Mindfulness in Leadership and Organisational Development

Mindfulness-Meditation-Freshness-Of-Experience-300x300Mindfulness is the focusing of attention and awareness.

Evidence indicates that mindfulness meditation leads to well-being through increased awareness. The link between mindfulness practice and leadership & organisational development, in particular, is on the increase.

In Three Levels of Leadership model (Scouller, 2011), Scouller describes a model which emphasises psychological self-mastery and includes mindfulness meditation as one of its main self-development techniques.

Sounds True, an audio recordings company, has mindfulness as a core value:
At Sounds True, we strive to practice mindfulness in every aspect of our work. Recognizing the importance of silence, inward attention, active listening and being centered, Sounds True begins its all-company meetings with a minute of silence and maintains a meditation room on-site for employees to utilize throughout the day.

The secret is to make mindfulness essentially continuous and a conscious experience of body activity within mind in both oneself and others (forming societies, organisations, and/or customers).

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Brain Studies on Creativity reveal what goes on at that “Aha!” moment

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Daniel Goleman’s book The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights is revealing what goes on at that “Aha!” moment, and exactly reflecting Professor Sir Harry Kroto description of his experience when he discovery the C60 molecule (Buckminsterfullerene – a new form of carbon), when Professor Sir Harry Kroto said to me “…it is when you have been completely engaged in a thought or problem during day & night for months and your mind momentarily relaxes, the solution or idea suddenly becomes clear.”

Brain studies on creativity reveal what goes on at that “Aha!” moment when we get a sudden insight. If you measure EEG brain waves during a creative moment, it turns out there is very high gamma activity that spikes 300 milliseconds before the answer comes to us. Gamma activity indicates the binding together of neurons, as far-flung brain cells connect in a new neural network – as when a new association emerges. Immediately after that gamma spike, the new idea enters our consciousness.

This heightened activity focuses on the temporal area, a center on the side of the right neocortex. This is the same brain area that interprets metaphor and “gets” jokes. It understands the language of the unconscious what Freud called the “primary process”: the language of poems, of art, of myth. It’s the logic of dreams where anything goes and the impossible is possible.

That high gamma spike signals that the brain has a new insight. At that moment, right hemisphere cells are using these longer branches and connections to other parts of the brain. They’ve collected more information and put it together in a novel organization.

What’s the best way to mobilize this brain ability?  It’s first to concentrate intently on the goal or problem, and then relax into stage three: let go. The converse of letting go – trying to force an insight – can inadvertently stifle creative breakthrough. If you’re thinking and thinking about it, you may just be getting tenser and not coming up with fresh ways of seeing things, let alone a truly creative insight.

So to get to the next stage, you just let go. Unlike the intense focus of grappling with a problem head-on, the third stage is characterized by a high alpha rhythm, which signals mental relaxation, a state of openness, of daydreaming and drifting, where we’re more receptive to new ideas. This sets the stage for the novel connections that occur during the gamma spike.

Those moments of out-of-the-blue, spontaneous creative insights may seem to come out of nowhere. But we can assume that the same process has gone on, where there was some degree of engagement in a creative problem, and then during “down time” neural circuits make novel associations and connections. Even when creative insights seem to arise on their own, the brain may be going through the same moves as during the three classical stages.

On the other hand, I would guess that the three or four classical stages of creativity are somewhat of a useful fiction – the creative spirit is more freewheeling than that. I think the main neural action is between intense focus on the problem and then relaxing about it. And when that creative idea arrives, it’s almost certain that the brain has gone through that same heightened pitch of gamma activity that was found in the lab.

Is there a way to create the conditions whereby the gamma spike is more likely to occur? Gamma spikes normally come at random – they can’t be forced. But the mental stage can be set. The pre-work for the gamma spike includes defining the problem, then immersing yourself in it. And then you let it all go – and it’s during the let-go period that gamma spike is most likely to arise, along with that “Aha!” moment, the light bulb over the head of a cartoon figure.

There’s a physical marker we sometimes feel during a gamma spike: pleasure. With the “Aha!” comes joy. Then there’s that fourth stage, implementation, where a good idea will either sink or swim. I remember talking to the director of a huge research lab. He had about 4,000 scientists and engineers working for him. He told me, “We have a rule about a creative insight: if somebody offers a novel idea, instead of the next person who speaks shooting it down – which happens all too often in organizational life – the next person who speaks must be an ‘angel’s advocate,’ someone who says, ‘that’s a good idea and here’s why.'”

Creative ideas are like a fragile bud – they’ve got to be nurtured so they can blossom.

Learn more about maximizing your brain states at work with The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights from More Than Sound by Daniel Goleman.

Does Fear Prevent or Promote Ideas

Experiencing fear in any situation changes your state of mind. When it comes to the unlocking or incubation of ideas, does fear prevent or promote?

In most organised brainstorming sessions the organisers typically aim to create a free or relaxed environment to unlock new and different ideas and it is considered that stressful or fearful environments prevent the flow of ideas.

Does creating short moments of fear bring a heightened or changed state of mind that promotes ideas.

“How scientists discovered the “fear center” of the brain

Fear is one of the most universally understood human emotions. Every one of us is familiar with the feelings, behaviors, and symptoms engendered by fear — so familiar, in fact, that we can sense it in the voices and actions of our friends and loved ones, and even recognize it in the facial expressions of complete strangers. Yet the neural underpinnings of fear remain something of a mystery.

Having said that, much of what we do know about how our brains process fear boils down to two tiny little lumps of neurons; whether you’re a human, a rat, a monkey or a mouse, when it comes to processing fear, the vast majority of research says that the most important parts of your brain are your amygdalae, a pair of almond-shaped clusters of neurons sequestered deep within your medial temporal lobes.

For over seventy years, studies have suggested that these unassuming little amygdalae actually play an indispensable role in processing brain signals important to perceiving and experiencing fear, but it’s taken us up until now to confirm just how important they really are.

The significance of the amygdala in the processing of fear likely has to do with its position relative to several key regions of the brain. The amygdalae receive many of their main inputs from the visual, auditory and somatosensory cortices, while its primary outputs are to the hypothalamus, which regulates the production of hormones like adrenaline. One of the main roles of the amygdala is therefore thought to be coupling the perception of a threat via sensory stimuli to a fear-induced fight-or-flight response, initiated in part by the release of hormones like adrenaline, triggered by the amygdala via the hypothalamus.

This, of course, is a vastly simplified explanation of what’s going on inside that head of yours every time a horror flick scares the ever-loving crap out of you; in theory, the various inputs and outputs leading to and from your amygdalae are actually involved in several layers of cross-communication that allow for them to regulate your behavior (and vice versa).”