Harvard Studied the Impact of Mindfulness on Workplace Creativity — And It's Startling

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Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas866

Mindfulness can be beneficial in most aspects of life, whether that’s your mental health, your relationships, your sleep quality, or even your work performance.

Researchers Ellen Keithline Byrne and Tojo Thatchenkery at the Harvard Business Review knew that a short period of training on mindfulness techniques can have a positive impact on creative output.

But not all companies allow their employees time to reflect and practice mindfulness, which creates a sort of "autopilot" mode, according to Byrne and Thatchenkery.

“What often happens in hectic workplaces is that employees resort to autopilot or habitual ways of working,” the researchers wrote. “When they don’t have the time or space to incubate novel and clever ideas, they may miss out on opportunities to reframe a problem and see new possibilities for potential solutions.”

Byrne and Thatchenkery wanted to explore the exact impact mindfulness training could potentially have on a team’s creative output. To do this, they conducted a study within a midsize U.S. real estate firm.

The researchers split their team of 10 people into one meditating group and one control group. They gave both groups the task of brainstorming unusual uses for a brick. They then gave a 10-minute mindfulness exercise and had the workers continue the task after.

The researchers discovered that seven of the 10 employees increased their number of creative ideas in just 10 minutes.

“With this same group of people over the course of five weeks, we administered a group creative task and found that the meditating group identified double the number of creative ideas as the control group,” Byrne and Thatchenkery wrote.

“The group process was noticeably different, where the meditating group was 121% more able to build on the ideas of others,” they continued.

The researchers found that by creating a group dynamic, one creative idea inspired another person’s creativity, developing the original idea to a point “that it wouldn’t have on its own.”

Other research on mindfulness shows that those who practice it have more cognitive flexibility, which means they are “able to see beyond what they’ve already done, and are better at solving problems requiring insight.”

The study indicated that individuals are more open to creative ideas after just a brief meditation, and this effect is heightened greatly when applied to a group of people altogether.

How can employers utilize this finding in order to improve their companies’ own creativity levels and problem-solving abilities?

“To foster a culture of innovation, leaders need to give greater attention to their employees’ mindsets and consider championing mindfulness practices throughout their organizations,” Byrne and Thatchenkery wrote.

“By cultivating milieus where employees are encouraged to be creative, they’re able to move past a mere focus on organizational efficiencies and to develop ways of working and thinking that haven’t been seen before.”

The researchers also suggest employers connect mindfulness to corporate values, create corporate-based mindfulness programs, and supplement in-house leadership development programs. Companies can benefit from allowing mindful moments to take place by offering employees breaks to slow down and regroup, as well as providing the proper resources for employees to be mindful, like meditation aids, speaker series, and retreats.