Meditation Can Improve Creativity and Foster Innovation

meditation

This Mindspot White Paper is about meditation as a way to create and innovate. As the leader of Mindspot, I am often heard saying, “I will find the solution as soon as I clear enough space.” 


When I say this, I mean specifically: free time, time to rest, time when my day is not filled with events. Time when every second is not occupied by the day-to-day tasks involved in running a business or conducting primary marketing research. 


Free space is when I think of new ideas – creative ways of finding answers, new service offers, consulting and methodology solutions. Basically for me to create, I require space. 


Consider that creating space to create is a requirement for innovation.

It’s an important idea right now. Given the current global crisis with Covid 19 forcing people to physically distance. Many people are not working, working from home, or their work has slowed down. Mediation might not only be helpful for your stay-at-home mental state, but also for creation and innovating for what comes next. 

 

A study by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato, published in Frontiers of Cognition, had an outcome that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. The findings support the belief that meditation influences human cognition, including how we think and how we experience events. And after all, isn’t changing something, a method for fostering a new idea or a new way of being?

 

The premise is that there are two components to creativity…two ways we think: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

Divergent thinking allows many new ideas to be generated. It is typically measured by using the Alternate Uses Task method. An example could be that participants are required to think up as many uses as possible for a particular object, such as a pen, coffee cup, baseball, etc…


Convergent thinking is a process where one possible solution for a particular problem is generated. Convergent thinking is typically measured using the Remote Associates Task method. A possible example is that participants are given three unrelated words, such as ‘pure’, ‘blue’ and ‘fall’. The participants are then asked to identify the common link: in this case, ‘water’.


An Analysis of meditation techniques was conducted to measure both ways of thinking. The outcome was that participants were receptive to all the thoughts and sensations experienced without focusing attention on any particular concept or object. Different types of meditation techniques have different effects. These findings demonstrate that not all forms of meditation have the same effect on creativity. 


Therefore, the challenge becomes finding a meditation technique that works for you. 

This might be as simple as clearing 20 minutes a day a few days a week. It might be taking a day off. Perhaps, attending a formal meditation group. I encourage you to try something new to change your way of thinking, of being, of considering and to clear some space.


There is more than research-based academic support for meditation to find inspiration. Steven Johnson, author of several books including “Where Good Ideas Come From”, which is a book about what companies can do to foster an innovative culture. His suggestions included staying away from meeting rooms, nurturing the spirit of the coffeehouse and thinking of innovation as something that happens all the time, not just on special “creative” days.


Fast Company published an article about how Shell is fostering innovation with meditation. In the Shell example, a chemical engineer named Mandar Apte created a program within the oil company to teach yoga and breathing techniques as a way to inspire creativity. I have practiced yoga and meditation for a decade and in my experience, both focusing on your breath and your breathing are helpful. 


One of my favorite Yoga instructors would say every class, “The quality of your life is equal to the quality of your breath.”

 I hear this phrase in my head virtually every day. It reminds me to breathe. To relax, to slow down, to make space to create. You might not think much about your breathing, despite the fact that you do it all day, and it keeps you alive.  Meditative breathing has been used by a host of successful entrepreneurs and thinkers. Oprah is a well-known practitioner, and both Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein practiced it.

 

“At the heart of Apte’s innovation learning program is the belief that silence is the mother of all creativity.” An excerpt from Fast Company’s article on Apte is below:


“But it’s not his own practice that made him a winner of the League of Entrepreneurs. It’s the grassroots, employee-driven initiative that he co-created at Shell called Empower. The initiative encourages employees to bring their authentic self to work, helps participants unleash their leadership potential, and enables them to identify and overcome the blockers to creativity and innovation. Embedded in the nine-hour training program are practical yet profound instructions on breathing and meditation techniques along with interactive processes to master the skills for boosting creativity and cultivating the mindset for innovation.”


At the heart of his innovation learning program is the belief that silence is the mother of all creativity, and each employee can play a role in the innovation process.

More than 2,000 colleagues went through the Empower program, and based on Apte’s personal transformation and success, it’s hard to discount the merits of conscious breathing, no matter how skeptical you might be.


Thirty years ago, the Walt Disney Co. called in a therapist and meditation teacher named Ron Alexander. Over the course of two years, he did a series of seminars on creativity so they could begin to access new creative directions. He asks clients to meditate for at least 12 minutes every day. 


“Mindfulness helps you to build what I call ‘mind strength,’ ” Alexander says. “Your awareness and consciousness become really toned. This is an excellent strategy for becoming successful in your profession, as well as the bigger game of transforming yourself and the people who work with and for you.”

There is science that supports that the brain is a muscle and that exercise will improve it. We know the number of brain cells can increase throughout your life through neurogenesis. 


Some studies show that people who do meditate may gain as many as 10 IQ points. 

Joshua Aronson, a psychologist at New York University who studies intellectual performance says “What that seems to indicate is that it works on the ability to screen out irrelevant information, to clear out the mind of distractions, and to focus intently on relevant stimuli, which frees up resources to solve problems.”


In closing consider that when you commit to a long-term practice of meditation and clearing space that you will foster the ability to create. 


Creativity is not a talent. It’s a drive. And, even more so it is a practice. 

Consider what you can create when you free space in your mind. 


This is how Mindspot Marketing Research was born, out of a space of nothingness resulting in a fast, creative, thoughtful marketing research company. So give it a try…you might even get smarter.


Written by Lynnette Leathers, CEO of Mindspot Research

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