This past week I had the opportunity to attend the Qualtrics X4 Experience Management Summit. From Wednesday to Friday we were treated to instruction and wisdom via business leaders from all over the country, and even the world. Among a whole host of notable speakers were names like Ashton Kutcher (actor and investor), Sir Richard Branson (Entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group), Adam Silver (NBA commissioner, a personal favorite), President Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey. Needless to say, it was a week full of inspiring stories and life lessons.

Qualtrics Seminar

I could probably write several hundred blog posts based off of the things taught throughout the course of the week, but you don’t have the time to read it all, and I need to go to bed in half an hour. With that in mind I’d like to share one particular message that was shared by none other than Ms. Oprah Winfrey herself.

Oprah spoke to us Thursday morning on the topic of breakthroughs. She spoke for about an hour, sharing life experiences, times when she had personally experienced “breakthroughs.” Later in the week the CEO of Qualtrics, Ryan Smith, admitted to not being entirely fond of the subject of breakthroughs for a business tech conference. In retrospect though, he praised Oprah for providing exactly what the conference needed.

Oprah’s Message

Oprah began by talking about the start of her career. She started in TV as a news anchor and after a few years was given the opportunity to host her own talk show, which was initially broadcast to Chicago only. After just two years her talk show became nationally syndicated, and her audience increased dramatically.

She shared her experience of one of her first shows. For this particular show she and the show producers decided they would invite some white supremacists, also known as skinheads, to the show. The purpose of the show was to expose these individuals for the hateful, bigoted people they are, but as the show went on, Oprah realized more and more that she wasn’t accomplishing the goal she was working for. Instead of exposing the hatred, she saw that she had given this hateful group an hour-long national TV broadcast to spread their message.  After the show she told her producers she’d never do another show like that again.

At another point around the same time, they were able to find a husband who had cheated on his wife. This man, for whatever reason, agreed to appear on the show with his wife and girlfriend. At a certain point in the clearly dramatic show, the husband turned to his wife and told him his girlfriend was pregnant. Amid the audible gasps from herself and the audience, Oprah realized that she wasn’t using the opportunity she had been given in the way she wanted to. She was spreading drama and gossip, not good. In that moment things changed.

The Switch

After telling us these things, Oprah talked to us about intentions. Following the experiences with the skinheads and the couple, she decided to be completely clear on what her intentions were for each show. Not just her overall intention of doing good, but what she for each specific show and guest, wanted to accomplish, what the specific goal was. Before and after each show, Oprah would meet with her producers to review the show and speak very specifically of the intentions she had. They’d also have a similar meeting other times throughout the week, making sure that Oprah was fully focused on and mindful of the purpose of her show. This exhaustive focus wasn’t limited to just Oprah and her crew only, but she made a point of speaking to each guest before the show to make clear the purpose of their interview.

This process changed the course of the Oprah Winfrey show forever. It’s needless to be said but since then the show has gone on to become one of the most heralded and awarded talk shows ever.

How does this help me?

So, the question is, if Oprah benefitted so much from consciously understanding her goals for doing good, how can we benefit from being aware? Each of us makes choices every single day, but do we know why we do what we do? Why do you do the things you do each day? Work, school, family, what is your motivation for the choices you make?

The principle Oprah described to us is a principle of mindfulness, which is a powerful subject we speak of often here at BHH. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a founder for the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School described mindfulness as, “being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” Essentially being mindful means taking a step back in order to understand. This is what Oprah did every time she shot an episode of her show, and it’s what helps great leaders to be calm and collected when it matters most.

My invitation for you is to take a step back in life. Analyze why you do what you do, especially things that affect major life decisions. Are those reasons for acting productive? Do they bring about good in yours, and other, lives? The great thing about life is if when we step back, and we find things that disappoint us, we have the power to change those things.