Founded in 2009 by Facebook vets Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, enterprise collaboration software company Asana has grown mightily, with $38.5 million in venture funding, more than 50 employees, and a userbase of hundreds of thousands of teams (including Airbnb, Dropbox, Pinterest, Uber and Birchbox). Fittingly, the company takes its name from yoga: an Asana is a pose–one in which your body is both stable and active. As the founders explained to Fast Company, leading a mindful company takes a corresponding set of complementary qualities–and a lot more than raw productivity.
The below transcript has been condensed and edited.
The inhale and the exhale: it’s the balance of doing and being. I think there’s often the perception that if you want to be as effective in the world as possible, you should just constantly be working and constantly be executing and outputting.
But the problem with that is that we are humans, we’re not robots; we’re engaged in a creative endeavor that requires a lot of energy, and so if you’re constantly involved in the output–in the exhale–then you’ll run out of breath. You won’t have the ability to give your best to the work at hand.
Conversely, if you spend all of your time inhaling and just perfecting your processes or just resting, then obviously you’re not going to be able to be effective either. Many things at Asana come down to us finding the right balance–where we want to spend the right amount of time investing in ourselves, investing in our energy, investing in our processes, and then use that to have the full force available to us to be able to give our best to the work. Our attitude is that you’re constantly investing in your ability to produce and constantly looking at “how can I do this more efficiently? more effectively? more easily?” If you can get 1% more productive every day, then you’ll be 40 times as productive in a year.
If we weren’t working on this company, if we retired, or if we were working on something else we’d still really believe in mindfulness. It’s as important for personal well-being and just being a good human as it for being a good company. It has this nice byproduct of increasing productivity but I think the real driver for us is personal well-being.
In fact we could an even stronger statement by asking: what is productivity? what is it that we are trying to produce?
I often see individuals or organizations that are trying to maximize the rate at which they are able to achieve some success metric without ever stopping and pausing and asking the question, is this the right metric to be maximizing in the first place? When people talk to us, they are often really interested in learning how you use mindfulness in order to be more productive, in order to get more code out or make more revenue with fewer people. There’s a lot of interesting stuff there that we can talk about for a long time, but for us, all of that is secondary to this more important thing–which is being mindful about what are you doing in the first place.
Why are you doing the work you’re doing? Are you being mindful about your purpose? At Asana we have a very clear mission, which is to help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.
For us, that’s just so deep in our hearts about why that’s such an important thing to accomplish in the world because we want humanity to thrive–that comes from a basic love for our fellow man. And then we see that maybe it’s easier for teams to be able to work effortlessly in such a leveraged way in which to help humanity thrive because whether you’re talking about a startup or a Fortune 500 company, a nonprofit or a government, everything us human beings do we do in teams. So if you can make it so that the ability for those teams actually accomplish their goals effectively, to coordinate their collective action more easily, if you could facilitate that, it’s this massively leverage opportunity to help the world.
That’s why we’re doing this. That’s mindfulness of purpose. And then, once you’ve established that purpose, you can use a lot of technologies of mindfulness to have a clarity of other things to be able to accomplish that purpose more effectively. But the most important is mindfulness of purpose.
From the user’s perspective, their experience is all that matters. Ultimately everything else we do is essentially a means toward an end of providing the user with some experience. We are really constantly grounding the whole company in that empathy of realizing that all the work you’re doing is a means to an end in service of and dedication to other people, an act of service to help others.
One of the trickiest things about working in software–in a face-to-face interaction it is very easy to maintain empathy because you can see users. When you’re developing software that’s being delivered in the Cloud and released to all these people, you have these opportunities to ground in empathy going and talking to a customer in person or reading something they wrote in, whether it’s an email saying how much they loved the product or how angry they are that this didn’t work. Those touch points with the user can help give you that empathy.
The Bottom Line:
But even when you’re not having one of those experiences, you have to constantly keep reminding yourself, and as a meditation practice almost, reground and say, “okay there’s real people here.”