How Mindfulness Makes you an Innovative Leader

“We are living in an era when people hunger for a relationship with the creative spirit. As we begin to express ourselves there is an almost universal sense of ‘I didn’t know I could do this. I never realized what’s inside of me.’”--Shawn McNiff, Trusting the Process

As leaders in our businesses, communities, and classrooms, creativity has never been more important. How do you view creativity? What does it mean to you? How important do you think creativity is to your business and to your life?

IBM’s Global CEO Study had this to say about the need for innovative executives (as explained in Creativity at Work)

“The effects of rising complexity call for CEOs and their teams to lead with bold creativity, connect with customers in imaginative ways, and design their operations for speed and flexibility to position their organizations for success.”

How many times have you said “Oh, I’m not creative.” Where did you get this story from? Remember what it was like as a child to make something (finger paintings, sand castles, Lincoln-log forts) for the sheer joy of it?

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

Because I believe we are all incredibly inventive and unique, I’d like to suggest that somewhere along the way, you simply lost touch with your innate creative spark. You began to both separate yourself from others, through self-judgement and comparing their outputs to yours, and yet yoke yourself to others, through overly relying on their opinions of you.  

There are many ways to define creativity. The most common mental model of a creator is the inventor or artist, developing something completely new. They must deconstruct existing conditions or assumptions to create something the world has never seen, and may not even know is possible. Think about the first automobile: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

This traditional view of creativity forgets that being innovative is also a process of transformation. It is cyclical, with elements of destruction and rebirth, reaping and sowing. Creativity is additive – combining pieces to make something greater than their separate parts, like a rich carrot and potato stew.

Above all, I see creativity as a way of being. More than just a finished product or an iteration, creativity is a perspective or mindset. It is how we create our experiences and relationships. We are all innovators and inventors, whether the outcome is tangible or subtle.

The world needs creative leaders who see solutions and invite others to innovate. How will you build your creativity muscle this week?

A big part of creativity is simply being more aware and observant. The other key traits of successful innovators? Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen, who studies disruptive innovation, says creative executives and employees not only observe, but also associate, network, question and experiment.

Mindfulness can help in each of these areas. In fact, recent studies on meditation in schools show that creativity and happiness increase when you practice for as little as 15 minutes a day.

According to the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace website, the Quiet Time meditation program has shown a 65% decrease in violent conflict, a 40% reduction in stress and anxiety, and an 86% reduction in suspensions over a two year period along with a dramatic increase in self-confidence, creativity, and happiness.

Don’t have time to meditate? Incorporate it into your existing activities. Play with this mindful eating technique called the Raisin Meditation (you’ll need a raisin or small piece of fruit) and make every meal a meditation.

Look for more tools in our upcoming ebook, The Creative Executive, available on Amazon on October 26th.