SCOTT SHUTE is a pioneer of creating workplace mindfulness programs and advancing the discussion around compassion at work. He blends his experience as a Silicon Valley executive with his lifelong practice and passion as a wisdom seeker and teacher. In his recent role at LinkedIn, Scott was the Head of Mindfulness and Compassion programs, and he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, The Full Body Yes. Here, he is interviewed by EMILIE MOGENSEN.
Q: I am super happy that Scott has kindly agreed to talk to me about conscious business and entrepreneurship. It means a lot to me in my journey as an entrepreneur and as a student at the Inner MBA program, where Scott is a faculty lead. His work on how to implement ancient wisdom traditions in modern work life is really cutting edge.
In his book, Scott explains how we can learn from each other’s stories. His story really resonates with me, especially the fact he started his spiritual search at a very early age, and later in life became an entrepreneur with an achiever mindset.
I take a few deep breaths, like he taught us in one of the programs. I can do this.
(The fact Scott starts by thanking me for the work I do in the world makes me grateful, because I have met a humble and kind man.)
I am curious how a young boy in “super rural Kansas” became inclined to seek within.
SS: Yes, I grew up in rural Kansas, which is the exact middle of America. I am the youngest of five children and went to a traditional little country church. I always felt I had a deep love for the Divine, but I didn’t really understand or resonate with our religion.
When I was ten or eleven, I started asking lots of questions to my parents and pastor, and I didn’t like the answers I was getting, so I started searching for something different. I knew and believed there was something different. One of my brothers had been touring America, and when he came back to run the farm with my dad he kept disappearing for long weekends. Nobody knew what was happening. Finally, my sisters and I pinned him down and he shared that he had found a different path. He was going to spiritual retreats, and when he shared some of the teachings and belief systems from those retreats, I started weeping.
It was a feeling of connection – a sort of knowing when I am in tune with something powerful. I knew I had come home after lifetimes of being separated, like two parts of a magnet that knew the other side was out there and finally they were together. It has been a big part of my life ever since.
My parents were concerned and thought we had joined a cult. For some people, anything that is not their traditional religion is a cult. But over time they realized we are good people, regardless of what we believe. My mom, especially, has seen the growth and impact it has had on me and in what I do in the world.
Q: Is it the same spiritual practice that you do now?
SS: Yes, it is. I tend not to give the name of it, because I am out in the working world and I don’t want spirituality to get in the way of what I do at work. But I am also happy to share more about it when people reach out and are interested.
Q: Can you share what you do in your spiritual practice? Do you meditate?
SS: It looks like meditation, but I don’t call it meditation. I call it a spiritual exercise and the purpose is to get in touch with the deepest part of myself. In my worldview, that is soul. I believe that I am soul, that is my true identity, and I have a personality called Scott. The body, the mind, the emotions are the things the soul uses to get around. When I operate from the perspective of soul, then things go better. I have deeper insights, more understanding, and I can be more in tune with life.
So, there are several different practices: there is singing the word “HU,” which has been used in different traditions throughout history, and there are visualizations. If I am trying to manifest something, I do a lot of inner work, like the poet Rumi talks about spending as much time in the invisible world as in the visible world. We are creating with our thoughts, so if we want to be more conscious about what we create, it requires constant inner work. That’s some of what I am doing.
Q: I am curious to hear more about your entrepreneur side. I’m not the right person to discuss the corporate stuff, as I don’t have much experience, but I have a lot as an entrepreneur. Can you say something about your inner drive as an entrepreneur?
SS: Less than two months ago, I left LinkedIn. My vision is to change work from the inside out, and I mean that in the biggest way as 3.5 billion of us are in the workplace. My mission is to mainstream mindfulness and operationalize compassion. I’m trying to be of service. I was an entrepreneur earlier in life, when I created a start-up to help coaches get more business. Back then, I was trying to do good things, but I was also trying to make a living, whereas now I have the benefit of having done well in life, finances are less critical, so I’m really following spirit and what really wants to manifest.
Each one of us has a unique set of skills that only we have. I am the only one in the world who is the world expert in “being me.” So, I’m trying to follow the path of bringing consciousness and the business world together, because there are very few of us who have my background with both things. I am trying to let the drive be less “change the work from within,” and more “follow my own heart and soul.”
I think that soul is creative by nature. How does soul use personality, like all the skills we’ve developed? It can be as a teacher, a caregiver, a guitarist, or a barista. In my case it’s being a businessperson. How do I use those skills for the greatest and highest good?
Funnily enough, the finances flow much more easily when I am focused on that rather than on the finances.
I’m trying to follow the path of bringing consciousness
and the business world together, because there are very
few of us who have my background with both things.
I am trying to let the drive be less
“change the work from within,” and more
“follow my own heart and soul.”
Q: Spiritual entrepreneurship, how does that resonate? It sounds like you’re moving your ego to the background and surrendering to what has to happen?
SS: There is a Japanese concept called Ikigai, which is the intersection of four circles: What you’re good at, what you love to do, what you can get paid for, and what the world needs. In building a career, the most satisfying is when you are in the middle of this circle.
Had I just become a spiritual bohemian when I was twenty-two, instead of going into the world of business, I probably would have done some good things, but my impact would be limited as I would not have credibility. I created a skillset in my career to make a living, then tried to get closer and closer to what I am good at and what I like. Then, I think, the fourth one has more meaning to us as we get older: What does the world need?
So now I try to live with this question in mind: How do I operate from the perspective of soul, and how do I make it practical and survive in this world?
Q: To fit in where the world needs you – is that something you feel?
SS: Yes, I absolutely feel it as being in the center point. We sometimes talk about our genius zone, where we are our best.
Q: Is it about working from that original place within, closest to the center?
SS: When I talk about becoming more aware as soul, it’s the same as, “What is the truth about me?” and getting closer and closer to that truth of why I am here.
Q: In many ways, being a person who seeks within can seem like a contradiction to being a busy businessperson or an entrepreneur. I felt this myself at times. Can you put some words to this meeting of these two aspects of yourself, as it somehow seems to be the essence of your soul purpose? How can an achiever let go and let everything unfold as it has to unfold?
SS: I think it’s one of the hardest things, and I struggled with it for a very long time. How to be an achiever and be at ease? It makes me think of two stories from the spiritual traditions.
The first story is of a teacher and a student. Some sort of baptism is taking place, and the teacher takes the student and dunks his head underwater. The student struggles and, just before he expires, the teacher lifts his head up and the student gets to breathe again.
Then the teacher says, “When you want God or truth as much as you wanted air, then you will find it.”
The second story goes: When you finally let go of searching for truth or God, you will find it.
I was thinking: How can these two stories exist in the same universe? How does this work? I have an understanding of it now. We have this deep inner striving, and it shows up in our human form as a striving to survive. Our human bodies are built to survive, to make money, to make a family, and all that stuff, and we want to be successful in the world. That’s very important, but at some point we have to let go of the results. There is a very powerful and necessary striving,and then there is the letting go.
In the early part of our lives and careers, we become really good at certain things, and our focus tends to be on them. But at some point, hopefully we look up and go, “Is there not more to this?” And when we finally say, “Yes, there is more to this, and I want to be of service,” it’s all our skills which allow us to be of service in the world.
We have this inherent desire to exercise a skillset, to use what we know. And then we have soul, that wants to create in the world. And then there is the letting go of the result, which is a fine line of development. How do I do both things and live on the razor’s edge, in the middle of these two forces? That’s the beauty of life right there.
Q: That’s very difficult!
SS: It’s extraordinarily difficult! It’s a continual practice and the road gets narrower the further you go.
Q: I have heard you say that we are moving from a me paradigm to a we paradigm. Can you put some words on how that influences entrepreneurship in the future?
SS: Sure. Let’s think of it as spiritual development. We spend our lives thinking about “Me, me, me, my own survival, my own success, my own needs.” At some point we wake up and go, “There is more to this.” For me it was a natural process – I got married, I became a leader, and it became obvious that I would not be successful unless “we” are successful. This often happens naturally as we get older, I think, this we-orientation. It becomes the path towards our own freedom, when we learn to give. And I don’t think giving is selfless, as giving includes ourselves. This is when we start to orient to the whole versus just us, and we are then able to do so much more. Research bears this out at every level – at the individual level, the team level, and the company level, in terms of success.
If you’re having a discussion with your partner, you might bully your way into having your own way, and it might work a few times. But if you continue to do this over and over again, in the long run, you won’t have a partner. In the long run, being selfish means you end up with less. If you think of serving the whole, you get it your way sometimes and sometimes not, but both people are happy and end up with more.
It works in the same way in an organization, with customers and colleagues. If I have a deep awareness of my customers and wish the best for them, I will develop great service and products for them. The third part of compassion is the courage to take action. Sometimes I need to do what is right for my customers, and maybe it’s not great for me in the short term, but over the long term, if I balance the needs of my employees, my customers, and my shareholders, then long term I will be more successful. And the research bears this out; companies who operate this way are fourteen times more profitable. So, if you say you don’t have time for compassion in your organization, I say you don’t have time not to do this.
Said in a really crass way, if you wanna build a successful company, if you wanna make more money, then you must work for the whole.
It becomes the path towards our own freedom,
when we learn to give. And I don’t think giving is selfless,
as giving includes ourselves.
Q: So, do you think more and more companies and entrepreneurs will start working from their soul and not their ego?
SS: I hope so! All the wisdom teachings go back thousands of years. There is this beautiful quote in the book Atomic Habits by James Clear: “Our lives do not rise to the level of our goals, they fall to the level of our systems.” This was said by the Roman philosopher Gaius Acilius, 2,200 years ago. My point is, this wisdom has always been there, but we haven’t followed it. It seems to be the same in every lifetime; it’s the same with our kids, we can teach them something, but unless they go through it themselves, they don’t learn it.
So, my prediction is that it will probably be the same for the rest of eternity [laughter]. And still, I have hope!
To be continued.
Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL
Scott is a pioneer of workplace mindfulness programs and advancing compassion at work. He blends his experience as a Silicon Valley executive with his practice and passion as a wisdom seeker. He is the author of The Full Body Yes.