INTERVIEW with Gopi Kallayil: "Leading Yourself."

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“Could you please provide us with some details regarding your personal background?”

Gopi Kallayil:
“My personal roots go back to Chittilamchery, a small rice farming village in Kerala, India, where my grandparents were poor rice farmers. My parents came from the same region and only received a very basic education from the village school. What might be a great proof point for our open society: my three siblings and I earned combined ten college degrees, including two U.S. Ivy League MBAs.
I personally earned my Bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering from the National Institute of Technology in India. I received my Masters in Business Administration from the Indian Institute of Management and The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. I am an avid yoga practitioner, triathlete, public speaker, global traveler and Burning Man devotee.“

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“What is your concrete role at Google?”

Gopi Kallayil:
“I am the Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing at Google. If you google the title at LinkedIn you get more than 16,000 hits – the majority of them still in the US and from technology firms. I am working with Google’s sales teams to help growing brands through digital marketing. I am meeting with the CEOs and CMOs of the 1,000 most important clients from Google to discuss the question on how to better build their brands and connect with their customers even closer. By doing this I am trying to ‘demystify’ technology.
As an example: I just recently met the CEO and the CMO from a famous sports brand. They aim to become the #1 for runners. Hence we discussed how the brand could target specifically and meaningful runners around the globe. We also touched the growing relevance of YouTube which is the #2 search engine worldwide. This is also mirroring a behavior change; i.e. people around the world are now looking for answers in video material instead of texts only. Here customers act as ‘brand directors’; i.e. the digital technology has changed the way how brands are build.”

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“Was there a very personal trigger which brought you in the area of Yoga, meditation & the theme of ‘mindfulness’?”

Gopi Kallayil:
“As mentioned: My roots go back to Kerala in the South of India, where I came very early and very naturally in touch with Eastern world’s wisdoms like Yoga & Meditation.”

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“Is it true that you are ‘the one’ who brought Yoga to Google?”

Gopi Kallayil:
“Indeed, I personally founded the ‘Yoglers’. Since many, many years I am holding every Monday at 5:30 a.m. my yoga class at Google and have never missed this personal appointment apart from the times I am traveling. Then I am making sure that there is a deputy for me. To date, Google is offering the highest number of Yoga classes worldwide.”

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“In your three dozen essays in your book “The Internet to the Inner-net: Five Ways to Reset Your Connection and Live a Conscious Life, you are sharing your experiments in conscious living and offering insight, inspiration, and rituals — such as yoga, mindful eating, and even napping — to help your readers access and transform their own inner worlds. Could you please describe the top three key hypothesis of your book?”

Gopi Kallayil:
"1. Technology dominates our world and is changing literally every industry. The sense of disruption is everywhere to be found. BUT apart from this fundamental change the individual body is still the most complex system. Every human being is needing it as the most central, the most fundamental tool and asset. It has to function – whatever happens in life.

2. We have to understand that every experience we make in our life is filtered. Every strategy and idea has to be processed from this unique ‘tool’; i.e. our soul and our brain. Everything is determined and defined by this quality. Hence experiencing is an essential inner technology.

3. The question is: How to put your inner-net into peak performance? My key hypothesis: There is an ‘operational manual’ – and even better: it comes for free for everybody. I for example am drawn to the Eastern world where there are dozens and dozens of forms of Yoga. Spirituality, emotional and psychological health is essential for me. But let us be clear: I don’t want to come across as dogmatic and ‘preach’ that Yoga is the only solution.

Think for example about sleep as an important aspect for a conscious life. Ariana Huffington for example has shown in her New York Times bestseller “The sleep revolution” how our cultural dismissal of sleep as time wasted compromises our health and our decision-making and undermines our work lives as well as our personal lives.

We should also think about food – which is perceived as very relevant at Google reflecting the old saying “You are what you eat!”. The corporations’ restaurants are not outsourced to third party caterers but driven by different chefs – all working with the instruction to take care of the nutritional aspects. It is organic food – everything coming from within a radius of 150 miles and marked with red/orange and red signs to reflect how healthy the food is.”

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“You mentioned several times in our interview “Everything in life is about choices!” What do you mean by this?”

Gopi Kallayil:
“Our life comprises of the choices we make every single minute of our existence. Whatever we do, it’s our choice. Which path someone selects in his career, what he will do with his spare time is nothing but the choices made either on his own accord or by someone’s influence. Hence every choice is the mission critical question in a conscious life. Only when a brain is trained to decide what is right and what is wrong, there is a chance for a life full of meaning and purpose. It is the discriminating “no” which counts and allows us to live a better life in the tiny slice of now.
Let me give you an analogy I love. It is about the bison called by the Native Americans “Faces the Storm”. The bison is the only animal that turns toward the storm. It knows instinctively that if it does it, it will be out of the storm sooner. As I have written in my book “No matter who we are or where we work, we live in uncertain, disruptive times, with all the opportunities and difficulties that implies. The only certainty is that there is no certainty. You may come face to face with a small irritant, a large problem, or even a full-scale catastrophe. When that happens, you can choose to be the bison. Turn toward the storm. Walk toward it. Walk through it.””

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“Where does the responsibility for changes lie?”

Gopi Kallayil:
There is one truth which is: Change only comes from within; i.e. the individual needs to change its inner-self. So do not expect that the company should change its corporate culture but you need to be the change yourself.
The ‘operating manuals’ on how to change towards a more meaningful life is available for free through technology; i.e. everyone can pick it up for free and start reading and using it. The web can bring all of us close to the leaders we want to follow – be it the Dalai lama on YouTube or any other business leader at TEDTalks.”

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“Wouldn’t you think that Google’s ‘Project Maven’ with the Pentagon? Isn’t it a great proof point for choices and individual responsibilities?”

Gopi Kallayil:
“There was a big controversy at Google because of the tech company’s artificial intelligence (AI) work for the Pentagon. It is part of the cultural DNA that Googlers take a personal stand. Hence there were big debates and many public meetings with the result that Google will not renew the contract with the Pentagon when a current deal expires next year. For me this is clearly a reflection on our former motto “don’t be evil” and the relevance of living individual responsibilities.”

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“You are referring to the fact that besides Google also companies like  General MillsTarget, and Nike  not only encourage but teach mindfulness. Would you know examples in EMEA or even in Germany?”

Gopi Kallayil:
“Unfortunately there seem to be not too many companies in EMEA already active here. Perhaps SAP and Siemens could fall into this category. The challenge is that companies are very slow in change and not easy in taking risks. To date every company has accepted the relevance of exercise. There is literally no office building in the US where there is no Gym integrated; i.e. a fitness room is the new norm for corporations.
But it will probably take many more years till the concept of mindfulness is fully integrated as well. Another example on how slow companies are in changing is the fact that the world’s population consists of 50%++ female; i.e. is still one of the most untapped talent pools of the world. Still there exists inequality and still women are underrepresented on the executive level.”

 Dr. Bruno Weidl:
Do you perceive differences in the acceptance of your concept in US leaders towards EMEA leaders?”

Gopi Kallayil:
Yes, in the US there seems to be more openness towards the concept of mindfulness, but there are also more and more German senior leaders who are following it. Think for example about Philipp Schindler who oversees all global and regional sales and business activities for Google and YouTube, Google’s global technical and consumer service operations, and partnership teams. He wrote the blog on Thrive Global "Google's Chief Business Officer Talks About His Wake-Up Call - 'The key is to understand that beyond a certain point, more does not equal better.The truth is, communicating and connecting has never been easier, which helps us handle schedules brimming with urgent deadlines, can’t-miss meetings, and of course, a never-ending stream of emails. But this also comes with a downside: it pulls us away at times we should be more present. My family is the most important thing in the world to me. And they got me thinking about what it means to balance it all in a high-intensity world: the demands of work and life, in our always-on age.

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“You are mentioning a productivity increase. You call it the ‘business value of mindfulness’. Is it really more than a ‘soft concept’ but something which is measurable?”

Gopi Kallayil:
“I am truly convinced that mindfulness — a practiced nonjudgmental in-the-moment awareness rooted in meditation, Buddhism and yoga — is becoming an important business tool! Organizations like the Institute for Mindful Leadership and the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute say ‘yes’, as does the contemplation-centric Garrison Institute. They all assert a business value for mindfulness training while also providing such training. And they root their trainings in traditional practices along with contemporary neuroscience and psychology.

As an anecdote: also think about Matthieu Ricard, 70. In 2014, it created a stir when the Buddhist monk from a Tibetan monastery taught mindful meditation to the movers and shakers of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Matthieu Ricard, once a molecular geneticist and now a close associate of the Dalai Lama, was labelled ‘the world's happiest man’ when scientists at the University of Wisconsin, US, found that his brain scans showed a level of gamma waves that indicated a very large capacity for happiness, ‘never reported before in neuroscience literature’.

You also might want to read the book from the former CEO of Wholefoods “Conscious Capitalism - Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business”.

 Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“You are mentioning a change in the corporate culture of Google through your undertaking. Could you please elaborate on this?”

Gopi Kallayil:
Let me tell you something about Google’s Project Aristotle - a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ (as the Google researchers believed employees can do more working together than alone). We wanted to find an answer to the question: “What makes a team effective at Google?”

We found that what really mattered was less about who is on the team, but more about how the team worked together. In order of importance there are five dimensions:

1. Psychological safety: This refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. Teammates feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.

2. Dependability: On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time.

3. Structure and clarity: An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness.

4. Meaning: Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness.

5. Impact: The results of one’s work, the subjective judgement that your work is making a difference, is important for teams. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organization’s goals can help reveal impact.

For me personally, number 1 and 4 are the most crucial one.”

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“Despite all this relevance: Why doesn’t our education system reflect these concepts more or trains these essentials skills?”

Gopi Kallayil:
Our current educational system doesn’t reflect anything from the above mentioned. It is quite sad that the key leadership traits of today – and even more so tomorrow – are not addressed in the curricula from schools and universities. Hence people need to go out and learn it somewhere else. One of the ways doing this is reading good books; like the one from Bill George “Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value.” The former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, Bill George, has become the unofficial spokesperson for responsible leadership - in business, the media, and academia. In "Authentic Leadership" Bill George makes the case that we do need new leaders, not just new laws, to bring us out of the current corporate crisis. He persuasively demonstrates that authentic leaders of mission-driven companies will create far greater shareholder value than financially oriented companies. And there are many more books to be inspired.”

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“What is the biggest benefit for CEOs and senior leaders to follow your concept of a ‘conscious life?"

Gopi Kallayil:
For me it is the key understanding to always focus on the essential. Let me mention Susan Wojcicki as an example. In September 1998, the same month that Google was incorporated, its founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin set up office in Wojcicki's garage in Menlo Park. She became employee N°16 as Google's first marketing manager in 1999. Today she is the CEO of YouTube. When I entered her office once I saw a little yellow post-it note on her PC. This very basic post-it held her top three business priorities that will ensure radical progress forward. Her ‘three big rocks’ method is grounding her and giving her the needed level of simplicity in a very complex world.
Sometimes a ‘conscious life’ is supported by very simple tools which might have big impact.”

Dr. Bruno Weidl:
“Based on your cultural heritage and broad experience, what are the three key learnings you would like to share?”

Gopi Kallayil:
1. Be curious & stay open!
Your life is a life-long experience. If you don’t try, you will never find out! Try everything and look what works for you the best. Then pick this and go for this. Don’t judge, but always embrace wholeheartedly the new.

2. Taking good care of yourself is your primary responsibility in life!
This isn’t in any way selfish. It is my strong fundamental belief that you need to do everything to raise your own consciousness. Always act and live in a responsible way.

3. Transformation and change is key for your life!
It is my fundamental acknowledgement that it is everyone’s individual responsibility to drive the change from inside; i.e. guarantee transformation in your life and don’t expect it to come from third parties.”

Lennart Stolpmann