Thursday, March 17, 2016

How Mindfulness Rewires Your Brain to Be More Innovative

Guest post from Matt Tenney

There is much debate over the question of whether innovative people are born as innovators, or if innovation is something that is trainable. I'm convinced that we can actually change our brains in ways that help us to be more innovative, and that a simple practice called mindfulness can help us do exactly that.
The Key Traits of an Innovator

One important element of understanding the key traits of an innovator is realizing that an innovator may not necessarily be the "creative type." Although many people use the words creative and innovative as synonyms, the two are actually quite distinct. Creativity simply refers to the generation of new ideas. An innovation is something that actually disrupts the status quo. It is an idea that has been turned into a reality that is somehow disrupting other current realities.
With this understanding, we see that a person doesn't need to be creative to be an innovator. An innovator could take an idea that someone else had, but decided not to act on, and make the effort to transform that idea into a reality that disrupts the status quo. A well-known example of this is Bill Gates. Gates didn't create disk operating system (DOS). He bought it from the people who created it and then applied their idea to bring Microsoft software to market.

Thus, a good working definition of an innovator is "a person who is able to bring to reality a useful idea that actually disrupts the status quo." This definition makes it much easier to define the characteristics of a successful innovator. We simply need to ask, "What type of person is most likely to bring to reality a useful idea that actually disrupts the status quo?"
Two key traits of a person who can innovate according to the definition above are:

  • Empathy
  • Willingness to disrupt the status quo
Empathy is important for two reasons. First, understanding the needs of others helps determine whether or not an idea will be useful and worth the energy to develop. Second, understanding the needs of the team members with whom we work is essential for advancing an idea, and may even be the most important factor for advancing an idea within an organization.

Assuming an idea would be useful to others, we must be willing to challenge the status quo and stick with that idea despite initial opposition. According to the fascinating research of Dr. Prince of the Perth Leadership Institute, the reason most people don't innovate is that they are subject to a cognitive bias known as the status quo bias. As you would likely intuit, a person with a strong status quo bias is very unlikely to challenge the status quo. They feel very uncomfortable rocking the proverbial boat. Thus, one important element of being an innovator is being free from the effects of the status quo bias.
How Mindfulness Changes the Brain for Innovation

Neuroscientists have discovered that when we make the shift to being mindful, we actually change the active neural networks in the brain, moving away from the default mode network, which is associated with habitual, self-referential thought patterns. This shift away from habitual thinking is what frees us up from the constraints of cognitive biases, like the status quo bias.
When we are mindfully aware of our thought patterns, we're more likely to see, right in the present moment, our habitual ways of acting and deciding, which allows us to do something different. For instance, we might notice a tendency to shy away from challenging the status quo and instead take action on a disruptive idea.

Research in behavioral science has shown that a small amount of mindfulness training improves empathy. Neuroscience research conducted at Harvard showed that people who trained in mindfulness for eight weeks actually changed the physical structure of their brains in areas associated with self-awareness and empathy.
You Can Begin Practicing Without Adding to Your Schedule

Being mindful simply means that we shift from being caught up in thinking to being aware of thinking. Most of us are already doing this many times each day. We just don't often do it intentionally, and we don't sustain it for very long.
Practicing mindfulness means that we intentionally become mindful and practice sustaining it for longer periods of time. We don't have to add anything to our schedules to do this. It's something we can practice during almost any of our daily activities. When done in mindfulness, even something as simple as brushing our teeth can become an opportunity to rewire our brains to be more innovative.

Author Bio:
Matt Tenney is the author of The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence Without Adding to Your Schedule. Through keynote speeches and training programs, he works to develop highly effective leaders who achieve extraordinary, long-term business outcomes -- and live more fulfilling lives -- as a result of realizing high levels of self-mastery and more effectively serving and inspiring greatness in the people around them. Matt's clients include Wells Fargo, Marriott, Keller Williams, The Four Seasons, and many other companies, associations, and universities. Follow the author on Twitter.

No comments: