How advice gurus sell more products when corporations discover mindfulness training doesn’t work

competative advantage

Corporations purchasing expensive mindfulness training packages for corporate leadership and rank and file employees inevitably discover they do not obtain the benefits that are claimed for mindfulness. How can this become a strategic opportunity for advice gurus to sell more products?

value of happinessIn a recent article in Harvard Review of Business (HBR) article, Daniel Goleman and Matt Lippincott deftly explain that if corporations still believe in the promises of mindfulness, they should purchase their product, training in emotional intelligence. They claim the support of unpublished research, but, as we will see, the published research casts doubts on their product being backed by much evidence.

book cover_24582677-2ecc-4456-a2c1-c2eadfcb8d5b.jpgNo matter. We have a fascinating example of associations with Harvard, research, and University of Pennsylvania being used to brand an advice product as effective and backed by science.  It is a strategy that Amy Cuddy used to present herself as an advice guru before the launch of power posing. Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton use the HRB to launch their campaign for the science of smarter spending, how money can buy you happiness, if you follow their advice.

The click link “What really makes mindfulness works” suggests an article from Harvard Review of Business explainswhat really makes mindfulness training work. Actrually, the article actually pitches products for when corporations find mindfulness does not  live up to expectations.

Without Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness Doesn’t Work

The first two paragraphs skillfully criticize mindfulness as a fad, but argue for a “complicated relationship” between mindfulness and improved executive performance, setting the reader up for a pitch for their product, which provides a more effective route.

Mindfulness has become the corporate fad du jour, a practice widely touted as a fast-track to better leadership. But we suspect that not all the benefits laid at its feet actually belong there. Our research and analysis has revealed a complicated relationship between mindfulness and executive performance—one that is important for leaders to understand as they seek to develop in their careers.

 Mindfulness is a method of shifting your attention inward to observe your thoughts, feelings, and actions without interpretation or judgment. A mindfulness practice often begins simply by focusing on your breath, noticing when your mind wanders, and then bringing it back to your breath. As you strengthen your ability to concentrate, you can then shift to simply noting your inner experience without getting lost in it at any point in your day. The benefits attributed to this kind of practice range from stronger relationships with others to higher levels of leadership performance.

The next paragraph introduces Sean, “a senior leader at a Fortune 100 corporation” who will tell you that mindfulness played a critical role in transforming his career.

To allay readers’ suspicions that Sean may be a fiction contrived by the authors to make a point, they next claim he is one of  “42 senior leaders from organizations throughout the world who practice mindfulness and whom one of us (Matt Lippincott) studied at the University of Pennsylvania.”

This “research” is described in HBR as producing a promoter’s dream list of benefits to practicing mindfulness. Unfortunately, no link is provided to an actual report of methods and results.

I Googled Matt Lippincott. A link to ResearchGate came up

Lippincott has no published research listed, but there was a link to an unpublished dissertation.

This qualitative research study examined detailed reports by senior organizational leaders linking mindfulness to improved leadership effectiveness. Extensive research supports the existence of a relationship between mindfulness and cognitive, physiological, and psychological benefits that may also have a positive impact on leadership effectiveness. Currently, however, little is known about the processes potentially enabling mindfulness to directly influence leadership effectiveness, and as a result this study was designed to explore this gap in the literature. Data was collected through in-depth interviews with forty-two organizational leaders in North and South America and Europe, many with a history of leadership roles at multiple global organizations. Participants credited mindfulness for contributing to enduring improvements to leadership capabilities, and data analysis revealed new findings clarifying the perceived relationship between mindfulness and tangible results for organizational leaders. Specifically, the results indicate that mindfulness is perceived to contribute to the development of behaviors and changes to awareness associated with improved leadership effectiveness. A potential relationship between mindfulness and the development of emotional intelligence competencies linked to increased leadership performance was revealed as well. The contribution of this study to current literature is also discussed, as are recommendations for future research.

So a dissertation with a weak methodology that allows invoking “research” and “University of Pennsylvania” for credibility.

Back to the wrap up of the HBR article, we get the buy-our-product punch line:

We believe that by focusing on mindfulness-as-corporate-fad, leaders run the risk of missing other opportunities to develop their critical emotional skills. Instead, executives would be better served by deliberately assessing and improving their full range of emotional intelligence capabilities. Some of that work may well involve mindfulness training and practice, but it can also include formal EQ assessment and coaching. Other tools and approaches include role-playing, modeling other leaders you admire, and rehearsing in your mind how you might handle emotional situations differently. By understanding that the mechanism behind mindfulness is the improvement of broader emotional intelligence competencies, leaders can more intentionally work on all of the areas that will have the strongest impact on their leadership.

The two authors

Daniel Goleman is Co-Director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University, co-author of Primal Leadership: Leading with Emotional Intelligence, and author of The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights, Leadership: Selected Writings, and A Force For Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World. His latest book is Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.

Matthew Lippincott is a business owner, researcher, and author involved in the creation of new leadership development solutions. He holds a doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and has previously held leadership positions at two of the world’s largest software companies.

We get a sense of former Psychology Today editor Daniel Goleman trying to create a brand of advice that unites the Dalai Lama, the good, and corporate competitiveness. Lippincott has delivered a Penn Wharton dissertation uniting mindfulness and emotional intelligence. He got work on this basis.

Hmm, did the link emerge from the data, or is this dissertation simply an informercial aimed at getting a job marketing the combo of mindfulness and emotional intelligence?

The scientific status of emotional intelligence

According to Wikipedia:

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the capability of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).[1]

Although the term first appeared in a 1964 paper by Michael Beldoch, it gained popularity in the 1995 book by that title, written by the author, psychologist, and science journalist Daniel Goleman. Since this time, Goleman’s 1995 analysis of EI has been criticized within the scientific community,[2] despite prolific reports of its usefulness in the popular press.

The Wikipedia offers three stinging critiques backed by links to references.

Emotional intelligence cannot be recognized as form of intelligence

Goleman’s early work has been criticized for assuming from the beginning that EI is a type of intelligence or cognitive ability. Eysenck (2000)[57] writes that Goleman’s description of EI contains unsubstantiated assumptions about intelligence in general, and that it even runs contrary to what researchers have come to expect when studying types of intelligence:

“[Goleman] exemplifies more clearly than most the fundamental absurdity of the tendency to class almost any type of behavior as an ‘intelligence’… If these five ‘abilities’ define ’emotional intelligence’, we would expect some evidence that they are highly correlated; Goleman admits that they might be quite uncorrelated, and in any case if we cannot measure them, how do we know they are related? So the whole theory is built on quicksand: there is no sound scientific basis.”

Emotional Intelligence confuses skills with moral qualities.

Adam Grant warned of the common but mistaken perception of EI as a desirable moral quality rather than a skill, Grant asserting that a well-developed EI is not only an instrumental tool for accomplishing goals, but has a dark side as a weapon for manipulating others by robbing them of their capacity to reason.

Emotional Intelligence has little predictive value.           

Landy (2005)[61] claimed that the few incremental validity studies conducted on EI have shown that it adds little or nothing to the explanation or prediction of some common outcomes (most notably academic and work success).

Some further links I also discovered

Steve Topak’s Don’t Believe the Hype Around ‘Emotional Intelligence’ 

What if I said that emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand and control emotions – not just our own but the emotions of others, as well? What if I said it can be used to manipulate behavior? That sounds a bit different, doesn’t it? Not such a no-brainer anymore, is it?


This is not some sort of rhetoric slight of hand nor is that definition controversial. It’s common doctrine. But if authors, consultants and executive coaches were to say that Adolf Hitler was as adept at emotional intelligence as Martin Luther King Jr. – as Adam Grant explains in The Atlantic – they would not sell many books or book a lot of gigs.

Excerpts from a nice comprehensive review

Kilduff M, Chiaburu DS, Menges JI. Strategic use of emotional intelligence in organizational settings: Exploring the dark side. Research in organizational behavior. 2010 Dec 31;30:129-52.

Just as the cognitively smart person may be able to understand options and draw conclusions quickly and competently, so the emotionally intelligent person may be able to assess and control emotions to facilitate the accomplishment of various goals, including the one of getting ahead. We suggest that high-EI people (relative to those low on EI) are likely to benefit from several strategic behaviors in organizations including: focusing emotion detection on important others, disguising and expressing emotions for personal gain, using misattribution to stir and shape emotions, and controlling the flow of emotion-laden communication.


We have shown that the strategic disguise of one’s own emotions and the manipulation of others’ emotions for strategic ends are behaviors evident not only on Shakespeare’s stage but also in the offices and corridors where power and influence are traded.

Take away messages.

Don’t expect top quality science from Harvard Business Review, but sliced and diced stuff to sell products a research-based.

Be skeptical of researchers who promote their studies in HBR. They are often publishing an infomercial that to be effective must make extravagant claims that require stronger and more unambiguous findings than research  can possibly produce.

eBook_Mindfulness_345x550I will soon be offering e-books providing skeptical lookseBook_PositivePsychology_345x550 at mindfulness and positive psychology, and arming citizen scientists with critical thinking skills so they dan decide for themselves. I also be offering scientific writing courses on the web as I have been doing face-to-face for almost a decade. I want to give researchers the tools to get into the journals where their work will get the attention it deserves.

Sign up at my website to get advance notice of the forthcoming e-books and web courses, as well as upcoming blog posts at this and other blog sites. Get advance notice of forthcoming e-books and web courses. Lots to see at

One thought on “How advice gurus sell more products when corporations discover mindfulness training doesn’t work

  1. HBR is well-known to promote garbage in its own field anyway — see this:

    It begins:

    ”Although employee engagement has become something of an HR fad, it would be hard to deny that it matters. In fact, robust meta-analytic studies show that higher levels of engagement boost employee wellbeing, performance, and retention. For example, engaged business units tend to deliver better performance, as measured in terms of revenues and profits, and organizations with enthusiastic employees tend to have better service quality and customer ratings. That said, engagement doesn’t always seem to add up. For starters, the correlation between engagement and performance outcomes is far from perfect, which means that many engaged individuals and teams are not delivering the results that leaders expect. By the same token, some leaders will find that their best performing teams are often amongst the least satisfied. How can this be?”

    So robust meta-analytics studies showing strong link from engagement to performance yet things still don’t add up …?!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s