By Palma Michel, author of The Authority Guide to Mindful Leadership.
Whether you’re an angel or entrepreneur you’ll be used to a certain level of uncertainty and complexity. With the increasing impact of Artificial Intelligence your ability to deal with ambiguity will be even more in demand. In a world where it sometimes feels that robots are taking over, the ability to create and innovate will set companies apart and be critical for long-term success.
The entrepreneur’s role includes building a culture and environment that supports creativity to flourish. Your preference may be for a cutting-edge office space but what’s most needed is mindful leadership which will create a truly different space.
Creativity tends to happen in the space of not knowing. It requires a space, an opening from which something new can arise. It requires us to take a different perspective and is rarely linear. Think of creativity more like a spiral, or snakes & ladders, where unexpected events can pull you back then catapult you forward.
The creative process is a play between different states of mind. At times it requires complete openness to all sorts of stimuli and allowing the mind to wander, and at other times it needs concentrated focus.
Contemplative neuroscience suggests that mindfulness has the power to alter our brain structure for the better. Research suggests that the default mode network where creative insight happens, stays quieter in meditators as it is less consumed by worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. This supports us in being comfortable with the space of not knowing, navigating the creative rollercoaster and allowing insight to emerge.
In the formal meditation practice, we train our attention muscle and cultivate attitudes such as curiosity, a beginners mind, focus on the present, acceptance, patience, equanimity, clarity, courage, an attitude of non-judging, letting go and compassion, which are all highly supportive when it comes to creativity.
Here are practical mindfulness steps you can take to let creativity flourish as you navigate the entrepreneurial world:
Breathe though discomfort
When we are dealing with uncertainly or there are setbacks, there’s a tendency to get triggered and into fight or flight caveman mode. Being aware of this dynamic is important for keeping yourself in the control zone, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Your challenge: Whenever you feel triggered in any way, try this short breathing exercise: Take a few conscious breaths through your nostrils, inhaling deeply all the way into your abdomen. Exhale through your mouth with pursed lips. Count to two on your inhale and elongate your exhale by counting to four. The key is to make your exhale slightly longer than your inhale.
If you think you know all the answer, you stop asking questions and you become closed. There is little room for anything new to arise. Particularly in the world of entrepreneurship a leader´s job is to allow and enable that space of openness and not knowing. This includes asking questions and allowing people the freedom to challenge accepted ideas.
Your Challenge: Don´t assume you know the answer or something is a given, but continuously ask questions and challenge your own assumptions. Mindfulness practice encourages openness and curiosity to what is arising in the present moment.
Give precedence to process
A common obstacle to creativity is over-focusing on results. When we create something new we need the freedom for experimentation. You won’t get your perfect product or business model without this. The famous “Post-It note” is still an inspiring example. If 3M had only been interested in the result (a failed super glue), this ground-breaking product would not exist today. A process orientation allowed them to see what else they could learn from what had happened and they created an innovation.
Your challenge: Instead of just focusing on the end-goal, get interested in the process and discover what you can learn from it. A useful tool for investors and entrepreneurs alike is the pre-mortem – thinking through different ways a project could potentially flop. Practicing mindfulness naturally instills a process rather than an outcome orientation as the focus is on our experience in the present moment without being fixed on a particular outcome.
Listening with openness
Google recently undertook a quest to find out what makes the best-performing teams. The answer turned out to be psychological safety. This rests on equal turn taking in conversation and average social sensitivity, no one shutting other people down and the appreciation of different opinions (Duhigg, 2016). In businesses it‘s important to create an environment where everyone can participate and the voices of all are heard.
Your challenge: The next time you have a meeting, try to give your full attention to the speaker and listen to them with compassion and openness. If your mind wanders off, bring your attention back to the speaker. Be open and interested in what they are saying. When they stop talking, ask them an open question such as “tell me more about it” or “what do you think” and resist the urge to immediately share your point of view.
Trusting and letting go
When it’s your investment at stake it’s easy to fall into the trap of micromanaging. But ultimately letting go is precisely what an entrepreneurial leader needs to do. If s/he controls the creative process too tightly, there is no room for anything unexpected to arise. Sometimes it can be precisely an unexpected mash-up that gives root to creativity as it shakes up our normal way of thinking.
Your challenge: Notice if you have a tendency of wanting to control everything and everyone around you. Mindfulness practice encourages letting go, by observing what arises in the present moment, without being attached to it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Palma Michel is an executive coach and author of ‘The Authority Guide to Mindful Leadership; Simple techniques and exercises to manage yourself, manage others and effect change’ published by SRABooks. www.authorityguides.co.uk