O.K., Google, Take a Deep Breath
Peter DaSilva for The New York Times
By CAITLIN KELLY
Published: April 28, 2012
Mountain View, Calif.
MAYBE it’s no surprise that a yellow-brick road winds through the Googleplex.
Step onto Google’s campus here — with its indoor treehouse, volleyball court, apiaries, heated toilet seats and, yes, Oz-style road — and you might think you’ve just sailed over the rainbow.
But all the toys and perks belie the frenetic pace here, and many employees acknowledge that life at Google can be hard on fragile egos.
Sure, the amenities are seductive, says Blaise Pabon, an enterprise sales engineer, but “when you get to a place like this, it can tear you apart” if you don’t find a way to handle the hard-driving culture.
Employees coming from fast-paced fields, already accustomed to demanding bosses and long hours, say Google pushes them to produce at a pace even faster than they could have imagined. Google’s co-founder and chief executive, Larry Page, recently promised on the company Web site to maintain “a healthy disregard for the impossible.”
Little wonder, then, that among the hundreds of free classes that Google offers to employees here, one of the most popular is called S.I.Y., for “Search Inside Yourself.” It is the brainchild of Chade-Meng Tan, 41, a tall, thin, soft-spoken engineer who arrived at Google in 2000 as Employee No. 107.
Think of S.I.Y. as the Zen of Google. Mr. Tan dreamed up the course and refined it with the help of nine experts in the use of mindfulness at work. And in a time when Google has come under new scrutiny from European and United States regulators over privacy and other issues, a class in mindfulness might be a very good thing.
The class has three steps: attention training, self-knowledge and self-mastery, and the creation of useful mental habits.
If it sounds a bit touchy-feely, consider this: More than 1,000 Google employees have taken the class, and there’s a waiting list of 30 when it’s offered, four times a year. The class accepts 60 people and runs seven weeks.
Richard Fernandez, director of executive development and a psychologist by training, says he sees a significant difference in his work behavior since taking the class. “I’m definitely much more resilient as a leader,” he says. “I listen more carefully and with less reactivity in high-stakes meetings. I work with a lot of senior executives who can be very demanding, but that doesn’t faze me anymore. It’s almost an emotional and mental bank account. I’ve now got much more of a buffer there.”
Mr. Tan says the course has received good reviews. “In anonymous surveys, on average, participants rated it around 4.75 out of 5,” he says. “Awareness is spread almost entirely by word-of-mouth by alumni, and that alone already created more demand than we can currently serve.”
Mr. Tan’s first book, “Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace),” is out this month, with a foreword by his friend and S.I.Y. collaborator Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence.” In addition to its United States publication by HarperOne, the book is to be published in 17 markets worldwide, from South Korea to Brazil to Slovenia.
“As technology pushes us faster, we have to adapt to new ways of doing business in this new millennium,” says Mark Tauber, senior vice president and publisher at HarperOne. “We believe that Meng’s book lays the groundwork for a new national conversation about work and what work means to us.”
But what is Mr. Tan’s ultimate goal? A Buddhist for many years, he says without irony that he wants to create world peace. “I was always very different from the other kids,” he says. “I have an I.Q. of 156. I didn’t play sports. I thought big. I thought I could achieve great things. I don’t want to sound megalomaniac, but my whole life is about doing something for the world, from as far back as I can remember.”
Born and raised in Singapore, Mr. Tan describes his childhood as “very unhappy.”