SINGAPORE, September 16, 2013 (The Financial Times Ltd.): Every day, twice a day, for the past 20 years, Peter Ng, the executive charged with investing tens of billions of dollars for Singapore's sovereign wealth fund thinks of nothing. He does this by sitting silently and saying a word inside himself. After a few minutes, his breathing calms, his face muscles relax and the flutter behind his eyelids stills.
Mr. Ng, chief investment officer of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, sits on a panel sponsored by CFA Institute, a standards-setting body for fund managers and financial analysts, pondering the "future of finance."
Over the past decade or so, meditation -- the practice of becoming aware and then letting go of the thoughts and emotions that make up our stream of consciousness -- has spread gently from an esoteric practice into an activity nearly as ubiquitous as jogging or flossing teeth. That may be because -- as the refrain goes and as many have quietly discovered -- "meditation is not what you think".
It has been quietly incorporated into corporate life: Google and General Mills encourage the secular practice of mindfulness to help make employees more productive. Now meditation is penetrating the halls of high finance, too.
Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the world's largest hedge fund with $150bn of assets under management, is unequivocal about its effects. "Meditation, more than anything else, is responsible for whatever success I have had," he says. "When I meditate, I acquire an equanimity that allows me to see things from a higher-level perspective and that allows me to make sensible decisions."
Backed by clinical trials and married with neuroscience, the idea that meditation can help anyone find a greater sense of equanimity is well established. Money managers such as Bill Gross, the founder and co-chief investment officer of Pimco, the world's biggest fixed income investor, say it helps remove confirmation bias, the universal tendency to seek information that confirms ego-driven preconceptions while remaining blind to valuable data that contradicts it.
Quelling the mind can help managers conserve energy in daily work life. "Greater clarity makes you more orderly," says Mr. Ng. But it is especially useful during a crisis, when "volatile markets and their profit and loss implications can really throw you off-balance, even as people are mostly looking to you for direction".
CFA Institute is looking to offer meditation classes, and business schools increasingly offer courses for the "behavioral advantages" it brings.
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