Home Articles ‘Be the bamboo’: Thinking tips for innovative minds

‘Be the bamboo’: Thinking tips for innovative minds


Bamboo shows great strength in turbulent conditions. In weather storms, bamboo will sway, bend and flex – and then regain its form and stand tall. Now that’s adaptability and resilience in an unforgiving climate…

A hard day at the office can often feel much like braving a storm and living to tell the tale. However, survival is not enough in a job that requires you to be innovative. A result is often expected in the form of a dazzling rainbow or a shiny new project brief. Yet how often do you get your head stuck in clouds, get blindsided when the climate changes or even get struck down by the lightning from above?

If you’re nodding your head at this, be the bamboo! Bamboo doesn’t avoid, control or try to change the weather. In the same vein, you can’t focus on living in the present when your attention is directed at altering, avoiding, suppressing, analysing, or otherwise controlling the events you encounter and the thoughts and feelings they create. It’s part of bamboo’s makeup to take the odd blow and adapt accordingly – and you must too…

So what’s behind this bamboo metaphor, you ask? Science!

Scientific research conducted over recent years by the University of London has examined the effect of bamboo-like behaviour on innovation at work. After studying a group of people from a large media organisation over a period of many months, the researchers found some enlightening results.

It was established that people who reported an ability to be mentally and behaviourally adaptable demonstrated an enhanced drive towards innovation at work. Specifically, people who demonstrated ‘psychological adaptability’ were more likely to improve their methods of doing things at work, and had more positive attitudes towards innovation and change.

So what exactly is this magical quality of adaptability?

Psychological adaptability

Being psychologically adaptive essentially boils down to two key things. The first is being actively aware and prepared to experience thoughts, feelings and sensations, especially those yucky ones, such as anxiety, fear, exhaustion and the like. In other words, psychological adaptability is simply accepting and not pushing away less desirable thoughts, despite your inclination to do so.

Just as bamboo resists being swept away in the winds of the storm, you can choose to accept the stress that results from things like unavoidably tight work deadlines. You can realise that getting caught in a negative thinking whirlwind won’t help you meet your deadline. It is helpful to be aware of your thoughts and feelings. From there, allow yourself to experience them fully and without judgment. Then, for your own sake, accept them and press on. Doing this will be demonstrating psychological adaptability.

The second element of psychological adaptability involves being able to choose your focus and your behaviour. This means connecting with ‘where you are at right now’ on a moment-to-moment basis, as opposed to projecting yourself into the future or dwelling on the past. It means thinking and acting in a conscious and controlled way, as opposed to acting impulsively or mindlessly.

When you’re psychologically adaptable, you will be more able to recognise what your current situation affords. Then you will see that it is within your power to persist with or change your behaviour in the pursuit of your goals.

The scientific research mentioned earlier demonstrated that, over time, people who were trained in psychological adaptability showed a significantly greater drive to be innovative at work than those not offered such training.

‘Be the bamboo’ and enhance your innovativeness

So now that you know how important it is to exercise psychological adaptability, here are some techniques you can use to do just that.

Think about how someone would finish this phrase: “Throw another shrimp on the…”

That’s right – ‘barbie‘. I bet you couldn’t help yourself but complete this familiar Aussie expression. The word just appears as if by magic – from out of nowhere!

But how many of you actually believe it? Firstly, I don’t literally throw anything on the barbie. What’s more, Aussies are more likely to put snags and onions on the barbie.

This phenomenon provides important insights into our thoughts.

Given our own unique histories, we can’t help but think certain thoughts when faced with a particular stimulus or situation. For example, when I used to hear the words “performance review” from my old boss, I would automatically think, ‘Oh crap’ and feel a wave of nausea. It’s like when you drive past a police car and automatically freak out a bit, even though you’re not doing anything wrong.

Now, just because thoughts – or for that matter, feelings – pop into our awareness, it doesn’t mean we have to believe them, or even give them a second thought. Becoming aware of how automated our thinking and feeling can be is important in and of itself.

Next time something important happens at work, try and become aware of the automatic thoughts and feelings you have. Once you are aware, ask yourself whether you believe them. And also ask yourself whether these thoughts or feelings need to influence how you think and behave in your current context.

For example, is the ‘oh crap’ feeling that is automatically brought on by ‘performance review’ anxiety an appropriate response? Probably not. More likely, one bad performance review experience has scarred you for all reviews that will follow.

With increased awareness and understanding you will be better equipped to consciously choose if the thoughts or feelings that pop up are actually relevant. You can then choose whether they need to guide your actions, or whether they aren’t relevant or helpful right now. And if you decide they will just get in the way, you can decide to just let them go.

Now try another exercise to increase your psychological adaptability…

Think of a stressful challenge you have to deal with and give it a label. For instance, the thought of filling up the petrol tank sends most into a panic. So let’s call this one – ‘petrol price panic’.

Follow these steps for me.

  • For the next 30 seconds, repeat the words ‘petrol price panic’ as fast as you can.
  • GO ‘…petrol price panic…petrol price panic…petrol price panic‘… keep going.

If you’re like most people, you probably found that by the time the 30 seconds was over, the label ‘petrol price panic’ is now just some words, and feels like much less of a threat.

Tell me more…

As simple as these techniques may sound, there is more than meets the eye to these complex qualities of the brain. Equipping yourself, and indeed the people you work with, can vastly improve the innovative expression at your place of work. Plus, people will get the bonus of a more optimally functioning personal and professional life through the positive health benefits.

A great start for you and your organisation is to practice using the techniques outlined in this article. And once you are feeling comfortable with these, looking into formal training in the area is the next step, as research has demonstrated that it is formal training that will increase your propensity to innovate.

Do this and not only will you survive the storms and be stronger as a result, you might even find yourself a pot of gold at the end of that dazzling rainbow you managed to deliver.

Surely you can’t argue with that…

Adrian Medhurst is an Inventiologist at Inventium were he spends his time helping organisations be more psychologically adaptive and innovative using science-based techniques.

Photo: hlkljgk