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Feb 21, 201712:30 PMApplied Mindfulness

with Ed Maxwell

How to use mindfulness to improve innovation

(page 1 of 2)

In companies flush with cash, investors demand that excess funds are either invested in new growth initiatives or disbursed through handsome dividends. CEOs are feeling the pressure and are desperate to find investment opportunities.

However, inventing a slightly better blender or a fancier paper clip isn’t going to generate the returns needed to satisfy shareholders. True innovation, the kind that disrupts and revolutionizes, is what’s needed.

Practicing mindfulness might not come to mind when one thinks of innovation. After all, a common misperception is that it’s nothing more than sitting down, closing your eyes, and trying to stop thinking — hardly the behavior anyone, much less the CEO, wants to encourage in employees.

However, mindfulness isn’t about shutting off thoughts. Instead, it’s about breaking old, unproductive patterns of thinking. Practicing mindfulness clears out those patterns and creates space for fresh ideas to take their place.

Steve Jobs, a mindfulness practitioner himself, challenged his employees to think creatively. He pushed them to revolutionize familiar products. One notable challenge he gave his engineers: devise a phone that needed only one button. Boggled by the challenge, his staff struggled. After all, a phone seemed to require at least 10 times as many buttons, one for each number.

Such a difficult task could only be achieved by using divergent thinking, the process by which we devise as many novel solutions as possible. Throwing open the doors to imagination, mindfulness bolsters practitioners’ capacity for divergent thinking. The practice of open monitoring (instructions below) has been shown to significantly increase one’s capacity for idea generation.

Once a batch of potential solutions has been created, one must evaluate these ideas to find the most valuable one and develop it, engaging in the process known as convergent thinking.

Mindfulness can help with convergent thinking, as well. In one study, all participants were given a test requiring insightful solutions. One group practiced mindfulness while the other had a language lesson. All of the students were given a second chance to fix the problems they had gotten wrong. Ultimately, the mindfulness group scored significantly higher than the control group, demonstrating improved convergent thinking.

With cash piling up, companies need to innovate. By bolstering both sides of the creative process with divergent and convergent thinking, mindfulness practice offers a path forward for companies uncertain about how to grow.


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