – how do you prioritize them?
– you have no clue what works and what doesn’t work
– chances are you’ll be doing things you’ve never done before that require decisions to be made by you from the very start

And that’s the beauty of working in a startup. Even if you’re an intern: you not only need to make influential decisions, but in good startups the flat hierarchy and culture will also empower you to actively do so. If you’ve ever worked in a larger company or big enterprise you know that this is nothing you can take for granted.

However, if you can’t make up your mind on how to do something, it will probably never get done.

I still remember being relatively new at Podio and having a beer with Kasper, one of the co-founders. He said something along the lines of “You’re a great guy and probably smarter than me but I make stuff happen. And I’m here to teach you how.”

So how do you get better at making decisions?
I’m much more confident and better at making decisions now than when I joined my first startup. I think starting small is good. I don’t ever want to stop there though. As far as possible I try to push myself to make bigger decisions – and stand by them. Learn from them. Sometimes I forget it again, so I’m reminded next time that I should remember. Saying no is still an area for me to improve. I’ve sort of developed my system of prioritizing stuff but it’s still in ongoing iteration:)
If it takes too long to make a decision, I’ve taken Kasper’s advice and just start doing it and see what happens. I always look at data if possible. For the rest I trust my gut feelings.

Be opinionated and stubborn but not narrow-minded. And of course: only because there’s no one else to sign off or decide doesn’t mean there aren’t people whom to ask for their opinion or advice. You don’t have to save the world alone – and you won’t. Be opinionated and stubborn but not narrow-minded. Don’t be dumb, don’t let yourself put under stress, don’t be drunk, angry, or too tired when making decisions. Plus my personal credo: be ethical.

So, are you gonna make the decision to make less less important and more more important decisions?