Updated: Sep 29, 2018
Creativity. One of the most valued attributes in the world. And yet possibly, one of the most misunderstood! Here's a perspective on how mindfulness is key to creativity.
According to a major IBM survey of more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, chief executives believe that more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision, successfully navigating an increasingly complex world requires creativity.
But then, why do so many CEOs and leaders, their companies and their managers not understand the conditions that foster creativity? Why do clients expect their creative agency's process to be as efficient as say, their own assembly lines? And why are designers often asked to create under stress and the insane pressure of artificial deadlines? Why are sombre and tense faces often seen as evidence of serious work and cheerfulness and playfulness seen as 'goofing off'?
The answers are probably complex and require more 'serious' exploration, but here is one little perspective :-)
Take a look at some well known creative moments in history.
The man whose name has become synonymous with genius and creative problem solving, Einstein, literally dreamt up the theory of relativity. Kekule was half asleep in front of a fire when he saw in the sparks, the form of a snake eating its own tail and thus discovered the molecular structure of Benzene. George Mistral was walking in the woods when he found inspiration for Velcro. Jorn Utzon was peeling an orange when he got the inspiration for the design of the Sydney Opera House. And the master of surreal art, Salvador Dali would actually sit in a chair, holding a spoon in his hand with a bowl placed on the floor below it. When he dozed off, the spoon would fall into the bowl with a clang and Dali would wake up and start painting the images that had been floating in his head in that dream-like state!
When have your own 'Aha!' moments happened? On a relaxed walk or a run? In the shower? When sitting with your eyes closed, listening to your favourite music? Have you not sometimes woken up in the morning with answers to some problems you were grappling with?
Neuroscience is now able to provide us with scientific evidence of how creativity works in the brain. In a nutshell, the pre frontal cortex in the brain (the part responsible for analysis, creative thinking etc) is more active when the reptilian brain (the part responsible for our flight or flight reactions) is relaxed.
Ok, but before you start planning a nap to spur your creativity, a few words of caution! Illumination or inspiration comes only after a lot of Preparation, Immersion and Incubation. Liberally dosed with Frustration I might add! The people in all the examples I mentioned, had spent years and sometimes even decades preparing themselves and diving deep into their subject.
And while today there are enough ways and means to accelerate the stages of preparation and immersion, the takeaway for me is that the BIG 'Aha!' happens mostly in a relaxed moment.
Creativity happens when you are relaxed. But not lax. Intense. But not tense.
In an 'always on' world where:
the average smartphone user checks their phone 300 times a day;
70,000 thousand thoughts crowd the average mind every single day;
attention spans are rapidly decreasing;
most employers say their employees are overwhelmed;
and stress is being called the epidemic of the 21st century.