Mindfulness at work: how 10 minutes can make employees more creative

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This article was written by researchers Emma Schootstra, Dirk Deichmann and Evgenia Dolgova from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

We know that hectic work environments and stress can easily undermine anyone’s focus and inspiration. We also know that creativity is more important to businesses than ever before. So how can we help workers get into the right mindset to generate truly inventive ideas?

Whilst researching creativity and innovation with my colleagues Emma Schootstra and Dirk Deichmann we found that investing just 10 minutes out of your day to take part in a guided mindfulness meditation session means you are more likely to generate a diverse set of original ideas.

In fact, those 10 minutes were shown to generate a 22% wider range of ideas compared to those who took part in fake meditation, or just “relaxed”.

In our study, participants were asked to present as many business ideas as they could for the use of drone technology - within a limited time. One third had a ten-minute guided mindfulness session in which they listened to recorded instructions, one third had a fake meditation session, and one third were just told to “relax and let their thoughts flow freely”.

Although all three groups produced roughly the same number of ideas, the group that took part in guided mindfulness meditation produced significantly more inventive or creative uses for drones, such as washing windows, extinguishing fires and even feeding giraffes!

The results showed us that participants produced a much wider set of ideas after mindfulness meditation, which extended into more uses. It is exactly this generation of a wider range of ideas that is essential to successful creative processes.

These results were echoed in a second experiment we conducted involving 24 senior managers. The managers were invited to brainstorm novel ways to create a more inclusive culture in the workplace.

After just ten minutes of mindfulness meditation, the managers also came up with some really interesting ideas, such as swapping departments for a week to remove cultural assumptions, an idea parallel to the Dutch reality TV show in which teenagers swap families for a week. Interestingly, the same managers also reported feeling more balanced having conducted the mindfulness exercise.

So why does this work?

Mindfulness makes people feel calmer and more focused, it is the psychological process of bringing your attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. We already knew that it essentially removes our innate “fight or flight” survival response, meaning that meditating participants feel significantly less restless, nervous and irritated.

This is why it is often used as a technique to reduce stress.

However, this type of meditation also shifts people from “work mode” to a more open, thoughtful and reflective mode. When people are calmer their brain allows them to focus on being creative and therefore they can generate a more diverse set of original ideas. Fundamentally, mindfulness meditation removes the barriers that stand between us and our inventive selves.

It is important that organisations understand the significance of creativity and innovation in business. Stimulating creativity and exploring completely new ideas is proven way of boosting productivity in an organisation. Therefore, encouraging all employees to think outside of the box, and giving them the time and resources to explore new areas for innovation may be the key to staying ahead of the competition.

This may be a relatively new concept considering creativity has traditionally been the responsibility of research and development departments. However, with business models changing rapidly and organisations opting for flatter structures, it is now vital for company survival that employees at all levels contribute to organisational innovation.

These flatter organisational structures often mean we are more adaptable and ready for change, however it also means our working lives are more complex and hectic than ever. It is therefore crucial that managers encourage their employees to regularly take a step back from their usual tasks in order to allow them to access their creative side.  

As well as being an effective creativity booster, mindfulness meditation is affordable, accessible and easy to implement in the workplace. All you need is a quiet place, a comfortable chair and access to one of the many mindfulness exercises that can be found online or as an app.

It does not distract employees away from their usual tasks for long and is a cost-effective, fun way to increase creativity in the office.

Moreover, just one ten-minute session can generate some really interesting, insightful ideas. So why not give yourself ten minutes, download a mindfulness exercise and see if you notice the difference?

The thesis is available on the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) website.

You may also want to try this simple mindfulness exercise.

About Evgenia Dolgova

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