A Mindful Creativity by Clare Bailey

Mindfulness is the buzzword of the moment. In our hectic, always-on, technology-driven lives the wellness benefits of applying techniques that help reduce anxiety, improve our ability to focus, and remind us to switch off from time to time are self-evident.

With the increasing pace of change and technical innovation, the value of iterative flexible design-thinking is gaining greater traction in the corporate sphere. Mindfulness gives us techniques that can support the application of design-thinking and there are five ways to start your journey as I see it. Being present; fostering empathy; embracing ambiguity; doing nothing; and meditation.

1. Being present is about learning to pay attention effectively. This means truly listening, being in the moment, giving your full attention to the person, the conversation and the experience – not jumping to solutions or imposing a response.

Focus is important in all aspects of creativity; it’s a rewarding way of working, stepping away from external distractions to avoid the false economy of multi-tasking. In design-thinking there is also the need to identify the real problem to solve, which can often be different to the initial problem. The practice of being present allows design-thinkers to enjoy the process of discovery unburdened by the need to provide premature judgments or solutions.

2. Fostering empathy, understanding the enduser is crucial to design-thinking. The practice of mindfulness fosters empathy, which is what we need to create design that matters. Empathy also encourages input and participation. This means better teamwork and more thinking outside the box.

3. Embracing ambiguity means fearless iteration. Mindfulness strengthens our ability for analysis and divergent thinking. Suspending judgement, listening and empathising allows greater space for ‘what ifs’. Learning to address limiting thought patterns helps design-thinkers to uncover incorrect assumptions.

Design-thinking is about iterative exploration of possible solutions. It means being comfortable with experimentation and failure. To facilitate this we need to foster safe working environments, close empathetic teams where people are comfortable contributing and sharing, comfortable with not knowing the answer from the outset, and even interrogating if we’re solving the right problem or asking the right question in the first place.

4. Doing ‘nothing’ is important. Don’t fill your time with ‘doing’. Mindfulness is about giving ourselves permission to do nothing. This really is something. Stop working. Take time out or time to play. Daydream, go for a walk, get out into nature and come back recharged and focused.

5. Meditation allows you to find the ‘aha’ moment. Meditation is a practice that has been shown to ramp up creativity. It can help us formulate a coherent whole that opens up a clear path forward. Meditation makes us more objective.

Apply mindfulness to things you’re already doing. What could be more productive than applying it to the workplace, client and team interactions, and to the solving of design challenges?