Recently our team had tons of complex deadlines where they were doing work that was new to them. New challenges, new people to collaborate with, new aspects of the project that they couldn’t control. These are the situations where you truly want to have a more creative team.
In this case, however, we weren’t experiencing the benefits of creativity. Instead, it was stressful. And even though my team is great at navigating stress, they went into Critter State (fight, flight, freeze).
As the number of new aspects reached overload, several parts of their brain were compromised. Cell signaling was out of whack. Mistakes were made, details dropped, and then I got into Critter State too. Uh oh. Epic mess now.
Why can’t we be in a high state of creativity AND navigate tons of growth and change? Must they be mutually exclusive?
Proof That We Can Create Creativity
Human beings have 100 billion neurons available in our brains. Yet only about 15% are activated. How do we gain access to more neurons? Would increased access make us more creative? Would this access give us a more creative team?
We need to be creative to solve problems, to have insights, and to adapt and adjust. Those are all the skills we want access to turbulent times.
This is where some Harvard research comes in. From it we learn that even a tiny bit of mindfulness training can boost creative output. To explore this idea further, they conducted a study with a midsize U.S.-base d real estate firm to examine whether a mindfulness training program could influence a team’s creativity.
Side note: let’s remember that mindfulness essentially means awareness. It means paying attention first to oneself and being present to oneself. (This includes how you’re feeling, what you’re noticing inside yourself and outside yourself.)
Mindfulness Can Build a More Creative Team
In the study I reference above, they created 2 teams of 5 people each: a meditating group and a control group. They then gave both groups a creative task: to brainstorm as many unusual uses for a brick as they could think of. Next they administered a 10-minute mindfulness exercise, and then asked them to continue brainstorming the creative task.
- They found that 7 out of 10 people increased the number of creative ideas after only 10 minutes of meditation
- Over time, they found that the meditating group was 121% more able to build on the ideas of others
- They found the meditating team was more innovative overall, better at problem solving, have more cognitive flexibility, and more
I’ve covered the physiological benefits (increased cell density in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, decreased cell density in the amygdala, etc) of mindfulness in the past. So those explain some of the “how” that we gain access to more neurons. Next, let’s look at how to bring this into your culture.
Let’s Bring This Down To Earth
How do we create a culture that supports creativity? How do we build more creative teams? Here’s what our clients find:
- Ensure your organization’s values and purpose support the importance of having insights, stepping back, approaching problems with fresh eyes
- Start meetings with a presence practice (see below)
- Offer a meditation room or at a minimum a “quiet zone” where people can do a 10 minute meditation whenever they want
Thanks to the Hoffman Institute for the basic outline of this process. My organization, SmartTribes Institute, has made some modifications to boost effectiveness in the business world.
Start each meeting with the following Presence Process to foster safety, belonging, mattering:
“Stand up tall and feel your feet on the floor. Feel your full height, stretching from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. Truly feel your energy and solidity. Feel your dignity, and feel how present you are, right here and now.”
“Next feel your full width, the width of your feet, legs, torso, arms, chest, head. Feel the amount of space you occupy on the planet. You’re supposed to be here. We’re all so glad you’re here with us.”
“Next feel your depth, feel from the front of your torso through the back of it. Feel where you are, and your purpose in life. Feel your commitment to yourself, your loved ones, your colleagues, your organization. Really feel the difference you are making in the lives of the people you interact with.”
“Thanks for being present with us all today. Your being here matters. Your being part of this tribe matters. (Look at each person for a second to establish connection). Ok, let’s start the meeting.”
Mindfulness—even 10 minutes of it—boosts creativity in the majority of people.
More creative teams means better and faster problem solving, cognitive flexibility, collaboration, innovation.
More of the above equals a happier team using more of their brain capacity.
What will you do today to boost creativity of your team?