Google goes spiritual
Drawing on “Emotional Intelligence” author Daniel Goleman and a recent Oprah guest, Google launches a School of Personal Growth
PAUL KAIHLA — Apple isn’t the only Silicon Valley anchor-tenant that knows how to execute a stealth launch. For Google, though, this one wasn’t about products — and it seems that the world’s largest search engine and online ad agency prefers to keep this news quiet, even post-launch. Last summer with zero fanfare, Google joined the human potential movement. The vehicle: Google University, which is in a building one street down from the main Googleplex in Mountain View.
One of the institution’s four departments: The School of Personal Growth.
Inspired by the work of psychologists like Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) and figures who have taught at California’s fabled spiritual retreat, Esalen Institute, the existence of the new school leaked out during a conference at the end of 2008 at San Francisco’s Westin Hotel (Soul’s Code was a sponsor).
“Google has always had a global vision, and wants to change the world from the inside out,” says Monika Broecker, a leadership coach and therapist from Germany who was an architect of the program. “You need to have inner peace to make peace in the world.”
Broecker, who left Google to start her own Center for Personal Growth, doesn’t speak for the company — nor has Google ever issued a press release about the startling new program. But one of its founding fathers, an early Google engineer and practicing Buddhist, Chade-Meng Tan (left, with Barack Obama), appeared in a panel discussion at the conference, which was a gathering of psychologists, neuroscientists and Buddhists associated with the Dalai Lama under the banner, Happiness & Its Causes.
Tan suggested that Google’s School of Personal Growth is a futuristic model for every workplace. “Google wants to help Googlers grow as human beings on all levels,” Tan said in his presentation. “Emotional, mental, physical and ‘beyond the self’.”
(This) is why Google University instituted the School of Personal Growth, perhaps the first of its kind in a large corporation. We don’t just pamper Googlers, we want to help them fulfill their full human potential.
But Google did not permit Tan, whom the New York Times once nicknamed the firm’s “in-house Zelig”, to give interviews about the stealth spiritual school at the conference — and you have to be a Google employee to access its curriculum through the corporate intranet.
The school’s courses fall into four baskets: mental development; emotional development; holistic health and well-being; and a Buddhist notion, ‘beyond the self’. So far, Googlers have taken classes with titles like “The Neuroscience of Empathy” and “Search Inside Yourself.” The latter includes an introductory lecture by Stanford neuroscientist, Philippe Goldin, and counts Zoketsu Norman Fischer as an instructor. A poet and Zen priest, Fischer taught at San Francisco’s Zen Center for several years and has led Googlers in a full-day mindfulness meditation retreat. He recently appeared on Oprah.
Engineers can only make up 50 percent of any class; they are cross-fertilized with a mix of marketers, managers and employees from sales. The company’s strategy here is to boost the brainstorming powers of Google’s best and brightest, as well as their powers of self-examination. “It’s very effective because studies have proven that if people are relaxed and open, they won’t repeat the same ideas and mistakes,” added Broecker. “They are more creative.”
Though you can’t participate in Google’s offerings unless you work there, you *can* experience it through Broecker’s start-up, which reflects the curriculum she helped set up at Google — and open to the public.
Her similarly-named, Center for Personal Growth, offers private coaching sessions, workshops and consulting services to other companies that want to mimic Google’s personal growth program. “At Google, I had a dream job,” says Broecker (above). “I built the School of Personal Growth within Google University and it’s strategy. Now I want to bring this mission to the whole world.”