Power Players

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff: Why we have 'mindfulness zones' where employees put away phones, clear their minds

Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive officer of Salesforce.com Inc.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Part of running a world class technology company with a market capitalization of more than $135 billion is giving your employees the space to put their technology aside and take time to be quiet.

So says Marc Benioff, the chairman, co-CEO and founder of San Francisco-headquartered software company Salesforce.

To that end, more than half of Salesforce offices have a "mindfulness zone" on each floor, where employees set their phones aside and take a quiet moment. It's to promote clear thinking and innovation, says Benioff.

"Innovation is a core value at Salesforce. It is deeply embedded in our culture. This starts in the mindset of every person in the company — you must cultivate a beginner's mind," Benioff said in a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services (HBRAS) report commissioned by Mastercard and published Tuesday.

"A beginner's mind is the practice of looking at the world with fresh, unencumbered eyes, and avoiding inside-out or homogenous thinking that can lead to blind spots and missed opportunities. To encourage this mindset, we have 'mindfulness zones' on every floor of our office buildings where employees can put their phones into a basket and clear their minds," he says.

In Salesforce offices, there are "mindfulness zones" on every floor to give employees a chance to put away their phones and quiet the mind.
Photo courtesy Salesforce.

The "beginner's mind" is a philosophy that comes from the Zen Buddhist term, "shoshin," and refers to keeping the openness and lack of judgement about a topic even as you become more knowledgeable about it, according to integrative wellness center, The Chopra Center (co-founded by Deepak Chopra).

The idea is that by tapping into your curiosity around a situation or task, you will be more likely to see clearly as opposed to being influenced by past experiences and expectations, according to the center.

Though Benioff is an executive and worth almost $7 billion, according to Forbes, he says he continues to practice having a beginner's mind, which "informs" his management style.

"I'm trying to listen deeply, and the beginner's mind is informing me to step back, so that I can create what wants to be, not what was," the 55-year old tech executive told The New York Times in 2018. "I know that the future does not equal the past. I know that I have to be here in the moment."

Meanwhile, for Salesforce employees, keeping a beginner's mind is a way to maintain an entrepreneurial culture at work despite having more than $13 billion in annual revenue and having more than 40,000 employees, Benioff said in the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report.

An entrepreneurial culture is one of five key tenants of building an innovative business, according to the report. The other four tenants are speed, data-driven decision making, commitment to innovation from the top leaders and a relentless focus on the customer.

This is a mindfulness zone in the Salesforce office tower in London.
Source: Salesforce

Benioff is not the only tech boss to believe in the importance of keeping a beginner's mind. Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos says the best work happens when an individual has both a beginner's mind mentality and a vast library of knowledge.

"The best inventors have a high level of expertise in a particular arena, and they simultaneously maintain a beginner's mind. And that's hard to do," Bezos told Fortune in 2016. "But that's what you have to do if you want to invent and pioneer. The world is so complex and deeply rich with prior invention that it's very unlikely that as a naive beginner you're going to invent anything of use. So you have to be an expert in the state of the art and then somehow let that expertness not make you jaded."

The goal, said Bezos, is that if you invent a new thing, it can be truly revolutionary, rather than an incremental improvement on an existing product.

"That's one of the things that culturally we do really well at Amazon. We're willing to learn new skills, willing to do that big price of admission," Bezos said. "There's a lot of tuition to become an expert in something new but then while doing that, maintain a beginner's mind so that we actually end up with a differentiated offering instead of a me-too offering."

A woman meditating at the Salesforce offices in San Francisco in one of their "mindfulness zones."
Photo courtesy Salesforce

If Salesforces' mindfulness zones sound like a fancy tech company perk, there is evidence that taking time away from your phone makes you think at a higher level.

Even having your smartphone nearby affects your cognitive ability, according to a study performed by a collaboration of professors and research scientists in 2017.

"Results suggest that the mere presence of one's smartphone may reduce available cognitive capacity and impair cognitive functioning, even when consumers are successful at remaining focused on the task at hand," according to the study, "Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One's Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity," which was published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

See also:

Hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio: Meditation is 'the single most important reason' for my success

Billionaire Marc Benioff: Capitalism has 'led to horrifying inequality' and must be fixed

Bill Gates took solo 'think weeks' in a cabin in the woods—why it's a great strategy

Deepak Chopra: Guided meditation for people on the go
Deepak Chopra: Guided meditation for people on the go