Last time my blog on "innovation" was meant to be continued. I would like to share with you further here.
When I talked about William Duggan's "Strategic Intuition" last time, I mentioned that an innovative process would involve three steps. Among them, we may have the experience that "flash of insight" may more likely occur when we are relaxed, like taking a shower. This seems to be unrelated to the other step "presence of mind (having concentration with a clear and freed mind)", since people would consider that we will not be having much concentration when relaxed. Also, when our mind is concentrating on something, we would not have space to think about other things. There is a need to further elaborate on the meaning of "presence of mind" here.
Viewing it in a direct way, when we possess "presence of mind", we will certainly not be "absent-minded". In the teaching of Confucius, the original quote on "absence of mind" was very revealing: "The cultivation of the person lies in the correction of the mind. When you are angry, you cannot be correct; when you are frightened, you cannot be correct; when there is something you desire, you cannot be correct; when there is something you are anxious about, you cannot be correct. When the mind is not present, we look, but do not see; we listen, but do not hear; we eat, but do not taste our food. This is the meaning of "the cultivation of the person lies in the correction of the mind" (extracted from "Classic of Rites: The Great Learning").
I believe that we are very familiar with the quote "we look, but do not see; we listen, but do not hear; we eat, but do not taste our food", but do we know what "correction of the mind" is? It means that, if we possess anger, fright, desire, or anxiety, we will not be in a state of correct mind. If our mind is not present, being affected by these negative emotions or desire, we will end up looking but not seeing; listening, but not hearing; eating, but not tasting our food! Confucius taught us how to cultivate ourselves, and his teaching on "correction of the mind" pointed out exactly the true meaning of "presence of mind".
Originally, in the Chinese translation of Professor Duggan's book "Strategic Intuition", "presence of mind" was translated as "response according to the changing circumstance". I feel that this translation does not grasp the essence of the meaning. On the contrary, I believe that having "presence of mind" would enable us to "respond according to the changing circumstance". Therefore I tried to look for a more appropriate translation for "presence of mind". At the end, I came across the word "mindfulness" on Wikipedia which is described as: "Mindfulness (also translated as awareness) is a spiritual faculty that is considered to be of great importance in the path to enlightenment according to the teaching of the Buddha. ... Enlightenment is a state of being in which greed, hatred and delusion have been overcome, abandoned and are absent from the mind. Mindfulness, which, among other things, is an attentive awareness of the reality of things (especially of the present moment)". Here, the key meaning of "mindfulness", viz. "attentive awareness", corresponds very well with the essence of "correction of the mind" mentioned above. Thus, I adopted it in the Chinese translation of "presence of mind".
From the above Confucian and Buddhist thinking, we can see that they have similar understanding on "presence of mind": if we manage not to have random thoughts, negative emotions or desire (for example, constantly focussing on the goal to be achieved) etc, possess equanimity and free our mind, we will naturally see the things that could not be seen by us originally or by other people. These of course would include the insights for innovation!
I would also like to take the opportunity to talk about "multitasking", which has been promoted by business management for many years to increase work efficiency or even bring innovation. Development of multi-core processing in the latest IT systems also facilitates "multitasking" in management operations. Today, we frequently see many people viewing emails, videos, social networking messages, etc on their mobile phones while walking on the street, and at the same time, they may also be talking over the phone or listening to music. Even when meeting with friends, we would take out our mobile phones to check if there are any new emails or social networking messages. But more and more studies indicate that "multitasking" could lower our attentiveness, make us forgetful, decrease our work efficiency, or even possibly increase our stress and lower our IQ ! From my point of view, not only would "multitasking" prevent us from having "presence of mind" to facilitate innovation, but it would have more cons than pros, making us looking but not seeing; listening, but not hearing; eating, but not tasting our food! As we are living in this ever changing society, we are more or less affected by "multitasking". If we could be aware of its pros and cons, and achieve a better balance, it would be beneficial to work, life and innovation!
C M Shun
"Multitasking" was also one of the selling point of Steve Jobs in promoting his new products
 Translation by A. Charles Muller (1990) of "The Great Learning"