Monday, May 03, 2010

Fear and Mindfulness

Omar Hamoui, AdMob's CEO, is featured in this week's Sunday NY Times' Corner Office Segment.

The Corner Office is a weekly segment that interviews CEOs on management techniques, lessons learned, and pearls of wisdom borne from the pressures, trials, and triumphs of CEO-dom.

Omar, in explaining his leadership philosophy and lessons learned, notes

" One was that insecurity is incredibly damaging in a corporate environment. You end up making really poor decisions, a lot of things you do are based on fear, and eventually it will fail. When people are playing defense and they’re primarily focused on their own jobs, it ultimately ends up being a sort of losing strategy....Don’t be afraid. What I mean by that is lots and lots of decisions are made by fear and they’re made by people who think they have more to lose than they actually have to lose."
To Omar, fear is a great inhibitor of potential, leads to poor decision making, and is in some sense self-fulfilling.  

When we are scared, we are overly cautious, tense, defensive, paranoid... the list goes on.  Athletes talk about "playing tight" or "hearing footsteps."  When we are afraid, we begin to doubt ourselves and the stories going on in our head, which are in no way true, become true as our inhibiting behavior and actions prevent us from reaching our goals.

"Manny being Manny" is a pejorative joke, however, it is precisely because Manny Ramirez plays without fear and a seeming indifference to the world that he is so clutch.

There have been many times at Widgetbox when I have been afraid - afraid of not knowing where we were going, how we were going to build a great business, how the board would react to this or that piece of news, how my team was doing, what our competition was doing....I have learned that fear, doubt, and worry are incredibly corrosive to one's self, the harmony of a team, and the energy force that is necessary to achieve.

I have worked very hard to realize that too often I let environmental factors impact by sense of self, mood, energy, etc. For example, think how you react when someone who you don't know smiles at you....ok, now think how you feel when a stranger frowns at you or worse yells at you.  Tiny examples of how we are literally programmed by external and environmental inputs.  Now imagine the market frowning our your product, the board dumping on your product strategy...a bad traffic jam or a delayed flight.

What mindfulness allows is the cognitive ability to intercept external inputs, to consider them, and to avoid the unconscious triggering of each input into a hard wired reaction. Frown = sense of concern. Smile = feeling friendly to someone.

I am working to build a buffer between the environmental inputs I receive all day long and how I react to them - an ability to recognize them for what they are...random inputs that should in no way dominate my reactions to events, people, meetings, etc.  Rather, by building a sense of mindfulness and awareness, the events can be processed for what they are and I can choose how to react to them, how to learn from them, and maintain an ability to project myself to the world at large rather than simply react to the world and let it dictate how I feel.

As Omar notes, fear is an inhibitor - both personally and institutionally.  Tennis players, golfers, CEOs...all share this common view that staying present is vital to success - anxiety related to past mistakes or fear about an imagined future derived from past mistakes can dominate the mind and cripple performance.

Omar's comments spoke to me and the journey I have walked in trying to be mindful, to stay present, and to not let fear and inputs program my outputs.