Mindfulness & Innovation

21% of businesses in the UK implemented new internal business practices in 2013 [1].

It has been largely accepted that in today’s world the only certainty is change. As such, uncertain economic conditions have had a severe impact on organisations with many struggling to survive in the market. This has had an enormous impact on people’s wellbeing resulting in harmful effects at the individual, organisational and societal level due to poorer mental health, cardiovascular problems, and increased suicide rates [2]. Nowadays workers are required to meet higher workloads, face job insecurity, and even experience mass lay-offs and drastic pay cuts during their working life.

In this context, the European Economic and Social Committee [3] and the UK Government [4] have recognised that innovation needs to be encouraged at all levels of society to help people face current and future challenges. Innovation is a vital ingredient in raising the productivity, competitiveness and growth potential of organisations. It can enhance business performance and profitability, save resources, improve job satisfaction, reduce absenteeism, and bring improvements to people’s quality of life [5].

What is innovation and how do we achieve it?

Innovation is a process aimed at creating new; or improving existing practices. It is closely related to, but slightly different from, creativity. Creativity is often the creation of a completely novel idea, whereas being innovative can also mean adapting practices observed elsewhere in one’s own department, organisation or community. This can sound easy to achieve but in practice it is not. For a country, organisation, community or group to be innovative people need to be encouraged to embrace change. With that end in mind, various strategies have been implemented at a range of different societal levels. Examples include governments increasing their expenditure on business development, companies promoting and enhancing R&D activities, chambers of commerce increasing the number of training courses available and community organisations offering individual skills development programmes.

Recently, Mindfulness has been receiving increased attention as an effective tool to boost both innovation and well-being in individuals [6].

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an adaptation of Buddhist meditation. Supported by over 40 years of medical and psychological research across a number of sectors and applications. It is the practice of purposely focusing our attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgement [7].

Mindfulness helps us to develop our ability to experience all aspects of our life fully by switching off our autopilot. By doing so, we learn to recognise our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. This enables us to view our environment in a way that is still engaged but more objective. Mindfulness helps us to change our relationship with our emotions and thoughts and thereby make a conscious choice about how to respond calmly rather than react emotionally in different work situations. This increased awareness of ourselves and our environment is a key skill to support innovative behaviour [8].

How mindfulness works for innovation

The mechanisms showing how mindfulness works for innovation can be understood by comparing mindlessness and mindfulness. Mindlessness is a state of rigidity in which one adheres to a single perspective and acts automatically. In fact, individuals often view and accept their own personal experience mindlessly, unaware that they could have processed the experience from an alternative perspective [9]. This happens because we have learnt in our daily lives to carry out actions on autopilot as our senses are bombarded with numerous stimuli. This results in keeping us away from being fully present with ourselves, others and our surroundings. However, being mindful is both the result of, and the continuing cause of, actively noticing new things. Mindfulness creates the space in which we can start to gently unravel the tangled webs of our sometimes mistaken interpretations that are often based on outdated information from
our past.

It is impossible to innovate whilst in a mindless state of mind where one is firmly immersed in rigid and fixed views about objects, the world, and the self. For example ‘we do it this way because we always have’. In mindfulness, the habitual and conventional interpretations are identified, acknowledged and then choices made that allow us to pursue new and more adaptive ways of seeing the world [10]. Mindfulness reduces reactivity and promotes a state of calm. In this state, people become more receptive to ideas and develop their ability to engage with their surroundings in a more focussed and vibrant way [11].

How to boost innovation using mindfulness

Although the research and interest on mindfulness and innovation is relatively recent (since the 1970s), several organisations, including Google [12] and Apple [13], have acknowledged that positive workplaces promote innovation. These companies and many others have done this by implementing mindfulness-based interventions. They have introduced workplace mindfulness training, and integrate meditation and mindful exercise such as yoga and Tai Chi in the working day. It is possible to introduce more informal mindfulness practices by integrating them within daily activities such as being mindful during eating, walking, brushing teeth, doing dishes, etc. The purpose is to notice how the mind and body feel throughout the day in various circumstances, to be aware of the body posture, sensations, and areas of tension. Mindfully listening and responding to others during your daily activities can be an empowering and important element in promoting both yours and their innovation skills.

Increasing your innovation skills

If your aim is increase your innovation skills, you can include some of the following activities in your daily life [14] :

Actively observe new things: Actively noticing new things in the environment is the first step of the development of mindful thinking. As active mental exploration becomes a way of life, it becomes easier to explore those aspects that have previously been kept hidden or avoided.

Think of yourself as a “work in progress”: When we think of ourselves as rigid and immutable, we becomes mindless. The very act of replacing the certainty of convictions with the possibility that things “may be” true opens up the possibility that things may not be as one currently interprets them.

Add humour to any situation: Humour itself relies on mindfulness by forcing people to see a new and unexpected side to a given situation.

Start a mindfulness journal: Make a point to begin or end each day by writing down the significant events of the day. Look back on the events with the purpose of observing new things and new perspectives about them.

Start drawing: Drawing is a means for increasing mindfulness [15]. However, we usually are afraid to show those skills that we think are less developed. Drawing from a mindfulness perspective is to focus on enjoying what you are doing, observe the object you want to draw, and let it be. Therefore, forget the performance, this is not the aim.  Try not to judge or compare your work.

Mindfully listen to others: In interactions with others, focus all your attention on them in the here and now.  Forget any previous interactions you may have had with them, either good or bad.  This present moment is what is important.  You will be surprised how this empowers both you and them.


1 Department for Business Innovation & Skills. (2014). First findings from the UK innovation survey 2013. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/301385/14-p107a-first-findings-from-the-ukis-2013.pdf

2 Sinclair, R. et al. (2010). A multilevel model of economic stress and employee well-being. In J. Houdmont, S. Leka & R. Sinclair (Eds.), Contemporary Occupational Health Psychology: Global perspectives on research and practice (Vol.1) (pp.1-20). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

3 European Economic and Social Committee. (2011). Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Innovative workplaces as a source of productivity and quality jobs’ (own-initiative opinion). Retrieved from http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.soc-opinions.14984

4 Innovate UK. UK’s innovation agency. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/innovate-uk

5 Pot, F. (2011). Workplace innovation for better jobs and performance. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 60(4), 404–415.

6 Reb, J., Narayanan, J., & Ho, Z. (2013). Mindfulness at Work: Antecedents and Consequences of Employee Awareness and Absent-mindedness. Mindfulness, 6, 111–122.

7 Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156.

8 Baas, M., Nevicka, B., & Ten Velden, F. S. (2014). Specific Mindfulness Skills Differentially Predict Creative Performance. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 1–15.

9 Elsbach, K. & Hargadon, A. (2006). Enhancing Creativity through “Mindless” Work: A Framework of Workday Design. Organization Science, 17(4), 470–483.

10 Kudesia, R. (2015). Mindfulness and Creativity in the Workplace. In J. Reb & P. Atkins (Eds.), Mindfulness in Organisations: Foundations, Research, and Applications (pp. 190–2012). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

11 Bochun, P. (2011). Mindfulness and Creativity. Canadian Teacher Magazine, 8–9.

12 Caitlin, K. (2012). Google Course Asks Employees to Take a Deep Breath. New York Times.

13 Gelles, D. (2012). The mind business. The Financial Times.

14 Carson, S. & Langer, E. (2006). Mindfulness and self-acceptance. Journal of Rational – Emotive and Cognitive – Behavior Therapy, 24(1), 29–43.

15 Grant, A., Langer, E., Falk, E., & Capodilupo, C. (2004). Mindful Creativity: Drawing to Draw Distinctions. Creativity Research Journal, 16(2), 261–265.

Mindfulness & Innovation

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