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Chade-Meng Tan: Everyday compassion at Google

November 18, 2010

Google's "Jolly Good Fellow," Chade-Meng Tan, talks about how the company practices compassion in its everyday business -- and its bold side projects.

Chade-Meng Tan - Google Fellow
One of Google's earliest engineers, Chade-Meng Tan is now Google's Jolly Good Fellow -- the head of personal growth at the groundbreaking search company. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
So what does the happiest man in the world look like?
00:15
He certainly doesn't look like me.
00:20
He looks like this.
00:22
His name is Matthieu Ricard.
00:25
So how do you get to be the happiest man in the world?
00:27
Well it turns out
00:31
there is a way to measure happiness in the brain.
00:33
And you do that by measuring the relative activation
00:36
of the left prefrontal cortex in the fMRI,
00:39
versus the right prefrontal cortex.
00:42
And Matthieu's happiness measure
00:45
is off the charts.
00:47
He's by far the happiest man
00:49
ever measured by science.
00:51
Which leads us to a question:
00:55
What was he thinking when he was being measured?
00:58
Perhaps something very naughty.
01:02
(Laughter)
01:04
Actually, he was meditating
01:06
on compassion.
01:08
Matthieu's own experience
01:11
is that compassion is the happiest state ever.
01:13
Reading about Matthieu
01:17
was one of the pivotal moments of my life.
01:19
My dream
01:22
is to create the conditions
01:24
for world peace in my lifetime --
01:26
and to do that
01:28
by creating the conditions
01:30
for inner peace
01:32
and compassion
01:34
on a global scale.
01:36
And learning about Matthieu
01:38
gave me a new angle to look at my work.
01:40
Matthieu's brain scan shows
01:43
that compassion is not a chore.
01:45
Compassion is something that creates happiness.
01:47
Compassion is fun.
01:50
And that mind-blowing insight
01:54
changes the entire game.
01:56
Because if compassion was a chore,
01:59
nobody's going to do it,
02:01
except maybe the Dalai Lama or something.
02:03
But if compassion was fun,
02:06
everybody's going to do it.
02:09
Therefore,
02:11
to create the conditions for global compassion,
02:13
all we have to do
02:16
is to reframe compassion
02:19
as something that is fun.
02:21
But fun is not enough.
02:24
What if compassion
02:27
is also profitable?
02:29
What if compassion is also good for business?
02:33
Then, every boss, every manager in the world,
02:36
will want to have compassion --
02:39
like this.
02:41
That would create the conditions
02:43
for world peace.
02:45
So, I started paying attention
02:48
to what compassion looks like in a business setting.
02:51
Fortunately, I didn't have to look very far.
02:54
Because what I was looking for was right in front of my eyes --
02:57
in Google, my company.
03:00
I know there are other compassionate companies in the world,
03:03
but Google is the place I'm familiar with
03:06
because I've been there for 10 years,
03:08
so I'll use Google as the case study.
03:10
Google is a company
03:13
born of idealism.
03:15
It's a company that thrives on idealism.
03:17
And maybe because of that,
03:21
compassion is organic
03:23
and widespread company-wide.
03:25
In Google, expressions of corporate compassion
03:29
almost always follow the same pattern.
03:32
It's sort of a funny pattern.
03:34
It starts with a small group of Googlers
03:36
taking the initiative to do something.
03:39
And they don't usually ask for permission;
03:42
they just go ahead and do it,
03:44
and then other Googlers join in, and it just gets bigger and bigger.
03:46
And sometimes it gets big enough
03:49
to become official.
03:51
So in other words,
03:53
it almost always starts from the bottom up.
03:55
And let me give you some examples.
03:58
The first example is the largest annual community event --
04:00
where Googlers from around the world
04:04
donate their labor to their local communities --
04:06
was initiated and organized
04:09
by three employees
04:11
before it became official,
04:13
because it just became too big.
04:15
Another example, three Googlers --
04:17
a chef, an engineer
04:19
and, most funny, a massage therapist --
04:22
three of them, they learned about a region in India
04:25
where 200,000 people live
04:28
without a single medical facility.
04:30
So what do they do?
04:32
They just go ahead and start a fundraiser.
04:34
And they raise enough money to build this hospital --
04:37
the first hospital of its kind
04:40
for 200,000 people.
04:42
During the Haiti earthquake,
04:44
a number of engineers and product managers
04:46
spontaneously came together
04:49
and stayed overnight
04:51
to build a tool
04:53
to allow earthquake victims to find their loved ones.
04:55
And expressions of compassion
04:59
are also found in our international offices.
05:01
In China for example,
05:04
one mid-level employee
05:06
initiated the largest social action competition in China,
05:08
involving more than 1,000 schools in China,
05:13
working on issues
05:15
such as education, poverty,
05:17
health care and the environment.
05:19
There is so much organic social action
05:23
all around Google
05:25
that the company decided to form
05:27
a social responsibility team
05:29
just to support these efforts.
05:31
And this idea, again,
05:33
came from the grassroots,
05:35
from two Googlers who wrote their own job descriptions
05:37
and volunteered themselves for the job.
05:40
And I found it fascinating
05:43
that the social responsibility team
05:45
was not formed as part of some grand corporate strategy.
05:47
It was two persons saying, "Let's do this,"
05:50
and the company said, "Yes."
05:53
So it turns out
05:57
that Google is a compassionate company,
05:59
because Googlers found
06:01
compassion to be fun.
06:03
But again, fun is not enough.
06:06
There are also real business benefits.
06:10
So what are they?
06:13
The first benefit of compassion
06:15
is that it creates highly effective business leaders.
06:18
What does that mean?
06:23
There are three components of compassion.
06:25
There is the affective component,
06:27
which is, "I feel for you."
06:30
There is the cognitive component,
06:32
which is, "I understand you."
06:34
And there is a motivational component,
06:36
which is, "I want to help you."
06:38
So what has this got to do with business leadership?
06:42
According to a very comprehensive study
06:46
led by Jim Collins,
06:48
and documented in the book "Good to Great,"
06:50
it takes a very special kind of leader
06:53
to bring a company
06:56
from goodness to greatness.
06:58
And he calls them "Level 5 leaders."
07:01
These are leaders
07:04
who, in addition to being highly capable,
07:06
possess two important qualities,
07:09
and they are
07:12
humility and ambition.
07:14
These are leaders
07:17
who are highly ambitious for the greater good.
07:19
And because they're ambitious for a greater good,
07:22
they feel no need to inflate their own egos.
07:24
And they, according to the research,
07:27
make the best business leaders.
07:29
And if you look at these qualities
07:33
in the context of compassion,
07:35
we find
07:37
that the cognitive and affective components of compassion --
07:39
understanding people and empathizing with people --
07:43
inhibits, tones down,
07:47
what I call the excessive self-obsession that's in us,
07:50
therefore creating the conditions
07:54
for humility.
07:56
The motivational component of compassion
07:59
creates ambition for greater good.
08:02
In other words,
08:05
compassion is the way to grow Level 5 leaders.
08:07
And this is the first compelling business benefit.
08:11
The second compelling benefit of compassion
08:15
is that it creates an inspiring workforce.
08:18
Employees mutually inspire each other
08:22
towards greater good.
08:25
It creates a vibrant, energetic community
08:27
where people admire and respect each other.
08:29
I mean, you come to work in the morning,
08:32
and you work with three guys
08:34
who just up and decide to build a hospital in India.
08:36
It's like how can you not be inspired by those people --
08:40
your own coworkers?
08:43
So this mutual inspiration
08:46
promotes collaboration,
08:48
initiative and creativity.
08:50
It makes us a highly effective company.
08:52
So, having said all that,
08:56
what is the secret formula
08:58
for brewing compassion
09:00
in the corporate setting?
09:03
In our experience,
09:05
there are three ingredients.
09:07
The first ingredient
09:09
is to create a culture
09:11
of passionate concern
09:14
for the greater good.
09:16
So always think:
09:18
how is your company and your job
09:20
serving the greater good?
09:23
Or, how can you further serve
09:25
the greater good?
09:27
This awareness of serving the greater good
09:29
is very self-inspiring
09:32
and it creates fertile ground
09:34
for compassion to grow in.
09:36
That's one.
09:38
The second ingredient
09:40
is autonomy.
09:42
So in Google, there's a lot of autonomy.
09:44
And one of our most popular managers jokes that,
09:47
this is what he says,
09:49
"Google is a place
09:51
where the inmates run the asylum."
09:53
And he considers himself one of the inmates.
09:56
If you already have
09:59
a culture of compassion
10:01
and idealism
10:03
and you let your people roam free,
10:05
they will do the right thing
10:07
in the most compassionate way.
10:09
The third ingredient
10:12
is to focus on inner development
10:14
and personal growth.
10:17
Leadership training in Google, for example,
10:19
places a lot of emphasis on the inner qualities,
10:22
such as self-awareness, self-mastery,
10:25
empathy and compassion,
10:28
because we believe
10:31
that leadership begins
10:33
with character.
10:35
We even created a seven-week curriculum
10:38
on emotion intelligence,
10:40
which we jokingly call "Searching Inside Yourself."
10:42
It's less naughty than it sounds.
10:46
So I'm an engineer by training,
10:50
but I'm one of the creators and instructors of this course,
10:52
which I find kind of funny,
10:56
because this is a company that trusts an engineer
10:58
to teach emotion intelligence.
11:00
What a company.
11:02
(Laughter)
11:04
So "Search Inside Yourself" -- how does it work?
11:06
It works in three steps.
11:09
The first step
11:11
is attention training.
11:13
Attention is the basis
11:15
of all higher cognitive and emotional abilities.
11:18
Therefore, any curriculum
11:24
for training emotion intelligence
11:26
has to begin with attention training.
11:28
The idea here is to train attention
11:32
to create a quality of mind
11:35
that is calm and clear
11:37
at the same time.
11:39
And this creates the foundation
11:42
for emotion intelligence.
11:44
The second step follows the first step.
11:47
The second step is developing self-knowledge
11:50
and self-mastery.
11:53
So using the supercharged attention from step one,
11:55
we create a high-resolution perception
11:59
into the cognitive and emotive processes.
12:02
What does that mean?
12:05
It means being able to observe our thought stream
12:07
and the process of emotion
12:11
with high clarity,
12:13
objectivity
12:15
and from a third-person perspective.
12:17
And once you can do that,
12:20
you create the kind of self-knowledge
12:22
that enables self-mastery.
12:24
The third step, following the second step,
12:28
is to create new mental habits.
12:31
What does that mean? Imagine this.
12:33
Imagine whenever you meet any other person,
12:36
any time you meet a person,
12:39
your habitual, instinctive first thought
12:41
is, "I want you to be happy.
12:44
I want you to be happy."
12:46
Imagine you can do that.
12:48
Having this habit, this mental habit,
12:50
changes everything at work.
12:52
Because this good will
12:55
is unconsciously picked up by other people,
12:57
and it creates trust,
13:00
and trust creates a lot of good working relationships.
13:03
And this also creates the conditions
13:07
for compassion in the workplace.
13:09
Someday, we hope to open-source
13:12
"Search Inside Yourself"
13:15
so that everybody in the corporate world
13:17
will at least be able to use it as a reference.
13:20
And in closing,
13:24
I want to end the same place I started,
13:26
with happiness.
13:28
I want to quote this guy -- the guy in robes, not the other guy --
13:30
the Dalai Lama,
13:34
who said, "If you want others to be happy,
13:36
practice compassion.
13:38
If you want to be happy,
13:40
practice compassion."
13:42
I found this to be true,
13:44
both on the individual level
13:46
and at a corporate level.
13:48
And I hope that compassion
13:50
will be both fun and profitable for you too.
13:52
Thank you.
13:54
(Applause)
13:56

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Chade-Meng Tan - Google Fellow
One of Google's earliest engineers, Chade-Meng Tan is now Google's Jolly Good Fellow -- the head of personal growth at the groundbreaking search company.

Why you should listen

Chade-Meng Tan was one of Google's earliest engineers. Among many other things, Meng helped build Google's first mobile search service, and headed the team that kept a vigilant eye on Google's search quality. After an eight-year stint in Engineering, he now serves with GoogleEDU as the Head of Personal Growth. One of his main projects is Search Inside Yourself -- a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence course, which he hopes will eventually contribute to world peace in a meaningful way. His 2012 book is also called Search Inside Yourself -- and Dan Pink is a fan.

Outside of Google, Meng is the Founder and (Jolly Good) President of the Tan Teo Charitable Foundation, a small foundation dedicated to promoting peace, liberty and enlightenment in the world. He is a founding patron of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).  He is also a founding patron of the World Peace Festival, and adviser to a number of technology startups.

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