The connection of 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. It’s about staying focused on what’s going on right now—clearing away distraction and being present—with your colleague, your friend, 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 at work encourages increased attention and elimination of distractions.. 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. We can be highly stimulated by the frenetic pace of our schedules, but there is no room in that schedule for something new to arise—no room on our to-do list for innovation. What the practice of mindfulness does, through the elimination of distractions, is to add some white space to our page or an open window to let the blue sky in—and with blue sky, the opportunity for something new to arise.
Mindfulness encourages noticing and letting go of judgments. Many of us have inner critics 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 our ideas as simultaneously too complicated and too simple. Not possible. A silly idea. Part of the practice of mindfulness is noticing those judgments and releasing their power over us. Through mindfulness, the filter of “that’s a bad idea” becomes more of a “hmmm…there’s an idea.” When the judgment is released, the thought can stay, or go, allowing ideas, likely some pretty creative ones, to stay within the realm of what’s possible.
Mindfulness at work 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 not come from us but from one of our colleagues. And if we aren’t present and 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 great idea.
Mindfulness requires practice, and there are things you can do to encourage 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.
- Try to 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 can give you the opportunity to prepare to focus.
- Practice active listening. Notice what is being said as well as what is being communicated through body language, tone of voice, and eye contact.
- Listen mindfully. When you find your mind wandering to figure out what you are going to say next, tune back in to what is being said and stay there.
- Instead of responding, ask a strategic question 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 thinking about what to say next. With mindfulness, we create a judgment-free space to allow our ideas, or the idea of others, to breathe. Mindfulness has the power to help us unlock new ideas, enhance creativity, allow innovation—but it can only happen if we find the space to let it in.