Second Crack — The Leadership Podcast

Success Redefined: Exploring the Power of Happiness in Organisations with Dr. Tho Ha Vinh

June 23, 2023 Gerrit Pelzer, Martin Aldergard, Tho Ha Vinh Episode 23
Second Crack — The Leadership Podcast
Success Redefined: Exploring the Power of Happiness in Organisations with Dr. Tho Ha Vinh
Show Notes Transcript

Tho Ha Vinh (bio below) found that one root cause for suffering is our current economic system based on competition and the fundamental contradiction of endless economic growth and the reality of a finite planet. 

It is an illusion that happiness and satisfaction come from more consumption. In effect, the ever-increasing consumption is destroying the planet and thus the very foundation of our human lives.

The goal of economic growth must be to to satisfy legitimate human needs through goods and services. These goods and services are just a part of what enhances happiness and wellbeing. For true happiness, we also need friendship, love, emotional security and many things money can’t buy. 

"The system", of which we often see ourselves as victims, is a manifestation of how we individually and collectively think, feel, and act. We are all part of the system, and thus are co-responsible of changing the system.

True happiness needs living in harmony with oneself (requiring introspection and alignment between aspirations and actions), living in harmony with others (but being too busy working keeps us from taking the time to build and maintain positive relationships) and living in harmony with the planet (we are part of nature, the wider system).

Change is inevitable. The question is: will it come about in a more gentle and inclusive way through mindfulness and compassion? Or will we continue with our blind ways of power, dominance, violence, and competition until the system simply breaks apart?

Leaders who want to positively drive change need to direct the collective attention. This begins with the ability to to direct your own attention. If you are able to do that, then you can also do that for the collective.

Your company’s transformation may begin by redefining its vision, mission, and values towards serving its clients and society by creating goods and services that are useful. Your “key performance indicators” need a more holistic understanding beyond financial impact, including environmental, social, cultural etc. You need to work with the inner dimension, too: how do you consciously develop your insight, your wisdom, your compassion, your mindfulness?

Reflection Questions for Leaders:

  • Is my attention aligned with my intentions? Am I clear what my intentions are?
  • What steps am I willing to take to create a significant change, even if it feels uncomfortable. And what are the risks that I'm prepared to take to do things differently moving forward? 
  • When we have good intentions, how come we cannot manifest that in the way we work? How can we bridge the gap between the knowing (what we know we should do) and doing (what we actually do)?

Tho Ha Vinh, PhD, is the founder and of the Eurasia Learning Institute for Happiness and Wellbeing .  He was the program director of the Gross National Happiness Center of Bhutan. Serving as the Head of Training, Learning, and Development at the International Committee of the Red Cross, he trained humanitarian professionals working in war zones and emergency response in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, and Darfur. He holds a PhD in psychology and education from Geneva University, Switzerland. He is a Buddhist teacher in the Vietnamese Zen Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. He is the author of several books including the recent A Culture of Happiness.

More info about Martin Aldergård and Gerrit Pelzer is on our website secondcrackleadership.com. You can also email us at  hello@secondcrackleadership.com

Second Crack – The Leadership Podcast
with guest Dr. Tho Ha Vinh (Episode 23)

This transcript is AI-generated and may contain typos and errors.

[00:00] Tho: And so it was really for me the question, when I was working in the humanitarian field, I was always working with the symptoms, manifestations, you know, wars and natural catastrophes and drought and famines and so on. And of course it's very important to try to alleviate this suffering, but we were not very much looking at the root causes behind this suffering. 

[00:23] And when I tried to explore that, I realised that one of the fundamental root cause is the economic system itself. Because it's an economic system based on competition, on winner takes it all, on endless growth. As you mentioned, and growth, endless growth in the finite planet is just a logical contradiction that is unsolvable. And on the illusion that happiness or or satisfaction comes from more and more consumption. And we know both from our own experience and from a lot of research data, that actually once the fundamental needs are met, any increase of income and consumption and products and objects will momentarily rise satisfaction, but it's very, very short-lived.

[01:29] Gerrit: A warm welcome to Second Crack - The Leadership Podcast. If you're new to the show, this is where we explore everyday leadership dilemmas and paradoxes, and where we invite you as our listener to self-reflect. I am Gerrit Pelzer, I work as an executive coach and I bring to my coaching a combination of Western science and Asian wisdom. I'm joined today as usual by my dear friend and business partner, Martin Aldergard. Martin is a leadership consultant who focuses on change and transformation in organisations. And what we both have in common is that we always put people at the center of our work. So, hi Martin, how are you today? 

[02:14] Martin: Hi Gerrit, I'm super. I'm fine today, and today we have the most important topic ever on our podcast. We're going to talk about happiness. And I'm always seeking happiness, so I'm so excited about this. 

[02:33] Gerrit: That's, that's a good introduction, and I am also excited to have an incredible guest joining us on the podcast today dr. Tho Ha Vinh. Tho, a very warm welcome to our show, we feel truly honoured to have you here. How are you? 

[02:51] Tho: Thank you very much for having me. I'm well, I'm uh, in Switzerland right now and it's a beautiful day for me. It's, uh, 9:00 AM. And the sun is shining, but it's not too hot. So it's one of those really, uh, very beautiful day. And after podcast I will go to the lake. 

[03:08] Gerrit: Oh, I'm getting jealous. Yeah, I'm calling in from Bangkok. It's uh, 2:00 PM here and we might hear at times the wind whistling. And uh, this will be a wonderful challenge for our audio engineer, but, I think many of our listeners won't need an introduction because you are actually a quite well known person. But let's do a quick recap just in case. So allow me to start with your truly international background. You are the son of a Vietnamese father and a French mother. Your wife is from Austrian origin, and you live in Switzerland, as you just said. So how much more multicultural could it be. Uh, education wise, you hold a doctoral degree in psychology from Geneva University and, and one thing that really impresses me massively, you have had a very hard job with the Red Cross where you trained humanitarian professionals working in war zones and, uh, emergency response in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, and Darfur. So you have been in these war zones and, and, and conflict areas yourself. So you must have faced situations that most people can hardly imagine. But then from maybe these disastrous areas, um, as Martin said, you brought it to happiness, and maybe that's why most people know you. I don't know. Uh, you were the first program director of the Gross National Happiness Center in Bhutan for I think about seven years, and you are also the founder of the Eurasia Learning Institute for Happiness and Wellbeing. You are also a Buddhist teacher in the Vietnamese Zen tradition, ordained by the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, who I also consider as my spiritual teacher. So that's something we have in common. And, uh, on top of everything you have authored several books that have gained international recognition, and they have been translated into multiple languages. Tho, I'm just wondering, have I missed anything important? 

[05:29] Tho: No, I think that's already plenty. Thank you. 

[05:33] Gerrit: It is, it is. And I really have the highest respect for your work. It sounds to me like, hmm, you have dedicated your whole life to making this world a better place. And I think that is, that is urgently needed. And so one of the main reasons why we're talking today is your latest book, it's called A Culture of Happiness.

[05:55] And before we go into the details, I would like to set the stage and provide some context. So as I said, I work as an executive coach and when I think of all the clients I had in the last 12 years, so it's, it's corporate clients. I can't think of any company that is not concerned with growth. But it's not only companies, it's whole nations, right. So as soon as we see GDP declines, whole nations can panic. And it seems to me that especially in what we call the developed countries, the majority of people truly believes in this economist's mantra of, um, never ending growth that is required for wellbeing. And in your book, "A Culture of Happiness", you made a statement that resonates very strongly with me and that is about:

[06:52] "The fundamental contradiction between the idea of endless economic growth and the reality of a finite planet". And I find this so striking if you also see this in context with, uh, climate change, right. So on, on one hand, we, we believe that the source of happiness lies in more and more consumption, but we also see the, the downsides of, of this con consumption. And, I quote another part from your book: "I'm firmly convinced that an old world is coming to an end. And that the crisis we are experiencing are the harbingers of a new world that wants to be born". And with this, I would like to, to open the, the conversation. Uh, maybe on one side there is the idea or the question, what's currently going wrong in the world, but then also in terms of the new world that wants to be born, how can this world look like?

[08:02] Tho: So thank you very much for this, uh, very, uh, um, good introduction. Uh, and maybe I would like to go back a little bit and share that, uh, as you mentioned, um, I worked for quite a long time in the International Committee of the Red Cross, and in this capacity I spent a lot of time in warzones and conflict areas and emergency responses. And actually it was the experience of suffering, of extreme suffering that led me to question myself about happiness. So the way I see happiness is not something superficial, like, you know, just feel good and everybody's smiling and having positive emotions, but really about how can we transform suffering and can we go to the deeper root causes of suffering in order for happiness to be possible. And so for me, happiness and suffering are like the two sides of the same coin, and we need to be able to confront ourselves with suffering. Mm-hmm. Being that on personal level, my own suffering. What is my wounds? What makes me suffer at our organisational level, you know, what are the, the difficulties, the challenges, the suffering we meet as a company, as a school, as an organisation, um, uh, or as a nation, or as a humankind. But then not to get stuck in the, in the suffering. Mm-hmm. But to see that if we understand the root causes of suffering, we might be able to transform them and bring about true happiness.

[09:40] And so it was really, for me, the, the question, uh, when I was working the humanitarian field, that was always working with the, with the symptoms, manifestations, you know, wars and natural catastrophes and droughts and famines and so on. And of course it's very important to try to, to alleviate this suffering. But we were not very much looking at the root causes behind this suffering. And when I tried to explore that, I realised that one of the fundamental root cause is the economic system itself. Mm-hmm. Because it's an economic system based on competition, on winner takes it all, on endless growth. As you mentioned, uh, endless growth, endless growth in the finite planet is just a logical, uh, contradiction that is unsolvable.

[10:29] And on the illusion that happiness or or satisfaction comes from more and more consumption. Yes, and we know both from our own experience and from a lot of research data that actually once the fundamental needs are met. Any increase of income and, and, and consumption and products and objects will momentarily rise satisfaction, but it's very, very short-lived, right. Let's say, uh, you know, let's say you drive a small car and then you can afford to buy a big car for a couple of weeks the big car sounds fantastic, and oh, wow, now I'm driving this fantastic car, but after a few weeks, it's just your car and you're stuck in this traffic jam in the same way you were with your little small car, right. So, and that's, you can see that everywhere, material consumption, you can add more and more and more, but the level of satisfaction and wellbeing it provides, uh, doesn't grow in parallel. But what happens is that because of this endless growth, endless consumption, production, we are destroying the planet. Mm. And therefore destroying the very foundation of our human life. So to summarise, I would say, you know, like, let's try to imagine a three circles, concentric circles. The biggest circle, the most important one, obviously, is the ecosystem, the planet on which we live with all other species. That's the most important .Within this large circle there's a smaller one, which is the human system. Human society, human. But we're only part, we're not whole, the whole thing. We're just only part because we have many, many other life forms on earth. Right? And within the human society, human systems, there's economic system as one of the subsystems, next to politics, culture, uh, science, spirituality, whatever, you know, so many differences. And so the, the big mistake is that we suddenly, or not suddenly, but we have gradually come to the thought that this economic system was the whole, yes, and all the rest is serving it. Like nature, it's natural resources, people is human resources and so on, right? As if the economic system was the whole and all the rest is serving it, including human beings. Because in the end, the company will fire people to maximize profit as if the people were less important than the profit. But if we look at it in a, in a more, uh, from a more meta perspective, we see that the, the, the, the goal of all economic system is to satisfy legitimate human needs through goods and services, right? And these goods of services are just part of what enhances happiness and wellbeing. Because we know that of course I need to, you know, have a house, or I need to have to eat, I need clothes, I need, yeah, you know of, that's legitimate. But that alone, doesn't guarantee happiness and wellbeing. I need, uh, friendship, I need love, I need emotional security. I need many things that I cannot buy. 

[13:53] So how do we balance the overall needs that are legitimate, you know, endless growth mindset is a kind of perversion of something that is very natural, that as human beings, we want to grow. We want to become better, we want to develop. And Inner growth has no limit. You can always become wiser, you can always become more compassionate, you can always become kinder, you can always become more generous. There's no, no limit. But material growth has material limits. And so we are mistaken our inner drive, legitimate drive for inner growth, with the outer material growth. And by doing that, we're creating for ourselves, for society, and for the planet, unhappiness and suffering. 

[14:45] Gerrit: Yeah, so what, what you just said is so immensely powerful and what resonated strongly was with me was this idea of suffering. So initially we have the thought, um, the legitimate thought that we want to have better lives. But then we kind of reach a tipping point, and we forget that the economic growth should serve people's, let's say, wellbeing. And, um, one reason why it resonated with me is through my coaching. I see many different organisations and I see a lot of suffering in these organisations. So also people on, as senior leaders, they're doing financially very well, but they are on this hamster wheel, and no matter how fast they spin it, they become very unhappy. And it seems they are caught in this system because everybody else says we need more growth. You need to work harder, and the harder you work and the more money you earn, the happier you will be. But while they are pursuing this goal of happiness, they're very unhappy. I mean, there's a lot of stress in organisations, and it happens a lot in my individual coaching where people open up to me and say, look, you know, I'm, I'm doing well. But I also see a sense that deep down below, there's something wrong. The question is, what I'm doing, is it the right thing? Is that meaningful? But this already leads them to the next point. What could I do that is more meaningful? And, um, yeah, I, I think you, you just hit the bullseye with, with your answer there.

[16:31] The question for me though, is, This system is so strong. Um, we look at the news on TV and people talk about GDP, they talk about economic growth and if, uh, a political leader is quickly ma held accountable if the economic growth is not as expected, right? So it's like we always listen to this message and we, we start to believe it. That the economic system is really all that counts. Like you said, all the rest is serving the economic system. And what I wonder is now I work with an individual leader who says like, you know, there is something wrong, but I am one of thousands of people in my organisation. How can I change things? It's like, you know, I'm swimming in the water and there is this huge ocean liner, and I alone can't change, change the cause by pushing it. What can I do, and I wonder if you have any thoughts on that? 

[17:39] Tho: Yeah, I think that's a very relevant point. Um, so I think the starting point is to realise that this kind of dichotomy between individual and system is a illusionary one, right. Because actually the system is nothing else than, uh, the manifestation of the way we individually and collectively think, feel, act, relate, right. So it's not an, an entity that has individual life or something like that. It's really the manifestation of collective consciousness. Yeah. So on one hand, the good news is because we are part of creating the system, we can be part of changing the system. The bad news, or not the bad news, but the, the realisation is that, I am co-responsible. So we tend to blame someone else. You know, we blame a bad leader, we blame a bad CEO, we blame the billionaires, we blame whatever, whoever we like to blame. And that's sort of, you know, easy. It's their fault. I'm a good guy, but it's their fault.

[18:50] But actually, uh, even the so-called leaders are nothing more than like the manifestation of what the collective consciousness brings about. So the good news is, and you know, my teacher had a very strong, Thich Nhat Hanh, had this strong expression - "The way out is in". Yes. So the way out of the trouble is going in. And so let's look at, you know, when we speak of happiness, of true happiness, not superficial, uh, pleasure, but true happiness. There are three fundamental components. The first one is to live in harmony with oneself. In order to live in harmony with oneself, it means that at least once in a while, we take the time to stop. Mm-hmm. Go in, observe, listen, ask ourselves what is truly important for me. Let's say, you know, if I knew I had only one more year left to live, what would I want to do during this year? Right. Or, uh, you know, what is the legacy I want to leave behind? What would I like to be remembered for? What would I like my children if I have some to remember me and so on? You know, so really what is truly important. And, and taking this time of introspection, so that I feel that gradually I can live a life that is the manifestation of my highest aspiration or deepest values. And it, you know, it might not be possible overnight, but gradually, leading my life in such a way that the Inner and the Alto become more aligned. So that's the number one. And these are, of course, there are many techniques like, mindfulness, meditation, like, you know, things like that where you can really learn to take the time, observe, create the Inner space to enhance yourself's knowledge and become more aware of what are my true values. That's the first dimension. 

[20:46] The second dimension is living in harmony with others. We know, again, both from our own experience and from a lot of research data, that the one factor that plays the biggest role, in subjective experience of wellbeing is the quality of human relationships. Yeah. So you might be as rich as you want. If every morning when you go to work, you know there are going to be conflicts and tensions, very little, very little wellbeing. Or let's imagine you, you go on holiday in the fanciest five star resort, on the most beautiful beach, the food is just gourmet gastronomic, three star Michelin, whatever. And you get go there with your partner or spouse or loved one or whatever, you know, and oh, it could be paradise. But then for some reason, you start having a fight with your partner or your spouse, and because of this fight, which might not be even that important, suddenly the paradise disappears and you're in hell. Right. The beach is still as nice. The food is nice, your suite is gorgeous, but you're having an argument and you're, you know, so there's not much left of your happiness. So we know that the quality of human relationship, of the quality of feeling part of a social, um, you know, a social fabric of a social field, a quality of relationship with friends, with family, with colleagues is so important. But human relationship, friendship, love, needs time and commitment. You could not just expect it happens by chance. We need to cultivate friendship, we need to cultivate love. It means we need to put our attention on it. We need to give it time, and we, if we are so busy working all the time to earn more money, most probably we are not giving our loved ones enough time. And that's a recipe for unhappiness. 

[22:46] And the third dimension is living in harmony with nature, with our planet. So when you ask many people, so what you do, if you want to, you know, uh, have more energy, many people will tell you, oh I go in nature. Yeah, might be the beach and be the mountain, might be in the forest, might be in my garden, whatever. But we all feel that, you know, we, we receive a lot from nature when we are really in nature. And if we become aware of what we receive from nature, then we can also give back to nature. So it's really important we live in a society, we have been very disconnected from nature. Yeah. And, and that's why when we work in the field of education, we really emphasise that one of the field of education is helping children really feel connected with nature. And feeling connected with nature is not just an egoistic thing, you know, I mean not being ecological at all is simply plain stupid because it's like sawing the branch on which we are sitting. But egoistic ecology is not good enough. We need to recognise that other life forms, animals, plants, forests, oceans, air, they have the right for a good life, in the same way that we humans have the right for a good life. And so if we relate to, uh, other life forms as beings and not just objects that are there for us to exploit, then we can start feeling compassion and, and even love. You can love a, a mountain, you can love a, a river, you can love a tree, you know, and then you will treat it like a loved one, which means with respect. 

[24:31] Gerrit: Yeah. And when, when you think of, uh, coming back to the term system, right, we are also part of that system. I mean, the air that I'm breathing, the oxygen that I'm breathing is, is essentially coming from the trees. So if I'm destroying the, the trees, I'm also destroying myself. Exactly. And uh, as a chemist, I know I made out of a lot of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and, and, and other uh, elements, uh, it's, it's exactly the same that we find in nature. And once I leave this life, I'll become part of that again, right. But also picking up on what you said, um, with the relationships, it reminds me of this famous Harvard study where I believe they observed people for I think over 80 years, eight zero. And they said, yeah, the quality of the, of relationships that we have are the most important factor that predicts quality of life, length of life, happiness. Um, so, so that is very important. But when I come back to the first part where you talked about the, the systems, I think that's very, very important. It's something that Martin and I also talk a lot about. Um, if I bring it back to the corporate leaders who are our audience, we are all part of this system as well at work. And while we maybe can't control the system, we can't control outcomes, we can always influence. And I would want hundred percent agree if I want to change something, it always starts with me. 

[26:03] Now my concern here is when I read scientific literature some, something has changed over the last 10 years or so, and that is the insight that we probably have only this decade to turn things around to avoid a a, a climate disaster. Uh, you know, many, many years ago people had different arguments around it, but I think nowadays all scientists agree, uh, if we don't turn things around now, it, it will be too late. And I wonder, uh, do we have the time, right. So if, if now people are listening to us and say, yeah, yeah, I need to do something. I don't know how many people we will be reaching, but will that be enough? And I don't know if you have an answer to that, but I wonder what your thoughts are around this. So maybe let me rephrase that.

[26:58] Um, do we have time for evolution or do we need a revolution in terms of how we treat each other, how we work in corporations, how we relate to each other as society? 

[27:15] Tho: So my take on it is that as a humankind also individually, um, there's two ways to learn. Either we learn through suffering, and we got one blow after the other, until we realize, okay, I have to change something because I can't bear it anymore. Or we learn through consciousness, through wisdom, right. So for me, the question is not, are we going to change the humankind. Of course we have to change because, uh, the, the planet won't, won't be able to cope with the way we're behaving. Uh, you know, as you said it, it could be catastrophic. The question is, the changes that need to come about will they come about through conscious, intentional decisions that would allow to minimise the suffering because we consciously go in your new direction. Or we will have suffered so much that at some point we won't have the change, the the option we will have to change, right. So for me it's not, is change going to come about yes or no, it, of course it's going to come about. But is it going to come about a, through mindfulness and compassion, in a way that is more gentle, in a way that creates less suffering, in a way that, you know, uh, brings is as inclusive as possible. Or will we continue with our blind ways of power and dominations and violence and congruence and competition and so on, until the system simply breaks apart, you know. And even if that's the way it's going to be, if it breaks apart, we still need to already now plant the seeds of the future. Mm-hmm. So that you know, when the system breaks apart, there are already seeds of a different way of living together. A way of living together that is more compassionate, that is more generous, that is more inclusive, that is more gentle, and these seeds can be planted now. Yeah. No matter what happens, because the future as such doesn't exist, the future is just a manifestation of the seeds that we are planting today. Wow. So if, you know, if I let myself be discouraged by, oh my God, the task is so big, I'm, I'm so small, and then I won't do anything and therefore the future will be worse. But if disregarding the fact that of course it's only a modest contribution, but I do my part, I do the best I can, and through doing that, I'm already influencing the future. Now, quantitatively is, for me, the quantity is not so much the question, it's more the quality. Because if you look at evolution, it's not brought about by huge number of people. It's brought about by, you know, people having this very strong impulse. Like let's say you take somebody like Lord Buddha, Lord Jesus, or Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or, you know, the, the big heroes of a of, of humankind. There weren't usually not heads of, of huge organizations, right, or had huge armies. They did the right thing at the right moment with an Inner qualitative strength, and that changed the course of history. And I think that's still the case. Hmm. 

[30:37] Gerrit: When people now feel inspired and say, yeah, I also envision a different future we must walk away from and, and when I think of corporations, Uh, what are they measuring? Everything is around the financial success. They have all kinds of KPIs that they measure. They may have a few more now also that relate to sustainability. But Tho I wonder because you also work with corporations who want to change things, and I think you have, right, a number of practical examples. Uh, if somebody says, whether I'm the CEO of the company or a mid-level leader, I want to make some changes. Where could they start? And also, I think you made in your book a very important point about, um, what, I cannot remember exactly how you said it, but you said something along the lines. Um, what gets measured is what we focus our attention to. So besides the KPIs that we already have, what could people measure? How can they get started?

[31:47] Tho: Yeah, I think that's a really important point. I would like maybe first to, um, build a little bit on what Martin said. Because I think it's very much related about what is true leadership. And I think that one very important aspect of leadership is about directing collective attention. Mm. Right. But in order to be able to direct, collective attention the right direction, I have to be first able to direct my own attention. And whoever has started to try to practice something like mindfulness meditation, you notice that, in a normal consciousness we are not the master of our own attention. Yeah. So we are very much determined by external factors and, and now with, you know, all our little gadgets and this and that, more than ever. So the first thing is, am I able to intentionally, freely direct my attention to what I think is important? And that has to do with what I said before, living in harmony with oneself. That my attention is aligned with my intentions, right. So what I really want, it's where I put my attention. If I'm able to do that for myself, then I can also learn to do it for the collective. And if the collective shifts its collective attention, then the world you perceive becomes a different one. Because it's not that there's a an objective world that everybody sees the same thing, you know, we all only see a little portion of reality and we see the portion that where we are focusing our attention. That's what we observed, that's what we noticed, that what becomes relevant. So what we, where we put our attention determines the perspective we have and therefore the decision we will take.

[33:36] Mm-hmm. Therefore, when we work with corporations, with companies, we work on several things simultaneously. One is what are really the values that we want to uphold as a company. You know, vision, mission, values, but not like something abstract that is written on the wall or put in a drawing. But really what are the values that we really believe in as a company. So we redefined the mission, the vision, the mission, and the values. And then we say, okay, so if that, these are the values that we believe in, what are the behaviours, what are the ways to relate to one another, to society, to nature that are aligned with these values. You know, and there is where these measurement elements are important as, because, as you said, if we only measure financial success then all our decisions will be determined by financial dimensions. If we realize that as a company we can be also a force for the good in the world, because of course a company has to make profit, but, but profit is not the actual goal. The profit is a means so that the company can continue to live and develop and so on, right. But the goal of the company is to fulfil its mission, which is serving its clients, serving society by creating, uh, goods and services that are useful, right. And when working with companies, we've always tried to work simultaneously on these different elements.

[35:15] So as first as a leadership group, redefining vision, mission, values. Then defining, okay, if we take that seriously, how should we behave on a daily basis as a manager, being as a top manager, mid manager, doesn't matter. How do I treat my people so that the way we interact with one another is really the expression of these values that you want to uphold. Yeah. Then we redefine the measurement. And so there's a whole indicator system that, you know, I'm not going to go into that. That enables a company to have a much more holistic understanding of its impact, not only financial, but environmental, social, cultural, and so on and so forth. And then at the same time, we work with the Inner dimension. And we usually, um, offer a course that is called Happiness Ambassadors or GNH Ambassadors, where people on a voluntary basis join a course where they learn to develop this Inner, what we call happiness skills, which is basically how do you consciously develop your insight, your wisdom, your compassion, your mindfulness, with very practical, down to earth exercises that can even be used in a company.

[36:34] And we've done that with a number of companies and we've seen really impressive turnarounds within the company. And that doesn't mean that the company is becoming less successful, but that the people in the company feel much more happy about their work, yeah, therefore, there's less turn-over, therefore there's a better climate if there's a better climate there's less, uh, you know, sick leave, there's less burnout, there's less. So it actually enhances the work of the company. Here in the Geneva University we have a one year course called Happiness in Organisations where we train, uh, managers to do that, we've done that already for quite a number of years, and we've seen it really being applied, uh, in Switzerland, in Vietnam, in Thailand also. And, and we know that it, it's really feasible, it's not an illusion. It can be done, but it needs a very strong commitment from the leadership. Yeah. 

[37:26] Gerrit: And I think it's so important to highlight, it's not about happiness as something fuzzy, and we're all just having fun at work and, and we don't care about the results anymore. It's really this deep sense of purpose and wellbeing. I think, uh, that's an important point to highlight. Martin, 

[37:46] Martin: Are, are there any practical examples on how has this Inner development from the companies that you have helped how they, how it has also translated to external impact on other stakeholders? Can you share some examples? 

[38:02] Tho: Sure. I, so one of the latest examples that we've had is a, a company in Vietnam called Biti's. It's the largest shoe produced in Vietnam, 10,000 employees, uh, 25 million pair of shoes produced every year. Um, so it's, it's a large company. And, uh, about four years ago, the CEO of the company, which is a lady, asked us to bring Gross National Happiness in their business. And so we did what I've just described. We worked with them on the vision mission, redefining the indicators, and then, um, working with the leadership on, um, happiness skills. And then every year we train about 40 happiness ambassadors that are across the, the hierarchy and across the departments. And, uh, so there has been many, many outcomes. One was that because it's a, it's a manufacturing company, mm-hmm, so a lot of the employees are like, you know, frontline, uh, workers in factories, not very educated, uh, many of them young women. You know, just sewing shoes and stuff like that. And of course for them something like Gross National Happiness or happiness was very abstract. They had no idea what, you know, there's something the leadership is doing up, up there, but you know, it doesn't have to do anything with my life. And as long as like that, it won't help. So what we have, what did, with the help of the measurement that we did, we tried to identify what are the problems, real life problems that these people have, and we started offering, uh, workshops for them that were free and that they could join on their work time. For instance, we identified that many were young mothers, um, and, uh, the education has shifted in Vietnam from large families, to, suddenly moving into the city, a couple with two children, or a single mom with a child or something like that. Yeah. And they're quite helpless because in the past it was like the grandmother, the mother-in-law, and so on, you know, helping with education. And, and, uh, because they were quite helpless, uh, you know, they thought, okay, if I give my, my, my kid the best possible tablet or iPhone or whatever, that, that, you know, that's the way they try to show their love, but it's not that helpful. And so we, we created a educational, uh, course, uh, one day educational course that, uh, workers could come and join, you know, on during their work time, where we really addressed the basic understanding of the development of the child, the needs of the child, the relationship, uh, parents', children, and things like that. And I remember the first time we did it, we had I think 300 or 400, uh, mostly young women there. And then, you know, there was a presentation and then they were sitting in circle of 10, 12 and discussing their problems and sharing and so on. And then at the end of the day, we asked for feedback and one young lady came up, she was in a 22 to 23 young, and she was in tears and she said: You know, I've been working only for one year in Biti's I'm like a factory worker, I'm an uneducated, I have a child, I have, I have many questions and it, this, they helped me so much. But what really touched me is I was sitting in a circle with 12 people and the CEO was sitting with me next to me. Mm-hmm. And suddenly I realized, oh, she's also just a woman. You know, and we could share about education and children, you know, and when something like that happens, there's a shift. Although it's experienced by one person, the whole company shifts. You see what I mean, it's suddenly this, what is it to be a CEO is not, you know, like a very far away figure of somehow, almost like, you know, un unreachable. Suddenly it's a human being that shares my similar questions, similar challenges, who's maybe also a young mother or you know, Mm-hmm. And so this is one example and through doing many different, kind of like very practical, uh, hands-on workshop where the simple factory workers could get a sense that when our management say they care for our wellbeing, it's not just an empty phrase. Mm-hmm. They really care for our wellbeing. And then the, the mood of the company changed completely and then they came to Covid and then there was a lockdown. And the, the company lost 50% of its revenue. And when I spoke with the CEO on the first week of the lockdown, I asked her, okay, Cindy, what are you going to do? She said, whatever happens I won't fire anywhere every anyone, because I'm responsible for 10,000 families. You see, that's the mindset, you know, and because so, and they did during the covid had amazing things from distributing food to helping hustle, well, I don't go into details, amazing things. But when the lockdown stopped, many, many company had lost a lot of their employees and really struggled to get them back. Biti's on day one they had the 10,000 workers in the factory, super motivated. Having the feeling, my job is meaningful, and I'm just not only sewing shoes, I'm making a positive contribution to society. That's the outcome of a happiness program in a, in a, in a company.

[43:39] Martin: That's such an inspiring example. In, in, in my head now I'm thinking about the ability to have empathy, Yep, as a CEO she could choose to sit at the top of the building in, in, in her nice corner office, but she choose to sit in a workshop with 12 people and spend her time there. And I'm thinking about her deep sense of empathy and the, and the humbleness. And then why is this not a much more common example? How come it seems like the higher people are promoted in organizations, it seems on the surface, at least to me, they're, they're losing this ability to be empathetic. What, what do you think? Am I, am I wrong or is there a sense of truth in that? 

[44:40] Tho: Well, one of the, one of the first system that we try to transform when we work with companies, the HR system. Mm-hmm. Because when you hire people, what are the criteria? Are you only looking at financial, uh, dimension or, you know, proficiency? Or are, are you also looking at human values? Empathy, compassion, team ability to work in team and things like that. Second thing is, you know, every company has some kind of, uh, yearly or bi-yearly review, you know, assessment, whatever it's called, and then who are, what are you judging people on? You know, if they made a lot of profit, but their, their team is burned out, do you consider that a success or do you accept if the profit is maybe 10% less, but they have a, a strong team that will also on the long run, be able to continue working together? So what are the kind of people you, you are promoting? So the kind of, you know, leadership that we've been promoting, kind of ruthless, sort of alpha male, uh, you know, is also the, as I said, it's not their fault as individuals, is also the way the system is geared. The way again, where do we put our attention? Mm-hmm. So when you change the HR system so that you include, you know, quote unquote, happiness skills, so, you know, soft skills, human qualities, the ability to, to really deal in a empathetic, compassionate, uh, supporting way with your staff. If you promote this kind of people, then you will find yourself with good people on the top. Mm. 10 years from now, right? Mm. So when you do succession planning, what kind of people are you looking for? So I think it's, that's the, that's the the thing. If you want to create a gross national happiness kind of perspective on your company, you have to look at the various systems. And HR is a very important one. So that you are, make sure you promote those kind of people who are embodying the kind of values that you want to promote within and also outside the company. Yeah. 

[46:54] Gerrit: Hmm, and I'm really glad that you're bringing up these real life examples because when I'm listening to you, I'm really deeply touched, and at the same time I'm thinking, oh, you know, I'm going to the next networking event with business people., And then I talk with them about happiness in the workplace. I think many of them, that is of course an assumption, but at least in the collective, many would say: goodness, you know, leave me alone with these ideas of happiness and compassion. We're here to get results and they mean the, the financial results. And then when we have these real life examples and like company with 10,000 employees producing millions of shoes every year, that's not a small, small family business, even though I know it is a family business, right? Mm-hmm. So I think the more we can see of, um, these positive examples, the more people and the more organizations will change over time. So I can only wish you the best of luck with, with the work that you're doing. 

[47:56] And, uh, Martin, I know we can go on forever, but I just wanna check, have you have any other important aspects that we should touch today? 

[48:07] Martin: I think we can go into reflection questions and then if that leads to another thread, we can continue that thread. Cause, uh, my head is popping with, uh, with, uh, uh, um, unanswered questions. 

[48:24] Gerrit: Does does that mean what you, what you like to start with a reflection question? Otherwise, i, I have one of my own..

[48:30] Martin: Gerrit, please, uh uh, please go ahead and then I don't need the last time I took yours. 

[48:37] Gerrit: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate your empathy.

[48:41] Um, one thing, I, I took a few notes while we're we're talking and one of the many things that resonated strongly with me was, um, let's say when I, when I put myself into the shoes of my clients, uh, and they may see, or they may have this strong desire that, they want to change something in their organisation and now they learn, yeah, I have to start with myself. And what I found very powerful was this question: um, is my attention aligned with my intention? Which would then consequently mean before I can answer this question, am I actually clear what my intentions are? At work and, and for my life overall. So, recapping it that that, briefly repeating it briefly. Um, what are my intentions and in my daily life, how is my attention aligned with this intention? I think that would be a good starting point. 

[49:51] Martin: Yeah, building on what Gerrit said around attention and intention, I want to reflect on two levels. One is what we have talked about many times in the past. Uh, when and how do I take the time to reflect on my intentions? And secondly, based on that outcome, what changes am I willing to make? What steps am I willing to take to create a significant change, even if it feels uncomfortable. And what are the risks that I'm prepared to take to do things differently moving forward? 

[50:46] Gerrit: And Tho, we have asked you many questions already. Do you have a re reflection question that you would like to add? 

[50:55] Tho: Sure. So it's a reflection question that I would like to ask that our listeners who are leaders and executives and so on. And it is the following: we all know, for instance, that we have to do change something because of climate change. We all know that there's a disconnect in our life between what we truly want and what we are doing. So there's a kind of disconnect between the knowing and the doing. So everybody, I mean, very few people get up in the morning saying, hey, today I'm going to destroy the planet, what a fun activity, and I'm going to make sure that social inequality becomes strong. You know, I don't think there's many of us getting up in the morning thinking like that. Really. I believe that fundamentally, most humans want the good, and yet collectively we create results that nobody wants. See, so individually we have values, I'm sure all of our listeners maybe really care for the wellbeing of their children if they have, or for the next generation. So how come when we have this common, uh, good intention, we cannot manifest that in the way we work, in the way we act, so that this disconnect between knowing and doing is overcome. So, So that's really a, for me, a very deep reflection question. Please ask, we should ask ourselves, you know, what creates this gap between the fact that we know what should happen and we seem unable to do it, but we can do it. We could do it. So what will help us bridge this gap? 

[52:49] Gerrit: Hmm. Extremely powerful. Yeah. Wow. And it was a really, I think the whole episode, the whole discussion was very powerful. So thank you so, so much Tho for being our guest today. And I can imagine, I hope that many people get inspired, uh, by listening to this episode. Um, If people, let's say, want to know more, uh, who should get in touch with you and how can they get in touch with you?

[53:19] Tho: So, uh, the Eurasia Learning Institute for Happiness and Wellbeing, we are working in two fundamental fields. One is the field of organization, businesses. Uh, so we are consulting with businesses who want to bring happiness in the organization and, you know, doing the kind of, uh, projects that I'm describing. And the other field that we're working is the field of education, because if we want to change to [?] society, we have to start with education. And happiness skills should be part of the fundamental skills that are, that is thought taught throughout educational system from kindergarten all the way to higher education.

[53:56] So these are the two fields that we're working in. So people who, uh, feel that they want to bring about change, either in corporate world or educational dimension, uh, are welcome to, you know, go on our website or contact us. And of course we have limited resources in terms of availability and so on but we, we can also, you know, maybe guide a little bit or find ways to collaborate. Because I think if we, the, the stronger then international network becomes around this common intention of bringing happiness to all people and wellbeing to all life forms, the more we can also, uh, bring about the change that actually most of us want to see happening. 

[54:37] Gerrit: Mm-hmm. And you mentioned the website, which is elihw[dot]org. We will make sure that we put also a link in our session notes, uh, Martin, anything else from your side? 

[54:54] Martin: No, I just want to pre say thank you and, uh, express my appreciation for this conversation we had. Thank you Gerrit., Thank you Tho. 

[55:03] Tho: Thank you.

[55:04] Gerrit: Thank you both again, and this concludes today's episode. If you like the podcast, remember to subscribe on your favorite platform so you don't miss out on the latest episodes. And if you would like to help us grow the show, we will really appreciate it if you tell a friend about it post on social media or leave a positive comment or rating. More info about Martin and myself and our work is also on our website. That is secondcrackleadership[dot]com, all in one word. And also we would be very happy to hear your feedback, your questions or comments. The address for that is hello[at]secondcrackleadership[dot]com.

[55:48] Bye for now and until next time.