If Buddha Was CEO: The Four Immeasurables in Business

The ring is my wedding band.

Simple sterling silver with four words etched around the outside in the oldest known language, Sanskrit.

What are the words? The four immeasurables from Buddhism—Loving-kindness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy and Equanimity.

I think about them a lot, each serves as a constant reminder of how I strive to live in the world. It would be nice if I didn’t need to be reminded. But, like you, I’m human. I have nice days, and not so nice ones.

And that’s the point. The immeasurables are intended to be the focal ideas of meditation within the larger context of life, touchstones to bring you back to an understanding both of what matters and how truly interconnected we all are.

BuddhaNet offers:

…life is interdependent. In order to be happy, one needs to cultivate wholesome attitudes towards others in society and towards all sentient beings.

The best way of cultivating wholesome attitudes towards all sentient beings is through meditation. Among the many topics of meditation taught by the Buddha, there are four specifically concerned with the cultivation of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. These four are called the Four Immeasurables because they are directed to an immeasurable number of sentient beings, and because the wholesome karma produced through practising them is immeasurable. The four are also called the sublime states of mind because they are like the extraordinary states of mind of the gods.

By cultivating the wholesome attitudes of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity, people can gradually remove ill will, cruelty, jealousy and desire. In this way, they can achieve happiness for themselves and others, now and in the future. The benefit in the future may come through rebirth in the fortunate realms.

I’ve also spent a lot of time exploring what might happen if you leaned on these principles not just as touchstones for a fulfilling life, but as guiding tenets in business.

What might happen if you built the culture of an entire business around the four immeasurables?

1. Loving-kindness

In the context of life, this is often interpreted as the wish that all others experience joy and happiness. This usually starts with a focus on those you know or have some connection to, then extends to a meditation for joy and fulfillment for everyone. Sounds lovely, but c’mon…really?

Isn’t this a bit too woowoo for serious business?

Yes, it’s very woowoo. Doesn’t mean it also won’t make for an insanely effective and transformational business-building experience. So, how might you bring this to business?

Maybe you’re a benevolent mogul, a bootstrap entrepreneur, a surf lifestyle artist or, hey, even a social media consultant. In each of these scenarios, traditional business teaching would have you in opposition to your competitors and even at times your clients and prospects. Selling someone would be about getting the best possible deal for you. Winning in business is about dominating. And success is about winning under that definition as often as possible.

That approach may well give you much perceived power, toys and wealth, but to what end?

Will it make you happy? Will it make you feel good about who you are, what you bring to the world and what you’ll leave behind? Will it allow you to genuinely walk through life in a state of contentment?

And, will it build the culture and good will that will drive the world to rally around your business success?

What if you did it differently, leading not with the quest to dominate and take, but to raise as many ships as possible? Even ones you don’t even know exist yet?

Artisanal firebowl sculptor, John Unger, calls this the Zillion Sum Game. What if you worked with equal fervor to bring the experience of maximum joy to everyone you came in contact with? Not by taking, but by helping and giving?

What if your core metric wasn’t earnings, but elevation?

How much more do you think others would begin to rally to support you, your business, your quest in a way that might never happen if it were driven solely by “take-based” metrics? What would the secondary effect on earnings be?

And even if there wasn’t direct, measurable reciprocation, how much more fun would it be to spend your days brainstorming cool, new ways to inspire more joy and more happiness in more people?

2. Compassion

The Dalai Lama was once asked if he feared anything and his answer was that he feared losing the ability to have compassion for the Chinese. If you know the history between the countries, that’s a pretty mind-blowing statement.

But, it’s at the root of your ability to understand then serve the driving needs of others, especially those perceived to be “in opposition” to you. And to do so in a way that not only far better meets what they really need out of an interaction, but structures that interaction in a way that makes both parties feel like they’ve won.

Before you begin any conversation, sale, negotiation or transaction, step back and, to the extent you can, try to place yourself in the role of your counterpart. Create a detailed avatar of them, their lives, struggles, history, desires, pains and elations, personal pressures within the organization.

Then close your eyes and visualize yourself as them. Take yourself through a day. How do you experience their fears, desires, aspirations? Are you even capable of feeling, seeing or hearing them? If so, how does it feel? How does the sensation fuel you?

The more capable you are of feeling these things, of understanding then cultivating a sense of compassion for those the business world view as your opponents, the better a position you’ll be in to cut past all the B.S. and have a real conversation about how to create something together that not only gives you both what you need, but creates enough new value to uplift those who weren’t even in the room.

[MMA Alert – This approach might not work so well if you’re a cage-fighter]

3. Appreciative Joy

Appreciate Joy has this wonderful tie-in with a Yiddish word—naches—which, like most Yiddish words has no really good translation, but it’s the feeling you get when you see good things happen to someone for whom your wish for success is so pure, you feel their success as your own. There is no jealousy or contempt, no sense of you being on the losing end of a zero-sum game. You genuinely feel like their win is yours.

I felt this when my friend Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and when my buddy, Chris Guillebeau’s book exploded onto amazon. And of course I feel it every time my daughter or any other member of my close family succeeds at anything meaningful.

In business, the quest is to cultivate enough of the first two immeasurables to be able to experience that sense of appreciate joy or naches when those around you succeed. Even when they accomplish what you’ve been desperately trying to accomplish without success. Because, in accepting that sense of interdependence, you come to a place where you understand their success is yours.

You replace envy with ecstasy.

That’s a tough thing to imagine, especially when you see the world around you as competition. Which is why you get to make the choice…are they really your competition, or are they just another part of you?

Are you better off wracking your brain to figure out ways to beat them, or would your potential for growth, success and elevation be greater if you spent that same energy figuring out how best to collaborate?

4. Equanimity

In the context of the four immeasurables and business, this is really about looking at everyone as being your equal, without attachment to relative position or worth. It also means inviting the possibility that every person at every position is your teacher. And that can be tough, especially for those who perceive themselves as experts, thought leaders and success-stories.

What could a janitor teach a Nobel physicist? What could a short-order cook teach a global CEO? What could a child in the playground teach a world class athlete? What value could these people be to each other?

Answer – everything, if you’re willing to open your mind the notion that everyone is not only your equal, but your teacher.

Leveling your sense of status and attachment or non-attachment across all people is a brutally hard concept for most (me included). And it’s not about the need to be or feel superior as it is about the fact that our brains are biologically wired to experience elevations in status and “the right” relationships as deeply desirable. They trigger dopamine shots that make us feel better and want more.

The challenge, I believe, is to acknowledge and work with our history and biology to cultivate the sense of one-ness through the above three states that allows that same biochemical/spiritual sense of uplift to be triggered not only via increases in relative status and connectedness, but also by increases in the status and connectedness of others relative not to us, but to themselves. Starting with those you know, then extending to those you’ve never even met.

So, what do you think?

Is this just some ridiculous Utopian fantasy or a viable approach to next-generation business?

What might happen if you started with just one of these, gave it a try for a month?


You Might Also Enjoy

The 5 Saboteurs of an Entrepreneur

Read More