Could Walking Improve Your Next Brainstorming Session?

photo-4I’ve always known that when I’m working, and stuck, and then get up and start walking, I end up coming back to my desk full of ideas. In fact, because I’ve noticed this to be true, I walk with a notebook and pen, so that I can capture my thoughts.

But in the past, I’ve had a hard time convincing some managers people that I’m not goofing off when I take my walks. These managers people seem to place more value on those who sit at there desk all day looking at a certain social media site or playing solitude.

Hopefully, as of a few days ago, this perception of my walks, and those of people like me, has changed because a scientific study has shown that walking does indeed increase creativity.

The Scientific Proof

For almost every student, creativity increased substantially when they walked. Most were able to generate about 60 percent more uses for an object, and the ideas were both “novel and appropriate,” Dr. Oppezzo writes in her study, which was published this month (April, 2014) in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. (Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking)

Want to Be More Creative? Take a Walk by Gretchen Reynolds,

But what’s even better about this study is that is shows that I might not have to capture my thoughts right then and there on paper. You see I’ve always thought that when my ideas came up, they were somewhat like a dream. You have to capture there and then or else when you wake up, or return to your desk, things might become fuzzy and you may totally forget the ideas you generated. But the study has shown that the effects of walking linger even when you return to you desk.

But the practical import of that finding would seem to be negligible, if creativity were to increase only while someone was walking. Most of us cannot conduct brainstorming sessions on treadmills. So Dr. Oppezzo next tested whether the effects lingered after a walk had ended. She had another group of students sit for two consecutive sessions of test-taking and subsequently walk for about eight minutes while tossing out ideas for object re-use, then sit and repeat the test.

Again, walking markedly improved people’s ability to generate creative ideas, even when they sat down after the walk. In that case, the volunteers who had walked produced significantly more and subjectively better ideas than in their pre-exercise testing period.

Want to Be More Creative? Take a Walk by Gretchen Reynolds,

So walking not only helps you generate ideas while you’re walking, it also helps you generate creative ideas when you return to your desk.

Implications for Business

Managers, let your people walk. Create a supportive atmosphere for those who get up from their desk and walk throughout the day when they are trying to generate ideas. These people are not goofing off. Walking allows them to be much more productive then they would be sitting at their desk.

Brainstorming facilitators, let your participants walk. What do people usually do during brainstorming sessions? They sit. Maybe, just maybe, they should walk. Okay, it may be hard to hold a brainstorming session while people are walking in a park, but what about having them take a walk before the session. Or even walk around the room while they are shouting out their ideas. Would walking around the room work? According to the study, it would.

Finally, to examine another real-world implication of walking and creativity, Dr. Oppezzo moved portions of the experiment outdoors. “Most people would probably guess that walking outside should be much better for creativity” than pacing inside a drab office. But surprisingly, her study undermined that assumption. When volunteers strolled Stanford’s pleasant, leafy campus for about eight minutes, they generated more creative ideas than when they sat either inside or outside for the same length of time. But they were not noticeably more creative as a result of their plein-air walk than when they subsequently walked on an indoor treadmill, facing a blank wall.

“It really seems that it’s the walking that matters,” in terms of spurring creativity, Dr. Oppezzo said, and not the setting.

Want to Be More Creative? Take a Walk by Gretchen Reynolds,

This is something that I’ve never thought of doing before, but I’m definitely going to try. Why don’t you give it a try, too. Let me know how it goes.