Innovative Thinking In Teams Boosted By Mindfulness

There is a fundamental contradiction when organizations ask employees to maintain a fast pace of work and at the same time to be innovative.

In hectic workplaces, people often resort to autopilot or habitual ways of working. When they don’t have the time or space to incubate clever and innovative ideas, they miss out on opportunities to reframe a problem and see new possibilities for potential solutions, write Ellen Keithline Byrne and Tojo Thatchenkery.

How can you make your team more innovative? New research indicates that a short period of mindfulness meditation training can have a positive impact on creative output. To explore this idea further, Byrne and Thatchenkery conducted a study with a midsize U.S.-based real estate firm.

The study split up a team of 10 people into a meditating group and a control group. To start, all 10 people were give a creative task: to brainstorm as many unusual uses for a brick as they could think of. Ten-minute mindfulness exercise were administered and afterward the subjects resumed brainstorming the creative task. 

Seven out of 10 people increased the number of creative ideas they had in only 10 minutes. With this same group of people over the course of five weeks, the researchers administered a series of innovative tasks and found that the meditating group identified double the number of innovative ideas as the control group. The group process was noticeably different, where the mindfulness group was 121% more able to build on the ideas of others.

Mental training can nurture key areas in the creative process. The burgeoning research suggests that people who practice mindfulness have more cognitive flexibility, are able to see beyond what they’ve already done, and are better at solving problems requiring insight. This facilitates what creativity experts refer to as the incubation and insight stages of the creative process.

Mindfulness requires time and attention, where a person does not get stuck thinking about ideas they have had in the past and observes everything as if they are seeing it for the first time, which contributes to turning off the autopilot driving thoughts and actions.

The research indicates that people are open to more-original ideas after just a brief meditation exercise. And when this is applied across a team of people, the effects are multiplied.

To foster a culture of innovation, leaders need to give greater attention to their employees’ mindsets and consider championing mindfulness practices throughout their organizations. By cultivating milieus where employees are encouraged to be creative, they’re able to move past a mere focus on organizational efficiencies and to develop ways of working and thinking that haven’t been seen before.

What else can companies do to develop mindful teams and cultures?

Connect mindfulness to corporate values

Demonstrate a deliberate intention to develop a mindful culture by linking the mindfulness benefits to the organization’s stated values. For example, if “embrace and drive change” is a value, as it is at Zappos, highlight how mindfulness practice facilitates greater awareness of cognitive and emotional reactions to change. Through this awareness, employees can become aware of their fear of the unknown, see more objectively, and react less habitually, all in order to create greater opportunity for change.

Create corporate-based mindfulness programs

Train employees in mindfulness practices and in how to apply the benefits to daily life. For instance, ask employees to consider: (1) which habits support efficiency and which habits get in the way of considering something new, and (2) how the creative process works and what methods can integrate that process into the workplace.

Supplement in-house leadership development programs

Offer a condensed version of the corporate-based mindfulness program during routine leadership training sessions.

Allow for mindful moments. Offer opportunities for employees to slow down, to incubate, and to see with fresh eyes. In meetings, for example, kick off with a brief settling-in period. Offer people the opportunity to become fully present to the agenda at hand. By taking a deep breath, invite employees to leave past concerns and future worries aside until the meeting is over. This contributes to developing an attentive mindset.

Organizations can also provide quiet places in the office where employees can meditate. We call these “wellness rooms.”

Provide the proper resources. 

Offer employees resources for developing their creativity and mindfulness practice: webinars, meditation aids, lunch and learns, speaker series, retreats, etc.