Meditation and Design at Facebook

How does a routine meditation practice benefit us as designers? What is it about Facebook that creates an environment that encourages meditation and mindfulness? And how can other companies do the same?

“I noticed when I am stressed out I tend to think a lot more narrowly. A lot of mindfulness practice is about taking a step back and resetting your perspective. A more relaxed and open mindset is better for creativity (and having the energy to create), I’ve found.”
Valerie Chao, Product Designer, Facebook

A theme with Facebook designers I’ve talked to is that they are hyper-aware of the benefits of meditation not just on their overall mood, but also the effect it has on their work. One of those effects that comes up time and again is improved creativity.

In fact, research shows meditation reduces cognitive rigidity and our “tendency to overlook novel and adaptive ways of responding due to past experience.” In less clinical terms, meditation improves creative problem solving and allows us to think outside the box.

An unwritten policy at Facebook is no meetings on Wednesdays. What started as a tradition of working late into the night on Tuesday for a software release and then working from home on Wednesday, has turned into a very convenient and creative-inspiring practice. By coming into the office every day, and sitting in meetings most of those days, we form a bit of that “cognitive rigidity.”

Much like meditation, having one day a week where you can focus without meetings, or even work from somewhere like a coffee shop gets the creative juices flowing.

“As Designers, we’re regularly exposed to feedback from diverse stakeholders. Meditation has helped me be more open and less reactive.”
— Jeremy Brautman, Content Strategist, Facebook

Jeremy went on to say, “As part of a recent project, I was tasked with coming up with new mission statements. It became a running joke that I needed to go to my ‘cave’ to write them. My ‘cave’ is not just a physical quiet space, but it’s also a mental one. That ‘pause’ I get from meditation helped me reflect clearly and then share my work openly, without being defensive.”
 
Speaking of physical quiet spaces, all around the Facebook campus you will find meditation, or quiet rooms. They are non-reservable, meant to be used on a whim, and once the door is closed it is understood that it should not be disturbed. They are a perfect place to sit, breathe, and clear one’s mind.

It’s not just specialized conference rooms that create mindful settings, it’s rooftop parks, zen gardens with Adirondack seating, bay-front walking paths and other natural settings that give respite from our taxing, always-on jobs.
 
Meditation teaches us that thoughts are nothing more than electro-chemical bursts in the brain, which have no bearing on us or our reality. Too often we get carried away by our thoughts, reacting to them, often negatively.

As Dan Harris, an ABC News correspondent and meditation evangelist, points out, “what mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, ‘respond’ rather than simply ‘react.’” This ability to look objectively at our thoughts and our experiences and respond rather than react means as designers we’re less likely to defend our ideas, and more likely to receive and act on feedback.

“The Facebook design community has a very meditative approach to solving problems.”
Laurent Nguyen, Art Director, Facebook

In conversations with other designers at Facebook, it was very telling that some folks responded and said that design itself is a meditative practice. Facebook design gives us space and encourages designers to fully understand the problem before considering solutions, let alone designing them.

Process aside, Facebook by nature is a very social and connected workplace. A lot of designers, including myself, would self-identify as introverts and therefore require the space and time to disconnect and center ourselves. As previously mentioned, Facebook offers ample outdoor space as well as indoor quiet space.

“Facebook has a very strong culture of self-reflection, self-assessment, and self-actualization. The kind of folks we invite to join Facebook are already exhibiting some of these attributes.”
Ruchi Kumar, [former] Product Design Manager, Facebook

Facebook’s culture is truly one of continuous assessment and improvement. Every six months we are expected to reflect on and assess our performance and growth and seek the feedback of others. Through this process we learn what impact we have had and what work is personally fulfilling. Facebook is also structured to encourage mobility; the ideal situation is matching passion with projects. After all, we think this will lead to greater investment and results.
 
This process of reflection and self-actualization is actually quite meditative. Meditation is like breaking a bad habit. We live our entire lives allowing our minds to indulge and become carried away with each and every thought we have. And the only way to break a habit is to first identify the trigger. So we begin by observing our thoughts. Soon we are able to reflect and see our thoughts for what they are: just thoughts. This newfound clarity and headspace gives our minds the room to focus entirely on topics that truly matter to us, which opens the door for self-actualization.

Most companies would benefit from investing in more quiet spaces, natural environments, meeting-block-out times, time and space for reflection, intentional project post-mortems, and being okay with taking a mental health break.
— Metro, Product Designer, Facebook

These benefits that Metro pointed out, including the quiet spaces and nature, are just a few of the ways that Facebook has created an environment that encourages meditation. Without them, a company is providing subtle signals that this is only a place to work, and nothing else. But in order to bring one’s “authentic self” to work, work must also be a place to relax.
 
So when it comes to improving ourselves as designers, would we benefit from improved creative problem solving, openness to feedback, and more self-reflection? If so, then perhaps now is a good time to close the laptop, put down the phone, and give meditation a try. Companies like Facebook are encouraging and creating the space for this practice and it is creating a healthier, more vibrant design community.

I want to hear from you! Please comment and let me know if mindfulness or meditation has had any effect on you as a designer.