One thing you can do every day to improve your creativity

Walking is one of the most productive habits of creative leaders.

Many leaders will tell you they do the best thinking whilst walking. Steve Jobs was famous for his walks around Palo Alto. Jobs would often go on long walks when problem solving and was well-known for hosting “walking meetings ” with his guests. 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 is a proven way for leaders to think, solve problems. It’s also a great way to hosting engaging conversations. Whilst the experience of executives show that walking improves thinking. There is some scientific evidence to supports their claims.

“All truly great thought are conceived by walking” – Friedrich Nietzsche

The benefits of walking

A Stanford University study found that people are more creative when walking, as opposed to when they’re seated. 

The researchers conducted many experiments involving 176 people. The goal of the research was to assess the impact that walking on creative thinking. In the study researchers asked one group to remain seated and had the other walk indoors, outdoors and on a treadmill. Afterwards they had each group complete various 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 whilst 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 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 shows how creativity is improved by walking. The findings show that walking either outdoors or on a treadmill significantly improves creative thinking.

How to build walking into your daily routine

Creativity is a critical skill. It’s required for effective leadership. Leading in a fast paced, VUCA environment places increased demand on leaders to find creative solutions to challenging situations.

Given the demand for creativity in business, this study makes a strong case for building walking into your daily routine. 

Here are some ways you can build a walking habit into your daily schedule.

1. Take a walk during breaks

Make a determined effort to go for a walk during breaks, rather than remaining seated. A brief walk will help your brain get unstuck and improve your creative thinking. 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.

2. Walk before your next brainstorming session

Before your next brainstorming session make time to go for a walk. Even better encourage the whole team to join you. Use your time to discuss some of the problems you need to solve. Walking before brainstorming will help improve your team’s performance during the session.

3. Hold meetings and discussions whilst walking

Be inspired by Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey. Invite people for walking meetings. Start with one-on-one meetings that would benefit from a more informal environment. 

Why not arrange for one walking meeting each week? Use the walking meeting to discuss a work challenges or to brainstorm new ideas.

4. Always be ready to capture your ideas 

Always take along your smart phone or a pen and paper. This makes it quick and easy to capture 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?

As a start commit to going for a walk on your own each day, over the next two weeks. I am sure you’ll come up with a bunch of new ideas. Next, expand your walking habit by inviting someone to join you in a walking meeting.