Vishen Lakhiani, CEO, Entrepreneur, Mindvalley
Morale Booster: Vishen Lakhiani’s Vision for a Happier World, Starting with the Workplace
How can you attract top talent, and create a workforce that goes the extra mile for the company? The answer isn’t salary, perks, or bonuses. It’s culture.
Making the effort to build and invest in a positive business culture can drain time, resources, and money. But research suggests that the ROI on a happy workforce can be measured in dollars as well as satisfied, secure staff. According to The Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, good culture-building activities successfully cultivate a companywide commitment to satisfying customers. Other benefits include enhanced performance, reduced staff turnover, increased job satisfaction, greater employee engagement, fewer errors, and the enviable status as a workplace of choice.
The jury is officially in: Happy and healthy employees cost companies less. A 2011 study through the London School of Economics found that costs spent promoting well-being in the workplace delivered a substantial annual return on investment of more than 9 to 1, with increased productivity and reduced absenteeism. And it doesn’t just happen. If you’re a business owner, creating culture is up to you, with former MIT professor Edgar Schein once commenting that the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.
So how do you create good workplace culture? CEO of Mindvalley, Vishen Lakhiani, is the man officially standing at the intersection of mindfulness and business, and has workplace culture down to a fine art.
Born in Malaysia, Lakhiani spent nine years in the U.S., studying at the University of Michigan before moving to California to work as an entrepreneur and computer engineer in Silicon Valley. But with the bursting of the dotcom bubble in 2001, enormous numbers of tech businesses and startups dissipated and vanished, seemingly overnight. This event, a catastrophe for just about all tech entrepreneurs, was for Lakhiani both blessing and curse. “In April 2001, 14,000 people got laid off in the valley alone,” Lakhiani says. “I lost my company and lost all my savings, and was 30 grand in the hole.” These were the old days predating incubators, “when any kid with a good idea can get a decent amount of seed funding.”
With that, Lakhiani downsized to the point where his home couldn’t get much more humble: an obliging sophomore’s couch. “I couldn’t even afford an apartment so I rented a couch from a student in Berkeley—I was a graduate and renting a couch from a sophomore.” While setting up camp on the couch, instead of captaining the computing companies of tomorrow, he landed what he refers to as a classic dead-end job “selling technology for lawyers. It was a really tough job. I knew nothing about law. I knew nothing about sales. I was a computer engineer.” According to Lakhiani, the sales job was stressful to say the least. “Because the economy was so bad, it didn’t pay a starting salary,” he says. “That means if you didn’t close a sale, you got paid nothing.”
To cope with the stresses of the job, Lakhiani started looking around for a meditation class to soothe his burgeoning anxiety. His first brush with meditation was the result of a fortuitous Google search. “I found a class on meditation online. I thought it looked cool, and would help me deal with my stress. And that class transformed me,” Lakhiani says.
He recalls the days going to work after those first seminal sessions. “Not only did I approach my job with less stress, but my performance doubled.” That first surge of sales success wasn’t an aberration. “The week after and the week after, I doubled my sales again.” Can we attribute this meteoric rise to meditation? Or is Lakhiani modestly shifting kudos from what may be an innate talent at sales? Whatever it was, in the space of four months in 2002, he was promoted three times. “They made me director of sales even though I was only 26 years old,” he says.
At that stage, he’d been in sales a grand total of nine months. Lakhiani says that practicing meditation gifted him with an intuition and inner calm that allowed him connect with people better on the phone. “I had intuition which legal firms to call, and what things to say.” It may sound like a Jedi mind trick, but meditation has been scientifically proven to empower practitioners to perform activities that they may have previously found uncomfortable. Like putting on a headset and cold calling law firms.
THE START OF MINDVALLEY
Lakhiani stayed with the company for another 18 months, and following that, his career continued to soar. But he found himself growing dissatisfied with sales. Thankfully, having also graduated from his friend’s couch to nicer lodgings, Lakhiani felt driven to share with the world the meditation practice that had such an impact on him. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could get this beautiful science, this beautiful art form out into the world?”
With that, he created a simple website, which evolved into Mindvalley, a site that according to Lakhiani, boasts over 1.5 million subscribers, over 300,000 paying students, and 200 employees. Founded in Times Square in New York City, Mindvalley is now based in Lakhiani’s hometown of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Now Lakhiani spends his days sending spinning mandalas of good vibes into lives and workplaces worldwide through speaking, educating, and creating educational products. On top of his role as CEO at Mindvalley, Lakhiani has remade himself as a sort of culture-doctor, scouring cities around the world and speaking about corporate culture that might be sick, or at least undernourished. He sees it all the time. “We go into a company teaching people and sharing courses from 200 premium authors on personal growth,” he says. Business successes include the Omvana meditation app, which contains guided meditations and access to endless mindfulness-related content. If you haven’t tried it, go for it—it’s like getting a deep tissue massage for the brain.
As far as workplace culture is concerned, Mindvalley itself is an interesting case study. The offices are painted in shades of soothing yellows and eggshell white, and the surfaces of multiple walls and floors are carpeted in synthetic grass. Here you’ll see employees strolling calmly, reclining on flotillas of beanbags, couches and hammocks. Add a dash of Steampunk in the mix with European antiques, lamps, globes, and clocks, and you have yourself the sort of office that’s difficult to leave when 5 o’clock rolls around. Everything about it seems to have been constructed to stand as a bastion of defense against workplace anxiety, to the extent that Mindvalley HQ was voted by readers of Inc. as one of the World’s Coolest Offices in 2012. Which makes sense for a company whose employees earn their living by creating, programming, and educating on everything mindful, generally turning frowns upside down.
However, if you don’t have the budget to do an office remodel, not to worry. Despite having created some of the best-looking offices in the world, Lakhiani is quick to point out that fancy design does not a positive culture make. “A lot of people think workplace culture is about a fridge stocked with food,” he says. Make no mistake, those things are important, but Lakhiani makes the distinction clear. “That’s not culture; those are perks. Culture is an underlying set of beliefs and habits that your people possess. These beliefs and habits define who you are.” According to Lakhiani, culture is simply the summation of human beliefs and habits. “The more people with healthy beliefs and habits, the greater your culture.”
For those unfamiliar with talk of corporate habits and beliefs, it might require a little unpacking. Beliefs are crucial to Mindvalley. But we’re not talking about employee opinions about God, Santa or the Illuminati, rather it’s about the employee’s beliefs about the company, and how it should ideally operate.
Lakhiani explains that the team is brought together every four to five years to write down 10 things that they believe to be true about what and who they are as a company. “We then take those 10 ideas from over 100 employees and we categorize them into different buckets,” Lakhiani says. “One might be on learning and growth, another on happiness, another on customer service. We might end up with 30, but we pick the 10 with the most collective ideas.”
The Mindvalley team then sorts through the bucket-o’-beliefs and creates what they call, a “code of awesomeness,” which looks like a startup version of the 10 commandments. Mapping the company values so meticulously has proven beneficial for Mindvalley in multiple ways. It naturally has lead to a sense of autonomy and pride among staff. Plus, employees enjoy flexi-time, which allows them to choose their own hours and holidays. And on the first Friday of every month, instead of working, it’s learn da, where employees innovate and optimize on their teams, update their ideas and utilize their time learning from a book or a course to hack their skills.
Further, and perhaps more importantly, the code “becomes a decision-making mechanism, helping you make decisions faster,” Lakhiani says. “It protects your values.” Formulating knowledge of itself—what it is, what it is not—has become a competitive edge for Mindvalley. By being deliberate about culture, they’ve essentially created the perfect working environment and are reaping rewards financially.
Culture is not something that all businesses get right immediately. In fact, many larger companies seem to have missed the point, and use things like mindfulness as a tool to make employees deal with unrealistic expectations and pressure. Lakhiani advocates for a more rounded, healthier approach, with the health and happiness of employees at the forefront. If Lakhiani can teach us anything, it’s the clear correlation between healthy beliefs and good business practice. Healthy beliefs equal a healthy culture, and a healthy culture equals a healthy bottom line.
HOW TO CREATE AN EXCEPTIONAL COMPANY CULTURE
“Culture hacking is important because people take on the beliefs and habits of the people they are close to. You have to define your beliefs.” Vishen Lakhiani shares his top advice for getting culture right.
1. ESTABLISH A COMPANY CODE OF BELIEFS.
On a semi-regular basis, get your team together and figure out your code of values. This will help you not only shape the right habits and beliefs you want your company to have, but it will help govern business strategy.
2. WHEN HIRING, HIRE FOR BELIEFS.
If you’re a small startup, or a solopreneur looking to take someone on, this is the most vital consideration. Each new employee comes with their own set of beliefs. Do they share your beliefs about what a company is and what a company should be? Hint: Mindvalley leaves nothing to chance, by presenting a quiz to new employees to analyze such beliefs before any new hires meet with HR.
3. CREATE A CULTURE THAT HELPS EVOLVE HEALTHY BELIEFS AND HABITS
Make your values clear to each employee, especially new hires. Your beliefs make up your reality. But remember, beliefs are moldable. If an employee believes something unhealthy like the need to work a 70-hour week, you can change this with a little perseverance.
- How to turn the power of meditation into your superpower
- What it takes to build a great company culture and keep top talent
- The benefits of having a great looking office and how it can double your employee’s performance
- How to strip back the perks but still keep an amazing company culture
- The process Vishen uses when it comes to hiring A-players
Full Transcript of Podcast with Vishen Lakhiani
Nathan: Hey, guys. Welcome to another episode of the “Foundr Podcast.” My name is Nathan Chan, and I am your host, coming to you live from Melbourne, Australia. I just had to say it slow to mix things up because I’m doing these recordings in batches. And yeah, I just can’t do this robot thing. All right. Okay. So today’s guest, his name is Vishen Lakhiani, and he’s the CEO and founder of a company called Mindvalley, and these guys are doing amazing stuff. I look up to this company because not only have they built an amazing culture within their workplace, but they’ve also built an amazing company that produces such amazing products and services and courses. You name it.
They’re very, very cool. They’re doing very, very cool stuff. I look up to them a lot for the stuff that they’re doing. And to be honest, I’m trying to take a piece out of their book for Foundr, especially around the stuff they’re doing with their online courses, the way they position themselves. They’re very, very good. I think one of the reasons they are so good is because they have such an amazing team.
Just a little example. They get thousands and thousands of people to create all sorts of crazy YouTube videos, just so they could potentially get a job at Mindvalley because it…You know, it’s like one of the best places to work in the world. They’ve won a whole ton of awards, and Vishen goes in-depth on what it takes to build an amazing culture. So we talk everything culture-hacking, and this is something that I’m going through right now within the Foundr business, is…We’re starting to scale up and build our team, and it’s less about me doing the work, me getting the stuff done, and now it’s more about how do I build an amazing company, not only from the outside, but also from the inside, and an amazing culture.
So yeah, these are things that I’m going through right now. So I found a ton of value from speaking with Vishen. He’s just an absolute superstar, absolute weapon. This guy’s crushing it. Really excited to share this episode. That’s it from me. Hope you’re all having a great day. Thank you so much for taking the time. Now let’s jump into the show.
So I’m gonna ask you the same question I ask every single one of our guests, and that is: How’d you get your job?
Vishen: How did I get my job? Well, it started actually with being miserable at my job. So way back in 2002, I was a sales director for a company in Silicon Valley, and it was going through incredible growth, and I was learning a ton. Now, actually, you know what, Nathan: I’m gonna back-track a bit. Back in 2002, I actually lost all my savings, trying to start a company in Silicon Valley. My timing was off, and it…Sorry. It was 2001. The dot-com bubble had burst.
I remember in April 2001, 40,000 people got laid off in the valley alone, and, you know, I didn’t just get laid off. I lost my company, lost all my savings, was $30,000 in the hole. This was the days before 500 startups or any of those, like, incubators where any kid with a good idea could get a decent amount of seed funding.
So I remember being completely broke, driving a beat-up car. I couldn’t even afford an apartment. So I rented a couch from a student in Berkeley, and my home was actually a single dirty couch. It was sad that I was a graduate, having to rent a couch from a sophomore.
Now what happened was I ended up getting a dead-end job in Silicon Valley, in San Francisco, selling technology to lawyers, and it was a really tough job because I was a computer engineer. I knew nothing about law. I knew nothing about sales. I did know technology, but that was about it.
To cope with the stresses of the job, my, you know…The job was crazy stressful. And because the economy was so bad, they wouldn’t even pay a starting salary. If you did not close a sale, you got paid nothing. So what happened was I started Googling online, and I found this class on meditation. So I’m like, “Okay. Well, this looks cool. It appears that this will help me deal with my stress.”
That class transformed me. I remember getting back to work after taking that class, and not only was I approaching my job with so much less stress, but my performance doubled. I had, like, a sales week where I was double over my usual performance.
But here’s the funny thing. It wasn’t an aberration. The next week, once again, I had a record sales week. The next week, once again, and in four months between May and September 2002, I got promoted three times. They made me director of sales, even though I was 26 years old and had been in sales, collectively, nine months.
Now here’s what was going on. As I was practicing meditation, I noticed a couple of really interesting things. One is I found that I could connect with the people better on phone. It’s as if I would know the right things to say at the right time, and I also found an intuition about what to say, which legal firm to call. It was just uncanny.
But as a result, my sales closing rate went up, and I became one of their top sales people. Now I stayed with that company for about a year-and-a-half following that, and my career continued to soar. But after a while, I just grew dissatisfied, and I wanted to think, “What could I do?”
So I remembered meditation and the amazing impact it had on me, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool that I figured out a way to get this beautiful science, this beautiful art form practice out to the world?” Now Google had just launched Google AdWords at that time. So I put up…I built a simple website. I, being a computer engineer, I had fun writing my own checkout scripts and all of these things. So it was really a way to just code and share my passion, and that little website grew and grew and grew and became Mindvalley.
Today, we have about a million-plus subscribers, 300,000 paying students, 150 employees, and we’ve evolved into a company teaching people and sharing courses from some 200 premium authors on personal growth.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. Look. I’m a massive fan of Mindvalley. What you’ve created is a bootstrap startup, and there’s a lot I’d like to unpack, but I really want to focus on this culture stuff because you built an amazing organization, amazing people behind this organization, and the kind of people that you’re attracting and the talent and the way you’re attracting this talent is really, really interesting.
A lot of our audience are, you know, aspiring or novice-stage entrepreneurs. So I’d like to touch on, you know, your…I know you’ve got a lot of best practices, but maybe you’re, like, top three. We could break them down. Somebody that’s just starting a company…What are the sorts of things that they can do to enforce this amazing culture, like you have at Mindvalley?
Vishen: Well, the first thing is…So a lot of people think culture is about refrigerator stocked with food or fancy offices. That’s not culture. Those are perks. Culture is an underlying set of beliefs and habits that your people possess, and these beliefs and habits are what define who you are. If you have more people with healthy beliefs and healthy habits, the greater your culture. That’s really it. Culture is the summation of human beliefs and habits. Now, as people get into tribes or companies or villages, beliefs and habits start to coalesce, and we tend to take on beliefs and habits from each other, and this is why culture-hacking is so important. You want to make sure that you are refining the beliefs and the habits of your tribe, of your company.
Let me give you an example. Okay. The human tendency to be part of a tribe, the human desire to belong is so strong, that we will blindly follow whatever the tribe says. This is why, you know, some people might decide that they want to…that they are really, really, really aligned with the mission of a particular political party. They’ll take on the good things about the beliefs of this political party, but they’ll also take on the really dumb ideas, such as, say, intolerance towards gay marriage or denial of global warming.
So a desire to belong will force us to take on the beliefs of the tribe. This is why facilitating the right beliefs is really important. So the first practice you got to do is you have to define your beliefs. Now what we do at Mindvalley is, every four to five years, we bring our team together, and we have them write down on a piece of paper 10 things they believe deep down in their hearts to be true about what and who we are as a company.
Now, we take these 10 ideas from hundreds-plus employees, and we categorize them into different buckets. So one bucket might be around learning and the philosophy of learning and growth. Another bucket might be around happiness. Another bucket might be around servicing the customer. Now these 10 buckets…Sorry. We end up with 15, 20, 30 buckets, but we pick the 10 buckets with the most ideas from people, the most collective ideas, and this becomes a code of awesomeness. We did this for the first time in 2008. We did it again last year. Surprising thing was seven years later, the code had not changed.
The code contains ideals such as, “Turn customers into raving fans. We are positive and passionate. We celebrate life. We evolve true learning.” This is the Mindvalley code of awesomeness. I can also always send you an image that you can stick. Now the code is really important. This value system isn’t just something that you stick on your walls as a decorative piece. It becomes a decision-making mechanism.
For example, we had a situation recently where our marketing people wanted to create an up-sell system on our checkout. So you buy a product. It recommends another product. Then it recommends another product. Then it recommends another product. Obviously this would boost revenue, but our customer support team felt that that would be against our code. Turn customers into raving fans. Because they were like, “After your second or third recommendation, boy, it’s gonna get annoying.” So guess which team won. The team that spoke in alignment with the code. Instantly, the marketing team had to give way because they were reminded that this is our shared code.
The code helps you make decisions faster. The code helps protect your values. The code helps you decide who to keep in the company and who to eject from the company. When you get the code right, it can lead to tremendous gains.
I remember one of the key elements in our code. Let’s go back to that idea. Turn customers into raving fans. It became such a natural within our company, that last year, we won an award as one of the top-10 best customer service teams in the world, according to Nice Reply, which ranks agents. We’re known for stellar customer support because that is part of our code.
Now that has become our competitive edge, and that actually helps us…has helped us increase our customer lifetime value, the number of people who buy from us. So this isn’t just fluffy stuff. It facilitates decision-making. It helps govern your business strategy. It helps you figure out your competitive edge. So the first thing is: Get your team together. Figure out a code.
Nathan: Love it. Would you call these beliefs pretty much your values?
Vishen: Yes, they are your values. Now your code helps…So your values are what you believe to be important. That’s how you can position it. But there are other beliefs. So like I said, right, culture is beliefs plus habits. Your code helps facilitate both. When we say, “Turn customers into raving fans,” that, number one, establishes the belief, “Customer service is important,” but it also helps establish habits, habits of personalized emails to every customer, habits such as all emails that come in, ideally, we want to answer within 24 hours. All of those become habits. So you see? Your values help your culture because they help you shape the right habits and the right beliefs.
Nathan: Awesome. Now this is great. Now question. Can your beliefs change over time? Because, like, I know sometimes somebody might start a company, but they might change like…
Vishen: Absolutely. So here’s the funny thing about human beings. Right? A lot of us think our beliefs are us. In reality, our beliefs are not us. I have a book coming out with the working title, “Consciousness Engineering,” and the book is basically about this idea that what makes you, you is the sum total of your collective beliefs and your habits. We call beliefs your “models of reality.” We call your habits your “system.”
Now the problem with people is, many people, what they believe is their model of reality, it wasn’t taken on by rational choice. They were indoctrinated as children. A large chunk of what we believe to be true about the world, for instance, such as, “I’m a woman. So I’m good at different things from a man,” or, “Success equals hard work,” or, “A college degree is necessary.” None of these would define true rational thought. It was taken on through, according to the scientist, Paul Maston , and social conditioning. In short, to help us understand the world, rather than try to figure it out, which can get complex, we simply imitate.
So everyone who joins Mindvalley, who joins your tribe or your company, has their own beliefs. They come from childhood indoctrination. They come from religion. They come from culture. They come from, you know, the circumstances that that person grew and evolved into. But the thing is the beliefs do not make them. Your beliefs are swappable.
So what I teach is that if the human being is viewed as an operating system…Okay. Think about your iPhone. You have your operating system on your phone or on your computer. Now if you wanted to upgrade your computer, there are two things you do. Number one, you get better hardware. You may swap out a smaller hard drive and stick in a high-speed, higher, larger hard drive with a bigger capacity. That’s hardware. That’s a hardware upgrade. Or you may upgrade your software by downloading a new app or a new version of your software.
Now the human being is like that. In your human operating system, your beliefs are like your hardware. You can swap out bad beliefs, swap in good beliefs. Likewise, your habits are your software. You can always upgrade and download new habits, like apps. So the first thing to realize is that you can change people’s beliefs. So for example, a lot of people come to the company, and one of the things that they believe is that, “To be successful, I need to work 70, 80-hour weeks,” or that you cannot have friendly relationships with your coworkers. I believe those are false beliefs.
So we create a culture that helps evolve their beliefs. For example, we make it very clear during indoctrination…Sorry, not indoctrination. Induction. That sounded cultish. During induction, that it’s perfectly okay to ask your manager out for a drink or for dinner. We make sure that it is perfectly okay to work 50 hours a week, and that’s okay, and that hard work isn’t what is gonna get you recognized here.
So you know, new people who join Mindvalley, we actually give them a quiz that analyzes their beliefs in 20 different areas. When you look at this quiz, you cannot really tell what is right or what is wrong. For example, a sample belief over there is, “I feel comfortable asking for a raise from my direct superior.” Another belief is, “My idea should always be listened to.” Now is that right? Or is that wrong? We don’t know. Right? The answer is there is no right or wrong. There’s simply the way it is within our culture.
Now, based on the quiz, they then go for a lunch with our HR director, and the HR director will tell them, will inform them if there were any beliefs that they might find surprising. So for example, a lot of people would rank that they are not comfortable asking for a raise. But in our culture, we believe that’s an open conversation, and anyone should be allowed to do that. You know? So the HR director will then educate them on a new belief and show them how to go about, say, asking for a raise.
So we are helping people see that their beliefs do make up their reality, but their reality is moldable. It’s shapeable. All they have to do is learn to believe something new, and then give them a rational, empirical, logical way to take on that new belief.
I just want to give an example of what I mean by a logical, empirical, rational way to help people take on a new belief. A lot of people from the corporate world might come to us, or from the advertising agencies, might come to us believing that they are gonna have to work a 70-hour week. I believe that’s unhealthy. So how will we change that belief? Well, we enforce a system in Mindvalley where we let people know that they can work any time they want. It’s flexi-time. They can choose to take holidays any time they want, as long as it’s agreed upon by their team, and we even have a system where every Friday, the first Friday of every month, is Learn Day. No one is required to do any work.
In fact, what we want them to do is to sit down and read a book and upgrade their systems or their ideas about their job. So someone from customer support, for example, might read Tony book on delivering happiness. So this allows them to see that, wow, there are utterly, completely different ways of viewing the world that work.
Nathan: Yeah. Okay. So bring all of that back. Like, what can you do if it’s just you and your cofounder? Or it’s just you as a solo-preneur. What can you do to, I guess, when you’re ready to bring on people to your team…What are some like…You’ve got…We’ve got the belief system. You know, I know you guys have the bar of awesomeness. You hire for attitude, train for skill. You’ve got all these other things. What are the most important things when you bring on your first hire?
Vishen: So the most important thing when you’re bringing on your first hire is making sure that they, firstly, have the right shared beliefs about the world. Because if they don’t, you’re gonna face problems. Now what I mean by the right shared beliefs. This is why I think it’s actually a great idea to hire, you know, your first hire from the same university or the same city and so on.
So the right shared beliefs might be…Well, if this was Mindvalley…Every company is gonna have a different idea. Right. But if this were Mindvalley, it’s a passion for self-exploration and personal growth. So a lot of the first few people I hired, they joined us just because the loved the idea of spreading meditation. That core belief united us. So you must have beliefs that unite you. It could be a passion for what it is you’re delivering or a belief of how the world should work or a belief in terms of how an office should function, that those shared beliefs function like glue to make sure your culture is healthy, and the key ideas that will later cause your culture to expand.
See, here’s the funny thing. Right? It is not about right or wrong beliefs. Rather, it’s about alignment. It’s not about if you have a belief that personal growth is the optimal path to happiness, or if you have a belief that you should work hard or work 100-hour weeks or work 50-hour weeks. That’s not important. What is important is alignment. You need to make sure that the beliefs are aligned. When the beliefs are aligned, you create culture. You can shape values. You can decide your company edge, and you can decide aspects of your culture that you want to use to attract more talent, but there is no right or wrong.
If you look at Elon Musk and SpaceX, it’s about crazy long work hours, and people love it. If you look at companies such as Semco in Brazil, by the amazing Ricardo Semler, it’s about giving, you know, factory workers flextime and letting them work whenever they want, and people love it. There is no right or wrong, but what all these companies have in common is they have a set core of beliefs that people come into, and they are united by these beliefs.
Nathan: Yeah. No, I’m really starting to get it now because I was coming…To be honest, I was coming at it like, “Okay. I’m gonna speak to Vishen. He’s got this amazing company. He’s gonna share with us all these tactics and strategies,” and I watched, like, some of your other videos and talks you’ve done, and you’ve got stuff like, you know, culture days and, you know, quick and the Oath of Awesomeness and all these interesting things, and you’re saying pretty much that as long as the beliefs are aligned, you can set the rules, and you can have your own kind of tactics and strategies. Right?
Nathan: Okay. Awesome. Well, I have a question. Like, when it comes to still, like, hiring, do you think people should never accept resumes, like you guys?
Vishen: No, we look at resumes. We’ve just found that resumes can be a…Resumes can be an awful way of hiring because everyone lies on their resume, to some degree. Everyone. Sometimes those lies can be fairly high. So what happened with simply is… We have an employee in our finance department, and he was a key employee. He was from the corporate industry. He was, you know…I thought he was decently smart, but it turned out he had been stealing from the company for four months, and we had to fire him.
Nathan: Oh, wow.
Vishen: I went back, and I looked at his resume. I realized that our company had made a mistake. The company he had listed on his resume was fake. It didn’t really exist. Other aspects of his resume were also fake. Now when we fired him, he continued on his LinkedIn profile, on his Angie’s List profile, stating that he worked for Mindvalley and that he was a leader and a visionary within the company and that he was our operations director. All of that is also fake. Because, frankly, he was a guy we had to fire because we caught him stealing. But you see what happened over there. He lied on his resume. After being fired, he continued lying on his resume, and some other poor company is gonna hire this man.
So resumes are a very unreliable source of getting the right talent. So what we decided to do was we decided to have people who are applying to Mindvalley apply via a video cover letter. Now this did a couple of things. Right? As soon as we decided to ask for video cover letters, the number of random applications plummeted, from 200 for a position, in a week, to 20. But these 20 would create a video cover letter, and they have to answer two questions. Why they feel they are awesome? And why they’d like to join Mindvalley?
Let me tell you. It’s so much harder to lie in a video cover letter, because we can see your body language. We can see your style of dialogue. We can see your confidence. We can see that spark of passion in your eyes. We’ve had people who have spent…I think the record was 300 man hours creating their video cover letter. Now of course, I hired that person because anyone who was smart and spent 300 man hours creating their video cover letter, I know they have passion for the company. They’ve done research on us, and they really wanted to join. That lady, Gloria, was one of my best-ever hires.
So you see? We found that video cover letters became a self-eviction mechanism. It would help us evict bad applicants right on the onset, because it was so much harder to fake it on a video cover letter. Now that said, video cover letters are very millennial-type device. So we make it clear when we’re hiring senior people that they do not need a video cover letter, but they would have to come in, meet me, and go through multiple rounds of interviews on values, culture, their beliefs, their passions around the world, and their credentials.
Nathan: I see. So you don’t recommend it as a best practice?
Vishen: Well, it depends on per department. For a technology department, we don’t ask for video cover letters. We give people a coding test. For our marketing ad-buying department, we give people an advertising test. For our customer support department, video cover letters are essential.
Nathan: I see. It shows their personality.
Nathan: Awesome. So also, when it comes to attracting talent, you guys have hire parties and stuff like that. Is that still going and stuff?
Vishen: We used to do that. We used to do that. We’d toss a party. We’d get all our employees an extra ticket to invite the most brilliant person they know, and they would invite, you know, their friends, and then sometimes they’d have these friends join our company. We don’t do that anymore. We have a…We might do it again, but right now we have enough applications coming through, through our YouTube channel and so on, that we’ve not really had to do that. But it certainly is a very good tactic for a company that’s just starting out and making a name for itself.
Nathan: Yeah. No. Because I watched your video, and I was just like, “This is killer.” Like, you are the king of culture-hacking. So I wanted to ask you also, like, when you’re just starting, do you believe you should base yourself in a co-working space? Or get your own office space? Because I know you guys have crazy…Like, you’ve got the steampunk area. What are your thoughts on that environment?
Vishen: Environment is not as important as culture. Like I said, I don’t want people to fall into the mistake of thinking that they have to create a Google-like office. I created a beautiful steampunk office because, to me, design was extremely important. What is a place to get inspired? But it also…The guys working in our steampunk office are working on a new technology we are launching for education, and a key aspect of that technology is the user interface and the design. So I wanted to give them a place that inspired them to think design and aesthetics. But again, it is not important unless that is a key aspect of your value.
One of my values is to always be surrounded by beauty. I’m just a guy who appreciates art, who appreciates colors, who appreciates, you know, beautiful surroundings. So I feel inspired when I’m in beauty, and I wanted to give that same gift to my staff and the people who work with me. But it isn’t a requirement for great culture. The most important thing for great culture is that you guys have healthy shared beliefs and healthy shared habits.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. Gotcha. You’re really hammering this down. Okay. Another question I’d like to ask you is around leadership. You know, what are your…Because you’re an amazing leader, and you’re a visionary, and you come up with these crazy ideas, and you get your team to help you roll them out. What are your top two, top three pieces of advice around being a great leader?
Vishen: Oh, you know what? Here’s the thing that is hardest about defining leadership. Right? Leadership means so many different things to so many people, but I can tell you that when I was 19 years old, I was student body president at my college. I remember my favorite quote on leadership came from Dwight Eisenhower. “A leader is someone who makes people do things he wants to do, because they want to do it.”
Now let’s think about that for a moment. That’s sort of implying that, as a leader, your job is to get people to do things you want done and kind of inspire them to do it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that could also be bad. That could be the kind of leadership that could drive, say, a political leader to make a million people sign up for a dumb war. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that that isn’t leadership, and that leadership today needs a really different definition.
So at Mindvalley, we define leadership this way. Our leadership quote, and it’s the mantra that all our managers has, is this, “A leader is someone who recognizes that everyone they lead is as powerful as them, as brilliant as them, and can have the same capacity to shine. They simply need to be reminded of this fact.”
So the idea here is that at Mindvalley, a leader is someone who grows the people they are leading. They are helping those people evolve, those people grow, those people get to the next level. That really is the core leadership mantra within our company.
Nathan: Yeah. No, I love it. That’s actually something that someone, like one of my mentors, shared with me. He said…Because I…He told me how, you know, one of his employees was doing all these crazy things. I was like, “How do you get them to do that?” He’s like, “You just find out what they want, and you give it to them.” Would you agree with that?
Vishen: Oh, I think that’s very simplistic.
Vishen: Okay. So what you’re asking is, “How do you lead someone?” How do you motivate them? Is that what you’re saying?
Vishen: Okay. Well, here’s what we do. We call it “the three most important questions.” There’s a video I did of this exercise that’s on YouTube, that’s received almost a quarter-million views. You see, the mistake that most people make in the world is that they don’t really know what they want. They decide their goals based on social conditioning. They decide that they want to be a lawyer or, you know, they want to have that particular car, or they want to get that next promotion in a job, even they absolutely hate the job.
Now, these are called means goals. These are goals that society tells us we need to achieve, but often, means goals are nothing more than just made-up bullshit. What really makes us happy? What really is the end of human existence? Sorry. The end result of living a great life are end goals, and end goals are the goals that really, you know, make our soul sing, goals such as being really happy with the person you love or working in a place that gives you meaning or being able to live in a gorgeous home or being able to be an amazing mom or dad to two wonderful kids. Those are end goals.
So we do an exercise with our employees, where we help them define their end goals, and end goals fall into three different buckets. Okay. There are experiences, growth, and contribution. So experiences are things such as being a parent, being in love, traveling around the world, writing a book. Growth goals are things such as learning to public-speak, learning coding. Deep growth goals are never…should never be something that you want to learn so you can get somewhere else. It should be something that, if you did it, it gives you meaning and happiness in itself. Learning public-speaking because you love owning the stage, and you want to…You have so much joy, sharing your ideas. So it has to be an end goal.
Now, all of these lead to the other. Once you know the experiences you want in life and how you want to grow, the next question you ask yourself is: How do you want to give back to the world? That’s called contribution. That’s the third bucket. Now in our company, everyone, when they join Mindvalley during their adduction period, I take them through an exercise where they write down their experiences, how they want to grow, how they want to contribute to the world. Then we take this, and we stick it on a wall, on a giant wall, and everyone in the company, hundreds of people, get to see each other’s goals. The beauty about this is it’s like having a blueprint into someone’s soul. You start to really know what it means to…You really start to know what drives your coworker.
What happens is when they write this down, the first thing they do is they come and leave it on my desk. So I’m sitting in my desk right new, and the newest batch of hires…They’ve left their goals on my desk. I’m reading the goals of a new-hire called Clemen , and I can see that under “Experiences,” he wants to spend seven days in a Brazilian Atlantic rainforest. Under “Growth,” he wants to better feel and understand people from other cultures and religions, especially Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Under “Contribution,” he wants to help educate and inspire other people to wake up from the modern matrix, wake up from ignorance, become more aware and brave.
Now, you see? By knowing this about Clemen, I get to understand the man he is. I get to understand how we can create an environment that can help him attain his goals, that can help him grow. So this really is a blueprint to people’s souls, and our managers at Mindvalley…What they do is they go out for lunch with the new-hires, and they, you know, with this paper, discuss how they can help craft the most meaningful, beautiful growth experience for these hires. It’s a beautiful practice, and you can search for three more support questions. You’ll find a video on YouTube. You can do the exercise in the video, and you can embed it in your magazine.
Nathan: Yeah. No. That is fantastic. Look. We have to work towards wrapping up. I just have one last question, and that is around, you know, the goals piece, because I watched another video that has sat with me. You know, I watched it a couple years ago, that I saw on YouTube, and it really sat with me around goals and that we’re always chasing the next big thing, and the goal posts keep changing. You recommend to measure it backwards. Can you just touch on that?
Vishen: Absolutely. So basically to move towards your goals, you have to recognize that you cannot tie your happiness to your goals. This is called a “Paradox of Intention,” and it basically states that your happiness cannot be tied to your goal. It must come before you attain your goal. In other words, you must live life finding happiness in the journey. If you decide that you want to be the most amazing public speaker in the world, but if that becomes your goal, and you are telling yourself that, “I’m only gonna be happy when I get there,” the whole process of getting there, going for public-speaking training classes, rehearsing on stage, joining a group like Toast Masters, is gonna be unbearable for you because you’ll never be able to wait till the end.
But if you start to connect your happiness to the journey, seeing the learning aspects, the growth, the failure as all beautiful experiences, you are more likely to reach your goal sooner. There’s evidence for this. There’s evidence that shows that happiness creates better performance. In the book, “The Happiness Advantage,” by Shawn Achor, Shawn lists study after study that shows that salespeople who are optimistic perform 55% better. Doctors who are trying to be positive make better diagnoses. Children who are primed to be more optimistic before a test do better in their exams. Happiness leads to productivity. So you got to remember that you got to tie your happiness to the journey and not the destination.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look. We’ll work towards wrapping up there. Just one last piece. Where’s the best place people can find you?
Vishen: The best place to find me is to go to vishenlakhiani.com, V-I-S-H-E-N-L-A-K-H-I-A-N-I. The better way is to follow me on Facebook. I am incredibly active, and I share amazing content on Facebook. So just search for Vishen Lakhiani, and give me a follow.
Key Resources From Our Interview Vishen Lakhiani
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