Wanting It…Without Really Wanting It

Zen loves contradictions. Throughout Zen Buddhist writings, some of the best philosophers seem to revel in mind-twisting, illogical statements. These are meant to shake practitioners out of our default settings of logical thinking.

So, too, there is seemingly a contradiction between Zen and the pursuit of success in sales and modern business. And, while I’m no Dogen, here’s what I think…

It is possible to accomplish and achieve while being grounded in the here and now.

There is a great quote from Sunryu Suzuki who I’ve written about before that says,

“If you can walk slowly, without any idea of gain, then you are already a good Zen student.”

It exemplifies Suzuki Roshi’s easygoing and approachable style. It’s also hard to balance with a career that’s based on goals, objectives – not to mention one that is incredibly fast-paced.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers (or any of them, more likely) but I do my best to carry zen practice with me at all times. And, my approach to sales and my work has always been to focus on the moments and not dwell on the outcomes.

Of course I need to be goal-oriented (as any sales or business professional must) – but I believe that there is a way to do what needs to be done “without any idea of gain”. In other words, there’s no need to obsess about what you want to happen or what you hope will happen…do the work and the results will take care of themselves.



The Importance of Tribes


I’m honored to be speaking at the 140 Character Conference in Los Angles in a few weeks. I’ll be talking about “Zen Selling” and the idea that elements of zen practice can improve your professional life, specifically a life in sales and marketing. I’m sure I’ll have more to share after the event.

It got me thinking about the concept of ‘tribes’. Jeff Pulver has done an amazing job building tribes all over the world with his 140 Character Conferences. I’ve been to a few before and they’re a great gathering of diverse people who share a common interest in learning and connecting.

In Buddhism there is the concept of sangha. It refers to a community of practitioners and is from the “Three Treasures”:

Buddha (the teacher)

Dharma (the teachings)

Sangha (the community)

All three are equally important to one’s practice and to following the path of The Buddha. The people you surround yourself with should lift you up, support your journey and provide guidance just as much as the teacher and the learnings.

We all know how important it is to surround ourselves with the right people. And, you can find these people – hopefully at work, probably with your family and friends and even through groups like 140 Character and other organizations.

To paraphrase a credit card commercial, “Who’s in YOUR sangha?”

Plan Ahead In the Moment



Zen people constantly talk about being in the moment. It’s kind of our thing. I’ve even talked about it before.

Being in the moment is really important – it’s all you actually have and is the key to happiness, enlightenment and all that good stuff. BUT, preparation and planning is a must if you want to be successful in sales.

So, how can you be in the moment when you’re thinking about how your meeting should go, anticipating objections and preparing your answers? It’s easier than you think…

The key is to constantly ask yourself, “Is This Useful?”. Is what you’re thinking about and focusing on productive? Or, are the thoughts running through your mind mere worry, anxiety, hope or fantasy?

All of us are guilty of daydreaming, thinking about the past or worrying about the future. And, in sales we’re often anticipating what a client or prospect might say and imagining how a meeting will go. When this is being done to prepare, it’s a very useful exercise. Just be mindful of your thoughts and feelings – if those turn to worry or fantasy, you should drop them and just focus on the present moment.

The present moment might need to involve thinking about the future and that’s ok.

Here’s a quick test to determine if you’re actually in the moment:

  • Ask yourself, “Is This Useful?”
  • Pay attention to your thoughts and any feelings or emotions they bring up. If the pit in your stomach is worry about how a meeting might go, change your approach. Do something productive (research, presentation development, etc.) that can make your upcoming meeting better
  • Be honest with yourself…are you being productive or just active? (Another way to put this is, “Are you doing what you should be doing and not just what you could be doing.”)
  • Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. All of those thoughts are just that – thoughts – and don’t have an impact on what’s really happening

Prepare, research and plan like a champ…but do so by being here now.

Change Happens


“The settling of the country, the machine age, the coming of the automobile, telephone, movies, radio, the advances in fine arts and all the sciences, demanded that our capacity to accept and use new ideas be developed to a point never before seen on the pages of history”.

Those words were written in 1930 by advertising pioneer, Albert Lasker, describing they changes he’d seen in his world and how it affected his profession. If you’re in the advertising business, his life story, “The Man Who Sold America” is a great read about a true innovator who built himself up from nothing and revolutionized marketing.

The quote is ironic given the rate of change since Mr. Lasker’s time but resonates just as strongly today. We can only imagine what he and his contemporaries were thinking as the world changed around them – but I’m sure it’s no different than our own experience.  Now more than ever one must be constantly open to change as technology advances, norms shift and expectations only increase.

Fortunately, The Buddha was well aware of this 2,500 years ago. He put forth the idea of impermanence – that nothing ever lasts. His message was to not cling too tightly to anything in order to eliminate suffering. At its core, this makes sense – nothing lasts forever (even cold November Rain…sorry, couldn’t resist)!. Impermanence also applies to the things you think about yourself and the things you desire. That promotion, a new car, new jacket  or the latest smartphone will not make you happy since they won’t last.

I try everyday to accept things just as they are – knowing that things will change. In some ways it’s easy – I’m in a business that requires constant adaption and innovation. However, like anyone there are things I want to cling to.

Adopting this mindset – of accepting impermanence – can help you focus on what’s important – your biggest client won’t always be there, your company’s product offering will pivot, your boss or favorite colleague will leave.

How we handle change is what’s most important. And, it starts be recognizing the reality that things will always change.