Many people will tell you they do their best thinking and are most creative when walking. Steve Jobs was famous for his walks around the Palo Alto. Jobs would often go on long walks for problem solving and was well-known for hosting “walking meetings”. Jobs is not alone in his love of walking, other creative leaders also host walking meetings.
“My favorite thing to do to relax is walking. If I’m with a friend we have our best conversations while walking.” – Jack Dorsey, CEO of the mobile-payments startup Square, Silicon Valley’s different kind of power walk
Mark Zuckerberg is another executive famous for his walking meetings.
”Several people who have been courted by Mr. Zuckerberg told the same story. The 27-year-old chief executive surprises them with the idea of a walk through the woods. A little startled by the invite, people often agree, and are then led across the Facebook parking lot where they eventually end up hiking along a trail that reaches a Silicon Valley lookout. This is where Mr. Zuckerberg delivers his pitch.” – A Walk in the Woods With Mark Zuckerberg
Walking seems to be a popular way for leaders to think, to solve problems and as a way of hosting great conversations. Whilst the experience of these executives and many others suggest walking improves their thinking, there is now scientific evidence that supports their claims.
The Science and Benefits of Walking
A Stanford University study found that people are more creative when walking, as opposed to when they are seated. The study conducted by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014.
The researchers conducted a number of different experiments involving 176 people. The goal of the research was to assess the impact that walking had on creative thinking. For this study the researchers asked one group to remain seated and had the other group walk indoors, outdoors and on a treadmill. Afterwards they had each group complete a number of creative thinking tasks.
The study found that the majority of participants were significantly more creative after walking. So how big was the change? Consider the following findings.
”Walking substantially enhanced creativity by two different measures. For the three alternate uses studies, 81%, 88%, and 100% of participants were more creative walking than sitting.” – Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking
In one experiment participants were tested, first whilst sitting, then while walking on a treadmill. In this experiment the researchers found that:
“Walking had a large effect on creativity. Most of the participants benefited from walking compared with sitting, and the average increase in creative output was around 60%.” – Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking
Another interesting finding was that the positive effect of walking continued even after the second group sat down again.
Whether one is outdoors or on a treadmill, walking improves the generation of novel yet appropriate ideas, and the effect even extends to when people sit down to do their creative work shortly after.” – Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking
This research showed that creativity was significantly improved across the majority of participants who were walking, as opposed to those who were seated. The findings show that walking, whether outdoors or on a treadmill, improves creative thinking.
Build Walking into Your Daily Routine
There is no doubt that there is an increased need for creativity in business today. The findings from this study makes a strong case for building walking into our daily routine. Here are some ways you can build a walking habit into your daily schedule.
Take a Walk During Your Breaks
Make a determined effort to go for a walk during breaks, as opposed to remaining seated. A brief walk will help your brain get unstuck and improve your creative thinking. So instead of waiting behind your desk for inspiration to strike, take 10 minutes and go for a walk. Start by going for two walks a day.
When you next find yourself stuck for new ideas. Go for a walk!
Walk Before Your Next Brainstorming Session
Before your next brainstorming session make time to go for a walk. Encourage the whole team to join you. Use the time you spend walking to discuss some of the problems you are seeking to solve. Taking a walk just before brainstorming will help improve your team’s performance during the session.
Hold Meetings and Discussions Whilst Walking
Be inspired by the examples of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey. Invite people for walking meetings. Start with those one-on-one meetings that would benefit from a more informal environment. Why not arrange for one walking meeting each week? Use this walking meeting to discuss a work challenge or to brainstorm new ideas.
Always Be Ready to Capture Your Thoughts and Ideas
Always take along your smart phone or alternatively a pen and paper. This makes it quick and easy to capture your fleeting thoughts and ideas. New ideas are always fragile, unless you are ready to capture them when they strike, they will disappear and be lost forever.
My challenge to you? Commit to going for two walks on your own each day, over the next two weeks. I am sure you will come up with a whole bunch of new ideas. Next, expand your walking habit by inviting someone to join you in a walking meeting. As always, let me know how this has worked for you in the comments below.