Developing creative team players: Mindfulness can help

Organizations like Google, Apple, Nike, Proctor and Gamble, Coca-Cola, have been providing their employees with mindfulness training

Developing creative team players: Mindfulness can help

Saaransh is a Professional Engineer and a Certified Supply Chain & Operations professional with over 5yrs of experience managing teams. His education background includes a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering, a Master’s in Engineering and a second Master’s in Business Administration. As part of his MBA, he has done extensive research on mindfulness and its application in the field of Organizational Behavior, under the guidance of Dr. Simon Taggar at Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University.

Dr. Taggar is a Professor of Management in the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University. He is a recipient of various research awards and his research has been published in numerous top-tier academic journals. Simon’s work experience includes working as a consultant for international Human Resource Management firms.

Organizations like Google, Apple, Nike, Proctor and Gamble, Coca-Cola, have been providing their employees with mindfulness training. These organizations have one thing in common: they value creativity as a key source of competitive advantage. The emerging scientific literature points to mindfulness as a key mindset that fosters individual creativity and teamwork. Steve Jobs, one of the significant visionaries of our time, believed in mindfulness and is quoted by his biographer, Walter Isaacson, explaining

“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things-that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.” (Isaacson, Walter, Steve Jobs Biography, Ch.4, Pg. 49, Simon & Schuster, 2011)

When considering the restless mind, Jobs is referring to mind wandering, or mental proliferations. Mindfulness practice can help to develop control over these tendencies.  You see, awareness occurs when our senses are stimulated (hearing, vision, taste, smell and touch) or when thought, memory, or emotion arise in our mind based on past experiences. A person spontaneously and naturally recognizes associated feelings of attachment (pleasure) or aversion (unpleasantness) when being simulated by environmental cues, triggering a chain reaction of thoughts or emotions. This cognitive process leads to a barrage of largely uncontrolled thoughts and feelings in most people. Have you ever caught yourself mindlessly thinking of something while driving and missing a turn? Or ever caught yourself mindlessly reading a paper or a book, while your mind has wandered into thoughts about the past or future? Not having the awareness of this pattern of mind wandering keeps this cognitive process habitual.

Mindfulness, cultivated through the practice of meditation, can bring this habitual chain of mental events to conscious awareness and eventually can help an individual control the thoughts and feelings they experience. In short, mindfulness training helps practitioner person become more present in the moment and interact with their environment in a non-judgemental way with heightened awareness.

One can start practicing mindfulness through meditation by simply setting aside ten minutes, sitting with your spine erect, closing your eyes and focusing your awareness and attention on your breath in the moment. You will realize how restless your mind is and through practice you can quiet your mind and simply observe the breath, bringing you back to the moment. Just as an athlete, through sustained practice, can get better at their craft, practicing mindfulness will build on controlling cognitive resources at will and focus on the present, not allowing the mind to wander off or become lost in emotion.

So, how does mindfulness help with innovation and creativity? Creativity is influenced by three components – a person’s motivation to be creative, their cutting-edge knowledge of the field in which they want to create, and what is technically known as creativity relevant processes. The latter component involves thinking outside of the box and cognitive set breaking. It is this aspect of creativity that is most enhanced by mindfulness.

According to a recent study, mindfulness training leads to increased activity in the right cingulate gyrus (CG), insula, putamen, and the bilateral frontal, parietal and temporal regions of the brain that are associated with the ability to restructure problems leading to novel and meaningful solutions. Other research has found that mindfulness promotes divergent thinking, which is a style of thinking that allows many new ideas to be generated. Scientific studies have also found that mindfulness leads to increased creativity through its positive associations with the mechanisms of self-regulation. Self-regulation can be defined as the ability to delay impulsive reactions and is a key component for fostering positive affect leading to cognitive flexibility, an essential ability to connect different ideas and come up with alternative solutions by restructuring problems and challenging assumptions based on past experiences.

So, if you want your employees to be more creative and if you want your work culture to be one where everyone feels comfortable in sharing their ideas without worry about being judged, then think mindfulness. Mindfulness, through its non-judgemental dimension, helps individuals understand their emotional processes better and maintain better control. In addition, mindfulness, through its dimension of acceptance and open heartedness, helps enhance empathy, enhancing the ability to hear other individual’s ideas and foster positive work relationships. Furthermore, mindfulness, through its positive association with compassion, helps build trusted and healthier working relationships.

All of these attributes help with building constructive and efficient teams at the workplace, fostering an environment of creativity. Organizations that adopt mindfulness and embed it into their cultural norm will not only create a healthier workplace for their employees, but foster a sustained competitive advantage based on innovation. 

 Below, are a few ideas for starting a Mindfulness program at your workplace:

  1. Creating awareness: It is important that the practice of mindfulness be taken on voluntarily. Educating employees on the benefits of mindfulness practice may give them the motivation to adopt a mindfulness practice.
  2. Programs: Research methods of mindfulness practice along with educational courses and lectures. A few programs in this area include: Zen Practice, Integrative body mind training (IBMT), Yoga and mindfulness intervention (YOMI), Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR)
  3. Role Models: Leadership can be mindful role models for everybody else. Executives, VP’s, and Senior Managers can set an example by adapting mindfulness and getting the broader group involved.
  4. Measuring & monitoring impact: So, you have programs in place, but are they working? You can know through measurement. Track the time employees put into mindfulness practice and assess correlations with your KPI’s.
  5. Sharing stories: Share personal stories on how mindfulness has helped overcome challenges both professionally and personally. Stories can be a great tool for generating awareness and inspiring individuals to join the programs.

Now that we have generated a bit of awareness in you about the benefits of mindfulness, what will you do? If you are still in doubt, studies in health science has confirmed the benefits of mindfulness on dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline & cancer treatment management. Now, take two minutes and find a comfortable chair or stool where you can sit with your spine erect, close your eyes, and take slow deep breath simply focusing on your breath.  Inhale and exhale slowly.  Clear your mind and just focus on your breath.

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