How Those Who Find It Hard to Sit and Do Nothing Can Move Towards Mindful Meditation

I started doing yoga years ago, and even though I enjoyed it, I almost gave up. Why? Because everyone kept on telling me that the more I did the more flexible I would become. Still, I did yoga class after yoga class and I still didn’t feel myself getting that much more flexible. And then, one day, I had a teacher who said that some people, like runners (me), just weren’t that flexible and we just had to do the best we could do. Ok, that wasn’t exactly what she said, but whatever it was made be feel that I wasn’t doing something “wrong” that was keep me from being a human pretzel. It was just how my body was made.

Mindful meditation is a bit like that for me, as well. I figured that it was just something I would never be able to do because thoughts were always popping into my head. But the thing is — that’s okay. Noticing that they are there is part of being mindful. So instead if giving  up and saying, this isn’t for me, you need to acknowledge these thoughts and  return to focusing on your breathing.

In practicing mindful meditation, I’ve found that it’s best to start small. A recent article in Time (That Art of Being Mindful) suggested sitting cross-legged and focusing on your breathing for 10 minutes a day and building from there. To tell you the truth, 10 minutes is still a bit long for me at this point.

If you’re like me, and find it hard to sit still for 10 minutes, I think the key is to just start. Even if it is 3 minutes a day, that is more than you were doing before. Then build from there. I haven’t made it to 10 uninterrupted minutes a day, but I do find myself taking time to focus on my breathing,

The article also gave 3 mindful tips. The first is to wear a watch, the idea being you won’t look at your phone so much and be distracted by what you see, or can do, there. I always wear a watch and that is one of the reasons I do.

The second one is no phones in bed. I would take that further and say in the bedroom — unless you’re on call or something like that and have to always have your phone nearby. The idea behind this is that you should be fully awake before you look at any devices.

The third, which I know works, is to get into nature. It’s kind of hard to do that and not find yourself observing your surroundings, unless you’re texting or talking on your phone, that is.



Design Thinking in Business — Lego

Lego recently ran a billboard advertising campaign that I saw in Europe showing children finding creative ways to play with their colored bricks. One child used them to make flowers that were “planted” in a window box. Another let their Lego figures parachute out of the window using their mother’s bras as parachutes. The tag line was something like you can’t get mad at your kids for being creative (unfortunately, I don’t have the actual text so this is not exact). When children saw the ads, their eyes sparkled and they would actually stop and point it out to each other and their parents, who responded in kind.

A few years ago Lego was having problems making such connections with its core customers because, in an attempt to remain competitive in the world of electronic games, it had jumped to the incorrect conclusion that kids weren’t interested in plastic bricks because they didn’t have the time or patience for them. Based on this assumption, Lego started creating toys that looked cool, but took less time, and creativity, to put together. Not only were kids losing interest, but so were their parents who had bought Lego toys for their kids out of feeling of nostalgia.

How did the company manage to turn this trend around? By realizing that it needed to understand what “play” meant to its users — children.

He (CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp) realized that Lego needed to better understand the phenomenon of play. What is children’s experience when they play, what do they desire from it, and how could Lego serve that need?”

To find out, the company embedded researchers with families in the United States and Germany. The researchers spent months collecting data, interviewing parents and children, creating photo and video diaries, shopping with families, and studying toy shops…key insights began to emerge. Among them was that children play to escape their overly orchestrated lives and to hone a skill.

An Anthropologist Walks Into A Bar | Harvard Business Review, March 2014

I’m willing to bet that market data analytics and even focus groups would not have provided this insight. In fact such data may have helped mislead the company in the first place.

You can listen to what people say, sure.

But you will be far more effective if you listen to what people do.

Seth Godin

The fall and rise of Lego shows the importance of getting out there and understanding your customer. I think this is especially important to remember in the age of Big Data. Yes, numbers can provide support, but they can mislead and when it comes to customer behavior, they certainly don’t tell the entire story.

In reading the HBR article, here are a couple of new words, at least for me, I came across:

Phenomenology: The study of how people experience life (Starbucks really got this right when it comes to coffee)

Sensemaking: “A non=linear process that reveals the often subtle and unconscious motivations informing customer behavior that can lead to insights that enable transformations in product development, organizational culture, and even corporate strategy. “ An Anthropologist Walks Into A Bar | Harvard Business Review, March 2014

Can Sameness Make You Stand Out

For the last few week, fashion bloggers haven’t been able to stop talking about normcore.

…(not) a particular look but a general attitude: embracing sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool, rather than striving for “difference” or “authenticity.” In fashion, though, this manifests itself in ardently ordinary clothes. Mall clothes. Blank clothes. The kind of dad-brand non-style you might have once associated with Jerry Seinfeld, but transposed on a Cooper Union student with William Gibson glasses.

Normcore: Fashion for Those Who Realize They’re One in 7 Billion | | The Cut

In looking looking at pictures of the normcore attire and reading what people have to say about it, I couldn’t help but think of how creative people dress.

Have you noticed that fashion designers, artists, and make-up artists tend to dress in rather basic clothes or always look the same (think Karl Lagerfeld)? There’s an artist I know who I’ve only seen wearing white shirts and jeans. And moving over to the world of “hard-core” business think of how Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg dress(ed). And did you see what Pharrell  Williams wore to the Grammies? He got ripped, but I think he knows more than your average member of the fashion police force realized at the time. All of these people are all  (were) creative people  (or people who think outside of the box) and they dress in a very ordinary way or are  (were) always seen wearing the same thing.

Now the way these people dress can be  related to branding (my friend Karl) or actually embracing sameness as a new way of being cool (Pharrell Williams). Still I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a connection between creativity and decision making, and wearing the same basic clothes every day.

As it turns out, I could be on to something.

…Others do it to be more efficient.

Take Albert Einstein. It has been reported that the famous physicist bought several versions of the same grey suit because he didn’t want to waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning. Now—decades later—President Obama does the same.

Michael Lewis wrote in a recent Vanity Fair article:

You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions.

Steve Jobs Always Dressed Exactly the Same. Here’s Who Else Does |

The world is filled with a profound number of choices, but studies show that having fewer–not more–choices may be the path to greater happiness. Few places provide a greater opportunity for strategically eliminating choice than our clothing.

Want to Simplify Your Life? Try A Uniform | Life Edited

My experience shows all of this to be true. Give me too many choices and I shut down (or walk away). Since I’ve started simplifying things, I’ve noticed my creativity awakening and my problem solving skills improving. Why? Because my mind isn’t distracted by stuff that at the end of the day really isn’t important.

When I was young, and living with my parents who took care of my basic needs of food and shelter, there was room for playing with extraneous stuff and my creativity. Now that I’m responsible for all of the above, the extraneous stuff needs to go to make room for creativity and problem solving.  And in reality, people don’t really notice your appearance as much as you think they do. Go from long to short hair or dye it and people may notice that something is different, but won’t be able to pinpoint it.

Most people just don’t care that much about what we’re wearing. In my experience, people will notice if our clothes aren’t clean, if they’re falling apart or if they are majorly out-of-date. They’ll notice if what we’re wearing is well made or fits us well. But people won’t care if the nice, clean, stylish thing we wore on Monday is the same nice, clean, stylish thing we wore on Friday.

Want to Simplify Your Life? Try A Uniform | Life Edited

My next step is trying to find my uniform. Although I think I already know what it is. I still need the courage to part from other pieces of clothing that are creating interference.

Some say normcore is just another fashion trend. But for creatives and anyone who takes decision making seriously, I think it, or at least the idea of wearing their uniform of choice, is here to stay.

Creativity in Business — Chanel

If this Chanel show was genius, it’s not only for everything I just narrated to you (and let’s not even start talking about the hours of work to achieve that) and for this celebration / critique of consumerism, but it’s also because, if right now, fashion shows are a communication event then this one must have exploded any standard. The number of tweets and Instagrams went litteraly crazy. Chanel Explosion N°128616. 🙂

Chanel Shopping Center | Garance Dore

Chanel’s venues have become more and more creative of late, but this one takes the cake. It’s the story of making connections. Of not allowing thoughts of “Maybe that’s a bad idea,” or “Maybe they won’t like it,” to get in the way.

I first saw it here: Chanel Fall | Winter 2014

And read more about it here: Chanel Shopping Center

The Jewel of Design Thinking is the Process

I’m taking a course right now on creative problem solving and one of the first exercises I had to do was write down all of the different uses I could come up with for a brick within a set amount of time. The instructor did a good job of trying to  make those students who might not be able to come up with many uses feel better in advance by saying that by the end of the course, their skills would improve. After all, that’s why you take courses. And hopefully the students will continue. But the danger with such exercises is that people will do them, not come up with “good” responses and then throw in the towel and think that they will never be able to pull creative solutions out of thin air.

And this, in turn, may turn people (managers) off to the notion of design thinking. But the great thing about design thinking is that it’s built around a process that helps you use both divergent and convergent thinking (as depicted by the widening and narrowing of the band around each step).


A bit of history about divergent and convergent thinking:

The psychologist J.P. Guilford first invented the terms convergent thinking and divergent thinking back in 1967. Divergent thinking is also loosely called ‘lateral thinking’, a term coined by the thinking guru Edward De Bono – author of ‘Six Thinking Hats’.

Divergent thinking is the process of generating multiple related ideas for a given topic or solutions to a problem. Divergent thinking occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘non-linear’ manner. Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the ability to apply rules to arrive at a single ‘correct’ solution to a problem such as the answer to an IQ test problem. This process is systematic and linear.

The idea of divergent thinking has become important in the scientific study of creativity because many widely used tests for creativity are measures of individual differences in divergent thinking ability.
An example of a divergent thinking question is:
“How many unusual and uncommon uses can you come up with for a brick and a knife”
“How many uses can you make of a toothpick?”

The number of different responses, or the number of responses given by no one else, has traditionally provided a measure of how creative a person is.
Creativity and IQ Part 1: What is Divergent Thinking? How Is It Helped by Sleep, Humor and Alcohol? | The Creative Post

How The Design Thinking Process Encourages Both

The first step of design thinking forces you to look at “what is” instead of rushing to the stage of defining a problem or doing like some people do and rushing to a solution before everyone agrees on the problem. Once you start investigating “what is”  a better understanding of the current situation is going to be a natural outcome. And out of this one may end up reframing the definition of the problem. This isn’t something you pull out of the air. It comes from solid insights.  And from this, you get an understanding of user needs and can begin to envision what a good solution will look like.

The second step, “what if” may sound like the  “how many different ways can you…” but in reality it’s not. In this step

…we use a series of trigger questions that help us think outside our own boxes. Next we take these ideas and treat them explicitly as hypothesis (in the form of concepts) and begin to think systematically about evaluating them against our design criteria.

Solving Problems With Design Thinking | Liedtka, Jeanne; King, Andrew; Bennett, Kevin

The “what wows”step doesn’t involve pulling revolutionary ideas out of thin air either. By now you have a bunch of ideas worth considering. In fact you have too many. So you are going to start narrowing them down based on what gives significant benefits to stakeholders and matches the mission, goals, resources and capabilities of your organization.

The final step, “what works” involves testing your solution, getting feedback and refining your prototype.

So you see, the process is there to support you. And as you get more practice, the better you get at observing and coming up with ideas.

That’s the idea behind my creative problem solving class. As you progress your divergent thinking skills will improve.

By the way, how did I do? I came up with twenty uses of a brick and many of them were not on the list of common responses.