December 6, 2021

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How “Mind-Body Dissonance” Leads to Creative Thinking

Hacking human evolution to unlock progressive potential in our brains.

The necessity for higher authenticity has been a standard mantra in enterprise for the previous couple of a long time. But, authenticity, or the enactment of ideas, emotions and values by way of outward actions, ensures neither moral behaviours nor efficient management. Anecdotally, the glorification of authenticity fails to account for universally revered leaders reminiscent of Nelson Mandela, who solid world-changing alliances typically by interesting to concepts at odds together with his personal.

Extra critically, as latest analysis has proven, authenticity will not be probably the most advisable affect method when leaders’ minority standing doesn’t accord them the legitimacy to advertise their values or when their private values are at odds with these of their stakeholders.

Exterior the area of affect, perpetually expressing and behaving in accordance with one’s ideas, emotions and values could be counter-productive for an additional essential motive – it will possibly value organisations artistic concepts. My analysis within the final decade has discovered that individuals can achieve a artistic edge after they assume bodily expressions that contradict their frame of mind, in any other case referred to as “mind-body dissonance” (MBD).

MBD happens in varied types: from the job candidate adopting a strong stance in distinction to their interior nervousness, to the crew chief nodding alongside throughout an ungainly presentation, to the supervisor accepting knowledgeable award with outward humility whereas awash with inner satisfaction. For social or strategic causes, mind-body dissonance could be an inescapable facet of organisational life. But, it’s stunning that we perceive little about its impact on particular person efficiency.

Bodily discomfort as artistic catalyst

My latest analysis reveals that mind-body dissonance, whereas uncomfortable, can truly be a catalyst for artistic pondering. In a sequence of research involving about 500 individuals, I experimentally manipulated individuals’s emotional states and bodily expressions by way of random project.

For instance, I requested them to jot down a couple of comfortable or unhappy expertise they’d gone by way of whereas both smiling or frowning, or assume a high-power or low-power function whereas adopting a constricted or expansive posture. Contributors had been then assigned “unrelated” duties reminiscent of producing novel makes use of for commonplace objects and drawing a creature from one other planet.

A pair of judges unaware of the experimental manipulations rated every effort on a creativity scale. The outcomes confirmed a transparent sample: Contributors who skilled MBD got here up with extra outside-the-box insights and novel concepts than those that acted “authentically”, i.e. whose facial or physique expressions matched their interior emotions.

My findings additionally turned up nuances that make clear how mind-body dissonance sparks creativity. For instance, in a single research that concerned over 200 individuals, the artistic impact of MBD was extra pronounced for individuals who had been much less skilled with it. This proof means that senior managers, whose rank tends to insulate them from the necessity to dissimulate, would due to this fact profit extra from MBD. Equally, staff new to jobs that entail a large amount of MBD could also be significantly suited to artistic duties. Extra broadly, it means that MBD is extra prone to promote artistic pondering when people expertise it as atypical and unconventional.

We have a tendency to think about the office as an surroundings the place inauthenticity is the norm, and individuals are already pretty accustomed to MBD. If that had been true, it could restrict the artistic advantages of MBD.  However analysis suggests in any other case.

First, it has been proven that it’s troublesome for people to produce many facial expressions on demand with out first producing the sentiments that correspond to these expressions. Second, people strongly dislike inner contradictions reminiscent of MBD and go to nice size to keep away from them. A 2015 research confirmed that people who had been requested to relive an inauthentic private expertise thought of themselves much less pure and fewer ethical. Consequently, MBD could also be a much less frequent subjective expertise than it seems to be.

Due to its atypicality, MBD is prone to promote a mindset the place staff are receptive to atypical concepts, which has been proven to be conducive to artistic pondering. Certainly, in a sequence of research involving about 600 individuals, my co-author and I discovered that individuals who skilled MBD had been extra open to broader, extra free-floating definitions and associations, together with contemplating garlic a vegetable or a purse a chunk of clothes. In addition they agreed extra with statements reminiscent of “at this second, I’m drawn to conditions which could be interpreted in a couple of method”, “I’d moderately be recognized for attempting new concepts than using well-trusted strategies”, and “being distinctive is essential to me”.

In flip, this mindset predicted individuals’ tendency to generate unconventional concepts and atypical options. Connecting the dots, we will additionally speculate that the unaccustomed tensions related to MBD cue our minds to develop novel concepts to go well with an irregular state of affairs. Human evolution might assist clarify this phenomenon: Survival of the fittest would favour heightened abnormality sensitivity in addition to agile and nimble response.

How one can harness MBD

In fact, the office will not be a lab, and managers fortunately lack specific authority to manage how staff stand or sit and what facial expressions they have to show. However the essence behind MBD – utilizing bodily actions to generate creativity-inducing departure from the established order – could be dropped at the office. Listed here are just a few concepts to jumpstart your creativeness.

  • To start with, leaders can work as an entry-level worker for a time period. The truth present Undercover Boss promoted this identical concept. Whereas most individuals see it as feel-good TV for the under-appreciated “working class”, my analysis means that it could even be a creativity-sparking apply for executives to undertake. The bending, squatting, pushing and pulling concerned in lots of frontline occupations (even the materials and reduce of the uniforms), whereas feeling overseas and maybe incompatible with an govt’s psychological state, can create MBD and provides them novel views on their organisation.
  • Organisations can encourage staff to work in a special tradition the place their bodily work surroundings is probably going upended and contradicts their interior journey. For instance, for months, celeb chef Gordon Ramsay left behind his well-choreographed and completely fluent motions round trendy kitchens. He went to a small Vietnamese village to discover ways to make rice truffles and an Icelandic cliff to discover ways to catch puffins for meals. The bodily motions of balancing on (and ultimately breaking) shabby makeshift stools whereas cooking, or struggling clumsily with a bird-catching internet, are the form of MBD that my analysis suggests may give somebody a artistic edge. 
  • In crew retreats or close-knit teams of colleagues, organisations can encourage bodily theatre, for instance, by way of improv workshops. Organisations that undertake this method will wish to create a psychologically protected backdrop towards which staff can conduct such creativity-boosting excursions. Staff ought to really feel relaxed, in any other case in management, and never having to concern wanting silly in entrance of their colleagues. They need to even be advised that it’s OK to really feel awkward or uncomfortable. Beginning the train on the high of the hierarchy may also help set the tone. If the CEO is prepared to place him- or herself on the market, it is going to encourage everybody else to let their guard down.

In brief, organisations ought to experiment with actions that disrupt the comfy coherence and fluency that our thoughts and physique are used to. This may set off an unconventional mindset and encourage artistic insights and resilience.

Li Huang is an Affiliate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD.

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