nice guys finish first
April 29, 2012 5:31 PM   Subscribe

Chade-Meng tan. The single link to the you tube. The single link to the New York Times. The single link to the Amazon dot com. The single link to Meng (this is what they call him in the video) at blogger.

Meng has a just-published book on his adaptation of Buddhist meditation and mindfulness to high-tech employees fighting off burnout. The forewards to his book are by Daniel Goleman (the Emotional IQ guy) and Jon Kabat-Zinn (the full catastrophe Buddhism guy.) They report his current job title at google (where he was employee number 107 back in 2000) is jolly good fellow.
posted by bukvich (15 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My little bit of Meng trivia: he's a sort of unofficial (or maybe official?) ambassador for Google when big name folks visit, and he always gets a great big smiling photo taken with them, which goes up on a big wall labeled "All The Presidents Meng".

There are actually two sections; one for presidents and other such heads of state, and one for general celebrities. Here are a bunch of examples:

Anyway, when I finally got a chance to meet him, he was kind enough to let me get a photo just like that taken with him. As an intern, I didn't feel the need to sign up for his course, but I often stumbled across bits of his writing or institutions he helped put in place, and, from everything I can tell, he really is an absolutely Jolly Good Fellow of the best kind.

(Oh, and yes, since the post sounds a bit apologetic about calling him just "Meng" -- that is indeed what he goes by; nothing weird going on there)
posted by felixc at 7:22 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Balanced against Google's apparent decline over the past few years, all I can muster is, "ugh."

This kind of culture-puffery is what, soft PR? Sales engineering, a la Blaise Pabon, is a position for the most personable of technologists, speaking here for everybody on the nerdy side of the fence. We also read about another happy customer of the class, the frickin' Director of Executive Development, not typically a position for Aspies and other less-adjusted people. I really have to ask myself who the NYTimes article is aimed at, low self-esteem middle managers?

Then we get Mr. Meng tan, someone with an interest in maximizing the effects of the process that he is now providing to Google employees for, I'm betting, not-cheap. By "maximizing the effects" I'm talking about his story of how unhappy his childhood was, which is irrelevant woo-woo. Note that he doesn't say he was unhappy while he was winning competitions and stuff, just that they didn't make him "any happier." Well la de da, I'm guessing his millions in 2004 did. At the end of the day, I read the description of the class as the same kind of team-building trust games we've all seen before. But he's "an engineer." Ugh. I'm trying really hard not to trot out the "born on third base, think's he hit a triple." line.

Well, thanks for inspiring me to vent and release my stress in a focussed way, Mr. Meng tan.
posted by rhizome at 7:29 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's not possible for you to be more wrong rhizome.
posted by GuyZero at 7:46 PM on April 29, 2012

I worked at Google with Meng. I'm as cynical about Google and Google PR as anyone now (and it was a long time coming). But Meng is the real deal. He's genuinely a nice man who tries to make the world a happier place. He has a great, goofy, genuine smile. And while I'm sure the Google corporate minions are deleted that a feel-good bunch of journalism like this comes out about their employee, I think the book and the sentiment came from Meng himself and was there long before he worked at the big G.
posted by Nelson at 7:54 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, I see a lot of similar characters in my alumni magazine, and it just doesn't evoke the same response anymore.

I guess I should be glad that he's making the lives of extremely handsomely paid and highly respected engineers just a little bit better.
posted by Nomyte at 7:58 PM on April 29, 2012

It's not possible for you to be more wrong rhizome.

Actually, it is, once we start getting into the realm of facts. However, since it's my opinion and interpretation, I'm not sure where "wrong" comes into it.

I don't doubt that he's an insanely nice guy and that there are people deriving genuine benefit from his presence and classes, but I don't think it's groundbreaking at all. This story is certainly occupies a curious position in Google's transformation into an old-guard company, though. If I were being cynical it sounds like Google is looking for their visionary heart, such as it is. A para-Jobs, a Bing Gordon, or simply someone more humanizing that Sergey, Marissa and/or whatshisface.
posted by rhizome at 8:57 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you for this, bukvich. This is a very welcome post and great news because I deeply believe we very much need effective, practical ways to help people learn to develop emotional intelligence. I really liked the talks and I just bought the book.

I am excited about this and predict that it is going to be helpful to me very soon in the conversations I frequently have with several young friends in my role as a sort of honorary grandmother to them. I often find myself trying to describe what needs to happen in our thinking to bring us to clarity and to overcome bad emotional habits that bring us misery and too often failing to find the right words.

I do not care very much about the fact that he works or teaches classes at Google. I care that the information is good and useful and accessible to all of us. With the Buddhist monk in the audience at the longer talk, I ask also, how can we bring these benefits to those in the world who do not have the resources represented by the audience at Google and, for me, the answer is, without knowing the answer, we must still make a start where we are.
posted by Anitanola at 9:23 PM on April 29, 2012

The funny thing is that I'm going through the YouTube and so far, it sounds a lot like the mindset and techniques that I've been reading about in this book, which is as engineering-friendly a treatise as I've been able to find on meditation (and not necessarily depression-related). I'll see how the rest turns out, but it's always helpful to see similar concepts explained from different angles, and for that I can appreciate this.
posted by rhizome at 9:44 PM on April 29, 2012

rhizome: "it sounds a lot like the mindset and techniques that I've been reading about in this book"

You're right, of course, you can find the same mindset and techniques in probably hundreds or thousands of writings about meditation and Buddhist concepts. His analysis is interesting and the simplification it makes possible is helpful, I believe. Also, the bits of science thrown in make it very smart and far less woo-woo for people who object to robes and mantras or whatever. You can also find the mindfulness, compassion and happiness links and a lot more in the Dalai Lama's writings. I've found a number of books I'd like to read because of this thread--your link among them. Thank you.
posted by Anitanola at 10:13 PM on April 29, 2012

Well, in the sense of being wrong vs simply having a different opinion:

At the end of the day, I read the description of the class as the same kind of team-building trust games we've all seen before.

No. It's the kind of thinking we've been getting from Alan Watts or Jon Kabat-Zinn. And, at the risk of being arrogant, I doubt either of them feels particularly ripped off.
posted by GuyZero at 10:23 PM on April 29, 2012

It's not possible for you to be more wrong rhizome.

Did he say Meng lived on the moon? Or perhaps Uranus? Regardless of how wrong you think he is, it seems like statements could have been made that would have been wronger.
posted by delmoi at 6:24 AM on April 30, 2012

Well, as someone who is on the "nerdy side of the fence" (as rhizome says) here, I'm taking this class starting next week. So I can't speak for it yet, but given what I've read about it internally and other people who have taken it, I think it will be worth my 19 hours.

If I were being cynical it sounds like Google is looking for their visionary heart, such as it is

I don't think this is accurate, he doesn't occupy anything like the kind of position Jobs or Gordon does. More specialized role than that, if anything. For good or ill, Larry Page is the mind and heart of Google now, he "owns" it in a way that Schmidt didn't seem to (where it had that triumvirate feel).
posted by wildcrdj at 11:14 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I actually just finished this course (and I think you can see a very blurry me in one of the slideshow photos from NYT). I'm a new software engineer at Google and an intermittent practitioner of mindfulness meditation for the last 7 years. For me, the course just reemphasized much of what I'd heard at Dharma talks and in reading about how to conduct business humanely. Other people seemed to get more out of the class than I did - I think the approach of emphasizing the scientifically demonstrable affects of mindfulness practice makes a lot more tech-types pay attention than the PR-types some of you are so cynical about.

Mindfulness in Plain English was a much more practical guide to actually doing the practice, though.
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 10:10 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

If anybody watched the video to the end and can recapitulate Meng's answer to the monk's question I would appreciate it. Specifically he referred to some Buddhist doctrine, using the Sanskrit terminology I believe, which I do know what he said. It was in reference to getting the message across to the dictators and the bankers who aren't interested, and Meng said it can be shown that massive well-being and utopia means more profits for them. This did not make much sense to me.

The New York Times story describes Meng as tall. WTF? The whole story seemed pretty ridiculous and implied that 80 hour work weeks at google were normal which I find unbelievable.

I have a mind-block against getting enlightened in a seven week class. The rule-of-thumb is 10 000 hours and he supposedly did this as a 20% project. At eight hours a week that is 24 years. I have been to very close to every variety of these seminars (not all of them--I draw a line on this side of Scientology, primal scream, and re-birthing) and consider it far fetched that you can dramatically improve your life in a short interval of time unless you are bouncing up after hitting bottom. A messed up life can be easily repaired some times but a life that is already going pretty well is tough to level up on. Still if somebody thinks a class like this changed their life I don't want to throw stones at them; just want to caution anybody going into something like this with high expectations.
posted by bukvich at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2012

I have a mind-block against getting enlightened in a seven week class.

I think/assume the idea is more to give you tools to work with, not to produce a result per se. That seems like a more reasonable goal, this is something you practice over time not just start and stop at the beginning and end of the course.

mplied that 80 hour work weeks at google were normal

Depends on the group, of course. As a whole? No, I'd say thats not normal. Some groups are known for prolonged death-marches like any other big company. The "normal" week is probably more in the 50-60 range for engineers.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:07 PM on May 1, 2012

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