Mindfulness and Innovation

Here, Barry Boyce talks to Zynga co-founder Eric Shiermeyer, following the 2011 Wisdom 2.0 conference.

For some people, interactive gaming truly matters. FarmVille, for example, matters to a lot of people. With some sixty million users, the farm and economy simulation game—which promotes interactions with other “farmers” through social networking—is Facebook’s most popular application, and is also widely used on the iPhone. But Eric Schiermeyer, one of the founders of Zynga, which developed FarmVille and other popular games, told the audience at Wisdom 2.0 in February 2011, “I realized this morning that for all this time I’ve been involved in this world, I don’t really love technology. I love people.”

The comment drew loud laughter, but Chris Sacca, one of the earliest investors in Twitter, immediately countered that the newer forms of technology “have brought the human back in”—for example, disillusioned Egyptians tweeted their grievances to the world in unison, unmediated. The exchange epitomized the dual nature of the Wisdom 2.0 phenomenon. The lords and leaders of high tech aren’t about to dismiss new technology as the beginning of the end of humankind—not only because they don’t want to work against their own economic interests, but because they believe in the innovative, interactive world fostered by new technologies. They believe that it connects people and that people are getting the technologies they are asking for. Yet they also know that technology can be distracting, not only from where we are in any given moment but from where we ought to be going.

When I tracked down Schiermeyer later, he made clear that in saying he didn’t love technology he was pointing out that any technology is only as good as what people do with it and what kind of world they make with it. “Technologies are tools, and you can use them to do great things or not,” Schiermeyer said. “We expect a plumber to provide us with good pipes, but we don’t hold him responsible for what goes through the pipeline.” He thinks the most successful and innovative tech companies are those that use “their own version of mindfulness” to listen carefully to what people want and supply it to them. “What Steve Jobs and Apple have done,” he said, “is hone and refine a product development process that is so insightful and so carefully constructed that they’ve discovered what it is that human beings really want when it comes to devices.”

Schiermeyer acknowledges the importance of mindfulness, but takes it a step further. “I would like to see a shift in our culture, so that I would find being part of it more enjoyable on a daily basis. I see the cultivation of wisdom practices as something that could very much help bring out the kinds of shifts I think we need. If you look around, there’s so much going on in everyday American life that’s pathological, unnecessarily stressful, or just plain illogical.” In the end, he believes mindfulness includes being innovative at every possible level, not just with our high-tech tools, but in how we construct the world we live in.

Interested in more? Read The Digital World Connects.

Also see Mindful.org’s news coverage of the upcoming 2012 Wisdom 2.0 conference, which will take place on February 23-26: Wisdom 2.0 plans underway.

Photo of Eric Shiermeyer © Flickr.com/Mari Smith