Although I recently returned from a vacation and would love to tell you about the hiking we did, that’s not the topic of this editorial. Previously, I wrote about jump-starting creativity through relaxation and trying something new (Dec. 2013) and by incorporating play into your day (Jan. 2014). Here’s another powerful creativity booster to add to your toolbox — walking. Your walk doesn’t have to be an eight-mile trek from the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the rim nearly a mile higher. Walking can be as simple as doing laps around the office, or getting off the bus or train a stop or two early and walking the rest of the way to your destination.
As part of my efforts to get in shape, I set an app on my computer to give me a five-minute break every hour. It dims the screen and blocks all activity to give my eyes and brain a rest, which also prompts me to get up and get moving. A few of my coworkers think it’s a little odd, but others have come along for “walk with me” meetings. One of the first things we noticed was that after even just a few laps, we felt invigorated physically and mentally — more alert, breathing more deeply, and better able to focus on the work we returned to.
Recently, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz of Stanford Univ. quantified the effect of walking on creativity. In one experiment, study participants completed what’s known as Guilford’s alternative uses task, where they were asked to generate as many alternative uses for a common object (such as a button) as possible, while sitting and then while walking on a treadmill. More than three-quarters (81%) of the subjects improved their creative output when walking. Furthermore, when seated after walking, participants experienced a residual creativity boost. “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity,” Oppezzo and Schwartz say.
In a TED Talk last year, former technology executive Nilofer Merchant said that “instead of going to coffee meetings or fluorescent-lit conference room meetings, I ask people to go on a walking meeting, to the tune of 20 to 30 miles a week. It’s changed my life.” After several hundred walking meetings, she learned that “there’s this amazing thing about actually getting out of the box that leads to out-of-the-box thinking.”
Jack Groppel, vice president of applied science and performance training at Wellness & Prevention, would like to see all employees (not just those who attend meetings) be more active during the workday. His firm has developed the Organizations in MOTION program, through which employees engage in small and frequent bursts of strategic movement to help increase their energy and engagement levels throughout the day. In tests at two different companies, employees who participated in the program reported increased engagement and focus, as well as higher levels of intrinsic motivation at work. In addition, Groppel found a “dosage effect” of activity level on engagement and focus — the more participants increased their activity level, the higher the level of increased engagement and focus.
Does it work? Absolutely. You are reading proof that it does — this editorial, and nearly everything else in this issue of CEP. So, I invite you to take a hike. As St. Augustine said, “Solvitur ambulando” — “It is solved by walking.”
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