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What is common between former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner? They are clearly the biggest names when it comes to innovation and disruption. They created new business models that left erstwhile market leaders in tatters. Everybody knows that, right? However, fewer people know that each one of these leaders, Innovators and CEOs practiced mindfulness as a tool to create what I call as ‘The pause of Innovation’.

What is the relationship between mindfulness and innovation? What is this pause of innovation? Why is it more important now than ever before?

We live in the era of distraction and disruption. Klaus Schwab, the convener of World Economic Forum calls it the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and leadership thinker Rajeev Peshawaria calls it the open source era. The changes that we constantly deal with today are not evolutionary. They are revolutionary in nature. What does that mean? Things that we took for granted are no longer true and the things that we always did habitually are no longer effective.

Consider this; the average attention span of a goldfish is around 9 seconds. Meanwhile, the average attention span of human beings has fallen from 12 seconds to 8 seconds in the last ten years(1). Yes, in this fast-paced, media-saturated digital era, we human beings have a lower attention span than a goldfish. The emergence of social media may have made it easier for us to stay connected, but how meaningful/ valuable is this ‘connection’ when we can barely remain focused on one thing – much less give proper time and care to those who matter, like our friends and family!

Is it any wonder then, that in a corporate context, over the last twenty years the average life span of S&P 500 companies has fallen drastically from 67 years to a mere 15 years? While emerging technologies are making it easier for companies to do business in a borderless manner, it has also disrupted existing business models across all industries.

It is further accentuated by the fact that we humans are not programmed to handle such situations in the default mode. The human brain is inherently lazy. It has been programmed to conserve energy. As a result, we tend to react to situations rather than respond. What’s the difference between reacting and responding?

A reaction is immediate and instant. It is driven by the beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. In other words we are using outdated software to deal with modern challenges. When I say or do something “without thinking” that’s the unconscious mind running the show. A reaction is survival-oriented and can be useful in a variety of situations, like avoiding an object thrown at you or getting out of the way of a speeding vehicle. However, it is not useful for delivering new thinking or creating new ideas.

A response on the other hand is analytical in nature. A response usually comes after a mental pause. It is based on information both from the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. Responding is, taking the situation in, and deciding the best course of action based upon human values such as reason and compassion. The main difference between reacting and responding is our ability to ‘create the pause’. The pause is where we have the opportunity to exercise our freewill. It is during this pause that our learning and growth takes place. Are you reacting or responding? The choice presents itself all the time, whether it is a rude customer, a toxic boss, or even during a leisurely lunch. Are you willing to break the pattern of unintentional reacting? Are you able to pay “attention” to what’s happening in and around your life and “intentionally” make the choice? How does one change one’s default operating model from reaction to response? The practice of mindfulness helps breakdown old patterns and assists in creating that ‘pause’.

Simply put, it is ‘Attention with Intention’. The practice of mindfulness is all about creating focus on your breath or on sensations in your body parts. And when your mind wanders off, you gently bring your attention back to the focal point. When this is done repeatedly, the mind gets used to focusing, and bringing the focus back on intention. Just like physical workout, this is mental gym and the more you do it, the more your mind gets better at it. There is strong scientific evidence that such a practice not only helps at the specific point in time but changes the entire circuitry in the brain forever. The practice of mindfulness helps in upgrading the software as well as the hardware of the human brain(2). As a result, you get better at paying attention. You are able to make choices and exercise freewill in everyday life situations.

And what does all of this have to do with innovation? Innovation is not a 5-step process or a 10-point formula. Innovation cannot be taught in a classroom. Innovation is about challenging the status quo and disrupting existing patterns. Innovation happens when you pay attention. Innovation happens when you create a pause and respond to situations rather than react. Innovation happens when you exercise freewill and make choices in everyday life situations.

Join some of the biggest innovators and disruptors of our time. Practice mindfulness to upgrade your brain to a more efficient version and to create that pause of innovation.

(1) A survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft concluded that the average attention span had fallen to eight seconds, down from 12 in the year 2000. We now have a shorter attention span than goldfish, the study found.
(2) Altered Traits: Science reveals how meditation changes your mind, brain and body – By Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson