The connection between innovation and mindfulness might, at first glance, seem antithetical. How could the introduction of something new and different come from a focus on the present? If we are tuned in to right now, how can we create what’s next? If, through the process of mindfulness, we are focusing on less, how can we produce more?
But mindfulness is not about completely emptying your mind with the goal of creating total vacancy. Rather, it’s about staying focused on what’s going on right now—clearing away distractions and being present—with your colleague, your friend, or your family.
Children see us not being present and call it out right away: “Mom, did you listen to anything I just said?” No doubt, our colleagues notice this as well; they are just too well-mannered to call us on it.
While mindfulness can’t create innovation, it can provide the space for it.
Mindfulness encourages us to eliminate distractions and increase our attention on what’s important. When we’re distracted, we make mistakes, personally accomplish very little, and feel less satisfied by the work we do. In this multitasking and distracted state, we go through the motions of repeating the same actions and same ideas. Although we can be highly stimulated by the frenetic pace of our schedules, there is little room on our busy to-do lists for innovation. What the practice of mindfulness does, through the elimination of distractions, is add some white space to our page or blue sky to our vista—and with blue sky, there are more opportunities for something new to arise.
Mindfulness encourages us to notice judgments—and then let them go. Many of us have an inner critic letting us know just how silly we sound before we say a word. Our inner critic can take a sledgehammer to our ideas. Before they fully surface, we dismiss them as simultaneously too complicated and too simple. The practice of mindfulness, though, enables us to notice those judgments and release their power over us. Through mindfulness, the filter of “that’s a bad idea” becomes “hmmm . . . there’s an idea.” When judgment is released, new ideas, likely some pretty creative ones, can stay within the realm of what’s possible.
Mindfulness encourages us to listen more closely to others. When we are present with others, we can focus on what they are saying. Listening mindfully is about giving others the space to share without interruption. The next innovative idea may come not from us but from one of our colleagues. And if we aren’t tuned in to what they are saying because we are trying to come up with our own next sentence, we aren’t open to a potentially great idea.
Getting StartedMindfulness requires practice, and there are things you can do to facilitate it:
- Instead of plunging into your to-do list, take a few minutes when you sit down at your computer to take a breath and notice what is going on with all of your senses.
- Focus on one thing at a time. When you are on a conference call, resist the urge to review a presentation or answer texts. Leave your phone off or put it away during meetings.
- Take a moment to center yourself before a meeting or a workplace interaction. A mental pause and a deep breath will prepare you to focus.
- Practice active listening. Notice not only the words being spoken, but also what is being communicated through body language, tone of voice, and eye contact.
- Listen mindfully. Instead of allowing your mind to wander or trying to figure out what to say next, tune in to what is being said by others and stay there.
- Ask strategic questions to probe further into what the other individual is saying. You’ll find it helps you expand your thinking.
Without mindfulness, we are somewhere else. We are stuck to old ideas or planning what to say next. With mindfulness, we create a judgment-free space that allows our ideas, or the ideas of others, to breathe. Mindfulness has the power to help us unlock new thinking, enhance creativity, and allow innovation—but that can happen only if we find the space to let it in.