Reflection: Today I went to the funeral of a friend’s husband who passed away long before his time.  Appreciate this may not be the most uplifting way to start an article, however it certainly grounds you in the present day.

It started me reflecting on how living in the moment, really being present, is such an important skill – both in life and work.  We are always looking to the future with forecasting, projections and trying to predict the next big thing. And whilst by no means am I saying that is wrong, I do challenge if we truly take time to grasp the here and now. I wonder, would it benefit not just our well-being and our relationships but the creative process too?

Definition:  I guess the term attributed most commonly to ‘being in the moment’ is Mindfulness.  One definition refers to Mindfulness as being attentive to the present-moment experience, while taking a curious stance without judgement or reactivity (Segal et al. 2002).  Mindfulness is also closely related to a Buddhist practice, where it is characterised as an attitude of open-minded curiosity with an intention of kindness and compassion.  Both definitions perfectly link Mindfulness to the process of creativity which starts by being curious and both supporting and nurturing the ideas of others.

Relevance:  The concept of Mindfulness seems to be everywhere these days.  When researching this article, one reference1 stated that in 2014 an Amazon search returned 2000 books on ‘Mindfulness’.  A search today returned 30,000 hits, thus demonstrating the exponential interest in the topic.

Rational:  Psychologists often use Mindfulness techniques to improve well-being, with the beneficial effects being linked to the reduction of stress and anxiety.  Increasingly, the applications of these techniques are being used within the workplace with positive results.  A 2013 study by Leroy et al2 concluded that Mindfulness enhances engagement at work:

  • directly, by making people more attentive and focused and
  • indirectly, by enhancing people’s internal awareness,

all of which generate higher levels of authentic functioning.

The link between Mindfulness and engagement seems to be well researched, but what about the link to creativity and innovation?

There is actually a plethora of research linking employee engagement to innovation.  A meta-analysis of research in this area completed by Dr. Venkoba Rao in 20163, highlighted that as far back as 1978, Katz, D. & Kahn, R. identified that employee engagement leads to innovative behaviour where the employee goes beyond individual roles to collaborate with colleagues and make suggestions to improve the organisation.  Sundaray (2011) also noted that engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work and will often be fully immersed in their job resulting in creativity and innovation.

The Gallup Organization, a widely recognized name in employee engagement, indicates there is a direct cause and effect relationship between employee engagement and organizational innovation.  Think of employees as the single most important factor in the innovation process. It tends to be employees that elicit, develop and modify the majority of ideas.  So having an engaged workforce directly benefits the creative process, innovation capability and ultimately the success of an organisation.

If Mindfulness can lead to greater employee engagement, by default, the practice of Mindfulness within an organisation should lead to a more innovative culture. In the world of innovation, an individual’s curiosity leads to an idea.  This idea needs support from team leaders, supervisors or management to get an evaluation of its potential.  Nurturing from those implementing this new change is the added ingredient for a positive outcome to the organisation.  Mindfulness by the suggester, evaluators and implementers to their roles and responsibilities is key to the success of any innovation process.

Additional Benefits:  In addition to the engagement piece, Mindfulness helps us to be more proactive by fostering the ability to isolate a problem and focus on the specifics of a challenge, which, in turn, helps us apply improved problem-solving techniques. This curiosity and open awareness often lead us to discover novel approaches to the solution, highlighting even more potential links between Mindfulness and the creative process.

As if the above were not sufficiently beneficial, Mindfulness has also been shown to help with diversity in the workplace.  It helps to create an environment in which employees can avoid judgement and process their emotional responses to sensitive topics like race, gender, and ethnicity.  Having a more diverse workforce, with a greater range of experiences and perspectives, brings a richness of thinking to the creative process.

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the Centre for Investigating Health Minds (Madison, Wisc.)6 also found that Mindfulness changes how the brain actually functions. His studies found that Mindfulness improves cognitive flexibility, creativity and innovation, well-being, emotional regulation, and empathy.

Corporate Promotion:  The weight of evidence for using Mindfulness techniques within the workplace is strong and growing.  In this context, Mindfulness could certainly help towards developing the innovative culture of an organisation.  It is no wonder that many organisations are actively promoting the benefits of Mindfulness to their employees and offering programmes promoting it.

When thinking of the most innovative organisations, Google is likely to be within the top few.  For several years they have been offering employees a ‘Search Inside Yourself’ programme which teaches self-awareness through meditation (much akin to Mindfulness) and encourages participants to reflect rather than react.

Intel also began offering its Awake@Intel Mindfulness program in 2012 in which over 1,500 employees have participated.   In addition to a reduction in stress, participants, on average report a two point increase (on a scale of 1 to 10) in having new ideas, insights, mental clarity and creativity6.

Individual Promotion:  So whilst it may not be intuitive in a world where we are continually trying to do more with less time for the organisation to invest in a corporate training program, you could still encourage employees to take a few simple steps to improve their Mindfulness and just pause for thought.  These steps could include but are not limited to7, 8:

  • Taking time at the start of the day to concentrate on your breathing
  • Encouraging employees to focus on one activity at a time
  • Take a short walk during your lunch break
  • Take regular short breaks throughout the working day to mindfully stretch or breathe
  • When talking to someone actively listen to what they are saying
  • Try something new, such as sitting in a different place at a meeting or going somewhere new for lunch

Pause for Thought:  In summary, Mindfulness seems to have many positive benefits for both the individual and organisation and the link between Mindfulness and improved creativity and innovation seems to be growing in evidence.  Whilst we may not necessarily have the authority to embark on an organisation-wide program, we can all benefit from adding some Mindfulness practices into our day.  So why not start now?  Close your eyes and just concentrate on taking 5 deep breaths in and out – with practice, who knows what more you could achieve?

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4 – Williams, R. (15 August 2014). Why reflection and “doing nothing” are critical for productivity. Financial Post
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