Article: Wednesday, 13 December 2017
Employees who generate fresh ideas can boost a company’s innovation. But hectic work environments and stress can easily undermine anyone’s focus and creativity. Emma Schootstra, graduate of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) and researchers Evgenia Dolgova and Dirk Deichmann discovered that ten-minutes of mindfulness meditation results in workers producing a wider range of solutions for a problem. And it only takes one session.
Creativity has traditionally been the domain of research and development departments, says researcher Dirk Deichmann. But business models are changing increasingly rapidly and business survival means companies now need every employee at every level in an organisation, to work on continuously innovating the organisation’s services, products and processes.
But how do you help people to get into the right kind of open mindset needed for creativity? Mindfulness, a meditation-like technique, looked like a good candidate to achieve this, says Emma Schootstra. In earlier studies people that practised mindfulness meditation reported fewer negative emotions and stress after a session. To find out if mindfulness could also make people more creative, the research team set up a brainstorming experiment.
In the experiment, all the participants were asked to present as many business ideas for drones as they could within a limited time. One third had taken part in a guided mindfulness meditation session for 10 minutes, during which they listened to recorded instructions. Another third of the group was given a fake meditation session, being told to just ‘relax and let their thoughts flow freely’ for 10 minutes. A third group was asked to start brainstorming without any preparation.
All three groups produced roughly the same number of ideas for using drones in business. But the ideas produced by those who had meditated went well beyond the usual suggestions of deliveries or filming. Their ideas extended into more categories (on average, a 22 per cent wider range of ideas), including more inventive uses such as washing windows, extinguishing fires and even feeding giraffes. And it is exactly this wider range of ideas that can be considered essential to creativity, Deichmann notes.
Interestingly, the participants’ inventive ideas happened after just one short mindfulness meditation session. So, what makes the technique so successful? The survey results showed that meditating participants felt significantly less restless, nervous and irritated. Apparently, mindfulness meditation reduces barriers that often stand between us and our own mental resources, the researchers say.
Later, these results were echoed in a second experiment involving 24 senior managers invited to brainstorm novel ways to create a more inclusive culture. The managers also reported feeling more balanced and produced lots of interesting ideas, says Evgenia Dolgova, such as swapping departments for a week to unravel cultural assumptions – an idea analogous to the Dutch reality TV show in which teenagers swap families for a week.
Mindfulness meditation is not only an effective creativity booster, Dolgova concludes, it is also affordable, accessible and easy to organise in the workplace: all it needs is a quiet place, a comfortable chair and access to one of the many mindfulness exercises that can be found online or in apps.
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