According to Canadian psychologist and researcher Dr. Scott Bishop, mindfulness consists of two primary features:
- The regulation of attention to maintain focus on your immediate experience.
- Approaching the phenomena of our experiences with curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
As it happens, that describes the fertile soil for creativity and, by extension, innovation.
You can’t have innovation without creativity. And creativity, by its nature, is an internal process; you have to understand what’s happening inside yourself in order to be sustainably, reliably creative. In other words, mindfulness enables creativity and innovation.
Creating the conditions for creativity
While you can’t force creativity to happen, you can be rigorous and systematic about how you create the right conditions to generate that process.
One way to develop the discipline of curiosity is to become more deliberate about training yourself to directly participate in your experiences – otherwise known as living more mindfully.
You can also practice being intentionally omnivorous, as chef-designer-photographer-philosopher-entrepreneur Emilie Baltz calls it. Being intentionally omnivorous means giving yourself a breadth of experiences to draw upon and being open and flexible about those experiences.
Perhaps the quintessential model of creativity is Leonardo da Vinci. Beginning as a painter – before he became a sculptor, engineer, anatomist, architect, and a painter again – da Vinci was long trained in experiencing and appreciating the natural world. This observational enthusiasm informed all of his work. He once wrote:
“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprints of coral and plants and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it, and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone, and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engage my thought throughout my life.”
His ability to connect the dots came from an intent focus on immediate and present experience.
Workplace Mindfulness for Innovation
Although mindfulness frequently incorporates meditation, it also involves a form of mental discipline that focuses on the here and now. As described in my book Everything Connects – Cultivating Mindfulness, Creativity, and Innovation for Long-Term Value (Fast Company 2022), mindfulness is a “fitness program for consciousness”, one that grows and strengthens with repeated practice.
Mindfulness fosters creativity and innovation in the workplace by:
- Reducing and managing stress more effectively. The result is not merely greater productivity but also a sharpened focus, better decision making and a more attuned and comfortable attitude toward different approaches and fresh ideas – cornerstones of both creativity and innovation.
- Reframing perception of risk. A mindful approach sees challenges, and even mistakes, as opportunities for learning and growth rather than outcomes that mean nothing more than frustration and disappointment.
- Improving leadership skills. Leaders can effectively turn off the mind’s busy setting to notice and respond to what’s happening in the moment instead of defaulting to reactive habits.