Engineering World Peace

Tan Chade-Meng gives all proceeds from the sales of his first book, Search Inside Yourself, back to the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute and One Billion Acts of Peace.

Tan Chade-Meng, the first Singaporean to work at Google, made a big impact at the search company but quit after 15 years to focus on changing the world.

BY WONG SHER MAINE
PHOTOS SPH LIBRARY
 

T

an Chade-Meng’s work was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by seven Nobel laureates last year. So it is surprising to hear that he enjoys playing the Assassin’s Creed video-game series, in which he role-plays an assassin, and is a fan of Grand Theft Auto, in which he is a criminal. He quips: “You’re probably not expecting a well-known meditator whose work has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize to play these games.”

What is better known about him is his work as co-chair of One Billion Acts of Peace, a high-profile campaign started in September 2006 and powered by 13 Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. It encourages global citizens to take social action and create world peace by carrying out one billion personal acts of peace by 2019.

The idea, says Tan, is that the current problems facing humanity, such as poverty and environmental destruction, are so big that the only way to solve them is for the world’s citizens to work together. The campaign hopes to spark that global movement. There are now more than seven million acts of peace recorded on its website, ranging from eight Tibetan students living in India who provided an entire slum community with access to clean water to youth in East Timor who started a reforestation programme.

Tan, who is based in California but returns to Singapore for a month or two every year to visit his family, is also a thought leader, a New York Times best-selling author and a philanthropist. His desire to make more of an impact on the world led him to quit his full-time job at Google last year.

Tan, who graduated from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University with a computer engineering degree, spent 15 years as one of Google’s most unforgettable employees. In fact, he was its first Singapore employee.

Among other things, he helped build Google’s first mobile search service and was a founding member of Google’s Chinese search team. His stand-out quality, however, was encapsulated in his job title – Jolly Good Fellow (which nobody can deny). What started as a joke turned out to be real when he became the first practising engineer in Google’s history to move from engineering to human resources, what the company calls “People Operations”. It was there that Tan became synonymous with wellness and mindfulness training. He was also Google’s cultural ambassador, playing host to notable guests, such as US President Barack Obama and Lady Gaga, who visited Google’s headquarters in California.

He says: “One of the things that has made me what I am today is that I always strive to learn and grow. I try hard never to be the smartest guy in the room because if I were the smartest guy, I wouldn’t learn anything. I joined Google because people there were smarter than me, and I wanted to learn from them. That decision worked out really well.”


FROM INNER PEACE TO WORLD PEACE

He also spends time at the California-based Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, known as Siyli and pronounced “silly”, of which he is the chairman and co-founder. It advocates mindfulness programmes that were popular with Google staffers when they were introduced as part of an in-house emotional-intelligence course.
 

“As I get older and see my life slipping away a little each day, I feel more urgency to create the conditions for world peace in my lifetime, simply because I have less and less time left in this lifetime.”


Tan Chade-Meng

While One Billion Acts of Peace focuses on action for the world, Siyli takes a complementary approach of spreading inner peace, joy and compassion worldwide. He says: “I define world peace as peace in every mind, joy in every heart and compassion in every action. These three qualities are all highly trainable. Creating the conditions for world peace means making that training widely understandable, accessible and available, then hoping that at least 10 per cent of humanity become serious practitioners of inner peace, inner joy and compassion. I think 10 per cent constitutes the tipping point that will cause the world to ‘tip’ into a peaceful state.”

Towards that end, he wants to build a technology platform by the end of this year to multiply the impact of his campaign and connect like-minded individuals to work together towards world peace.

Of all the peace-related work he does, he finds that books seem to make the biggest difference, because people can take in a lot of information over many hours. His first book, Search Inside Yourself, which was written in 2012, focused on how one could enhance mindfulness and emotional intelligence in life and at work. It has sold more than 150,000 copies in over 20 languages. He says: “Many people have been approaching me, sometimes in tears, to tell me the book has changed their lives.”

With that in mind, he is working on his second book, Joy on Demand, that will teach people the skill of how to “access their inner joy”. He elaborates: “I hope that Joy on Demand can change even more people’s lives.”

 


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