Can organizational communication strategies that activate associations with mindfulness and flow enhance novel-idea production in an open-ended problem-solving task?




Moode, Michael Stephen

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Creativity is the production of solutions to problems that are both original and appropriate. Although organizational communication literature offers insights regarding overt strategies for enhancing creativity at work (e.g., brainstorming rules), processes whereby creativity may be tacitly enhanced remain largely under-explored. Drawing upon creativity’s associations with heightened awareness (i.e., mindfulness) and the experience of flow—a psychological state characterized partially by distorted perceptions of the passage of time—the present study considers whether exposure to phrases related to these concepts influence the likelihood of one producing more novel ideas in an open-ended problem-solving task. The pursuit of new, tacit means for enhancing the originality of solutions to problems may benefit organizational communication practitioners in the following way. The creativity of employees may be facilitated if new tacit means are used (or avoided) alongside extant overt strategies. Employees may be more capable of producing novel ideas in response to a problem-solving task if organizational communication practitioners develop a more nuanced understanding of how the presentation of problems, and the methods used in solving them, exposes employees to incidental and unobtrusive meanings that shape the socio-environmental context in which problem-solving takes place.

The present study used a two-by-two, between subjects factorial design, that presented participants with a set of phrases related to different levels of mindset (i.e., mindfulness and mindlessness) and psychological state (i.e., flow and anti-flow). For example, phrases representing the combination of mindfulness and flow included, “I’m focused,” “my goals are clear,” “I’m tuned in to my feelings,” and “I’m up to the challenge at hand.” Exposure to these phrases sought to activate associations with the mindset of actively and fluidly processing social information (i.e., mindfulness) and the psychological state whereby deep concentration leads to the reduction of self-awareness and awareness of the passage of time (i.e., flow). Conversely, phrases representing the combination of mindlessness and anti-flow included, “I’m not focused,” “my goals are not clear,” “I’m not tuned in to my feelings,” and I’m not up to the challenge at hand.” After being exposed to one of four sets of phrases, participants were then administered a novel-idea production task in which they were instructed to produce a list of solutions to a problem (i.e., people driving while using text messaging on their cell phones).

Results of the experiment failed to demonstrate a relationship between the presentation of phrases aiming to trigger associations with mindset and psychological state; however, measures to assess internal reliability suggested that methodological limitations confounded the present study’s ability to accurately test how the activation of associations between mindset and psychological state are related to the likelihood of one producing novel ideas. As such, the present study concludes by drawing a number of insights regarding methodological considerations for future investigations. Specifically, recommendations are drawn regarding participant selection, the research milieu in which novel-idea production may be empirically observed, how associations with different mindsets and psychological states may be primed, and how a problem should be presented within an experiment intending to measure novel-idea production. Summarily, the present study represents a valuable starting point for investigators seeking to contribute to an under-explored topic within the organizational communication literature; for explorations of how the implementation of overt strategies to enhance novel-idea production in organizations may be enhanced by practitioners’ attention to whether and how employees are exposed to stimuli which may prime associations with peak creativity.


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