“There is a definite connection between Dan’s meditative development and the things that he writes about,” says his friend Jon Kabat-Zinn, director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and author of Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness (Hyperion, 2005.) “He is able to make these issues come alive and normalize them so they don’t seem to require people to make unusual cultural shifts that they are otherwise not ready for.”
To Goleman, meditation is simply one form of training in self-awareness. “The executives who make the best decisions,” he says, “are the ones who spend time by themselves reflecting, though that may be the time they spend riding their Harleys. Meditation helps one get into a mode of mind where the background information processing, which is the wisest part of the mind, can rise to the surface, and you get the ‘aha’ of decisions you’ve been pondering. Personally, I’ve found it enormously helpful.”
Goleman’s book in progress reflects his current fascination with something he alternately calls “compassionate capitalism” or “the new transparency.” “Right now, when we buy a consumer product, we have no idea of what the consequences of manufacture of that product are for the planet, public health, or people at large,” he says. “But that is about to change.” In the past decade, companies that pollute or employ child labor have found documentation of or commentary on these transgressions trumpeted on the Web sites of activists and nongovernmental organizations. The substance of these accusations may vary; they may be subject to interpretation; and the company may or may not, in the end, be vindicated. But the visibility of once-hidden activities and long-term health effects is certain to grow, and as people around the world grow more accustomed to this type of information, corporate response to social and health issues will move from the public relations department to the arena of core strategy.
“The market is out of sync with where medical science is heading in assessing hazards,” Goleman adds. He points, for example, to the increasing flow of data about the adverse health consequences of regular exposure to chemicals found in a host of everyday products. “When Oprah Winfrey and 60 Minutes spotlight these dangers, we will see a spike in consumer alarm — successful brands will be tainted — and major market shifts will likely follow.”
Gradually, corporate leaders will come to assume that the impact of all their activities — the impact on the planet, on people, and on the economy — will be visible. “It’s not just your carbon footprint, it’s every resource you use: the extraction, the processing, the consumption of it, and what happens when it is discarded,” says Goleman. “Businesses will need to make strategic decisions based on the assumption that people will know the consequences of everything they do.”
Savvy companies will turn this development to their advantage, Goleman predicts, by using technology to boost their awareness of their own operations, with finer granularity than ever before. For example, as radio frequency identification (RFID) technology beams to manufacturing companies the location of their goods at every part of the value chain, including their customers’ homes, the “consumer insight” they gain will not just make them better marketers. It will raise ethical issues about the value of their products in society at large. And this, in turn, will require some emotional intelligence on the part of executives who want to make the transition. In the end, it may be emotional intelligence that provides businesspeople with the fortitude, transparency, and compassion they need to blend their personal ambitions with their desire to serve the world at large. We may not fully grasp the challenges facing business over the next few decades, but if Goleman is right, corporate leaders may want to build up, alongside cash and technology, their reserves of maturity and awareness.