Innovation is the essential survival skill for the modern businessperson. A person or organization that is adaptable is far more likely to thrive in the volatile, high-speed, unpredictable environment we live in than one that is stuck in its ways.
Innovation requires creative thinking, that is, the ability to generate new and useful ideas.
If you’re looking for some creative inspiration, whether it’s to solve a problem or generate new and useful ideas, you can take a walk outside or collaborate with your colleagues. But have you tried meditation?
Creativity-boosting Meditation Methods
Scientific studies have shown that meditation—even by non-expert meditators—can enhance creative thinking and improve the ability to solve problems that require insight. But with all the talk about meditation and mindfulness in corporate wellness these days, it’s important to note that not all meditation practices are the same.
In this article, we’re focusing on mindfulness meditation (MM) and open monitoring meditation (OMM). Although they are a bit different, both have been shown to facilitate creativity by fostering divergent thinking and insight.
Popularized by University of Massachusetts Medical School professor John Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness meditation is a technique of staying aware of and noticing sensations and thoughts in the moment without judging them. It also trains the mind to refrain from wandering and elaborating on the observed sensations or thoughts.
In OMM, the aim is to monitor your own awareness, remaining attentive to any experience that might come about without focusing on any particular object or specific phenomenon.
OMM is often contrasted to focused-attention meditation, where the meditator will focus on a chosen object or sensation, such as the breath. According to cognitive scientist Dominique P. Lippelt and her colleagues at Leiden University in the Netherlands, OMM “induces a broader attentional focus by allowing and acknowledging any experiences that might arise during meditation.”
3 Reasons Why Mindfulness Meditation Works
1) Fosters Openness to New Experiences
Many types of meditation can make practitioners more open to new experiences and increasing empathy. These qualities have been found to be associated with novel thinking—which is a core factor of creativity.
Matthijs Baas and his colleagues at the University of Amsterdam note that of all the mindfulness skills—acting with awareness, the ability to describe phenomena, and accepting without judgment— observation is strongly related to openness to experience. They say that people who exhibit this personality trait have a preference for variety and exploration, which are powerful predictors of creativity.
In addition, meditation can increase theta brainwave activity, which has also been correlated with openness and flexible thinking.
2) Observation without Judgment
Being able to observe sensations and thoughts without judgment is essential to enhancing one’s ability to generate novel ideas. Baas and his colleagues at the University of Amsterdam state that the ability to observe has been associated with increased cognitive flexibility, reduced cognitive rigidity, and more open attention, which all drive creative thinking.
In a study of long-term mindfulness training, Aviva Berkovich-Ohana and fellow researchers at the University of Haifa found that MM helped practitioners to generate many ideas without judgment, allowing the brain to be less inhibited and more adept at divergent thinking.
Indeed, many creativity self-help books, including Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way all encourage readers to make work without judging its quality.
And if that weren’t enough to convince you, Roy Horan, a researcher at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, says that meditation’s “heightened sensitivity and transcendent attentional capacity can boost creativity, and also make practitioners more sensitive to quality.
OMM Helps You Create More Ideas Faster
Open monitoring meditation in particular has been shown to be particularly linked with innovative thinking. In a study by Lorenza S. Colzato and her colleagues at Leiden University, OMM led to more creativity than did focused-attention meditation.
Colzato and her colleagues found that OMM promotes divergent thinking, that is, generating as many unique ideas as possible. When you practice OMM, according to Colzato, your attention is flexible and unrestricted.
Divergent thinking can be particularly valuable when beginning a new project, when faced with a problem that doesn’t necessarily have one correct answer, or when the answer to a challenge cannot be determined in a linear manner.
So, what’s the takeaway?
As Colzato says in an interview, if you have a brainstorm session or big creative project ahead of you, take some time to do an OMM before you start. Even better, make open monitoring a part of your ongoing meditation practice. You’ll be able to generate more unique ideas, giving you and your colleagues more options with which to work.
And with the other benefits of meditation, such as reduced stress and better focus, why not take a moment for yourself? You might come up with your company’s next brilliant idea!
 Lebuda, Izabela, Darya L. Zabelina, and Maciej Karwowski. “Mind full of ideas: A meta-analysis of the mindfulness–creativity link.” Personality and Individual Differences 93 (2016): 22-26. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Maciej_Karwowski2/publication/282354120_Mind_Full_of_Ideas_A_Meta-Analysis_of_the_Mindfulness-Creativity_Link/links/560d965208aeed9d13753401/Mind-Full-of-Ideas-A-Meta-Analysis-of-the-Mindfulness-Creativity-Link.pdf
 Berkovich-Ohana, Aviva, Joseph Glicksohn, Tal Dotan Ben-Soussan, and Abraham Goldstein. “Creativity Is Enhanced by Long-Term Mindfulness Training and Is Negatively Correlated with Trait Default-Mode-Related Low-Gamma Inter-Hemispheric Connectivity.” Mindfulness (2016): 1-11. http://scottbarrykaufman.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Berkovich-Ohana-et-al.-in-press-Mindfulness-and-Creativity.pdf
 Lippelt, Dominique P., Bernhard Hommel, and Lorenza S. Colzato. “Focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring, and creativity–A review.” Frontiers in Psychology 5 (2014): 1083. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01083/full
 Baas, Matthijs, Barbara Nevicka, and Femke S. Ten Velden. “Specific mindfulness skills differentially predict creative performance.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2014): 0146167214535813. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55524bd4e4b07366a243bf09/t/572f7d4e20c647909ad00cab/1462730063081/Baas%282014%29_ObservationSkillsCreativity.pdf
 Camfield, David. “Neurobiology of Creativity.” In Neurobiology of Exceptionality, edited by Con Stough, 53-72. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2005. https://www.brainmaster.com/software/pubs/books/Neurobiology%20of%20Exceptionality.pdf#page=58
 Horan, Roy. “The neuropsychological connection between creativity and meditation.” Creativity Research Journal 21:2-3 (2009): 199-222. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e72c/246492e99ac4233aa51c4d1ec026802f62df.pdf
 Colzato, Lorenza S., Ayca Szapora, and Bernhard Hommel. “Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking.” Frontiers in Psychology 3 (2012): 116. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00116/full