“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

Giving Ideas Legs

Your brainstorming session is destined for success. Conference room? Check. Whiteboard? Check. Sticky notes in four non-yellow colors? Check.

Inspiringly creative ideas?….uh…..


Turns out, if you want to give yourself the best chances of coming up with that breakthrough innovative idea you’re likely better off ditching all of the “creativity theater” and just heading outside for a walk with your team.

Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz of Stanford University have convincingly demonstrated the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Their experiments documented the significantly positive effects walking has on creative divergent thinking as well as improvements in associative convergent thinking.

Those two different movements of ideation are precisely where Tim Brown, in his book Change by Design, locates the creative root of design thinking: “The process of the design thinker…looks like a rhythmic exchange between the divergent and convergent phases.”

Getting In-step

Beyond creativity, getting outside for a stroll with a colleague can have benefits for our working relationships. Most working spaces position people opposite one another, literally opposed to each other. As René Brown says in her book Dare to Lead, “often, sitting across from someone is not just about logistics. It reflects that we think about relationships as inherently adversarial.”

Research has shown that synchronous movements between people can increase their sense of affiliation. Psychologist Christine Webb of Columbia University has studied this point in terms of conflict resolution and noted that “Walking partners naturally adopt cooperative (as opposed to competitive) postural stances, experience shared attention, and can benefit from discussions in novel environments.”

In general, taking a walk with someone puts you on an even level, side by side, moving together in the same direction – physically, cognitively and emotionally.

Taking a walk with someone puts you on an even level, side by side, moving together in the same direction – physically, cognitively and emotionally..

Walkers by Nature

That walking can help us produce better thoughts and connect more easily with people is not surprising considering our evolutionary history. As Bioengineer John Medina writes in his bestseller Brain Rules, “the human brain became the most powerful in the world under conditions where motion was a constant presence.” In short, “our brains were built for walking 12 miles a day.”

It is perhaps no surprise then that walking positively boosts our moods: who isn’t happy doing something they feel like they were born to do? While few of us are able to get in that kind of mileage, just a fifteen minute WalkTalk can already produce the brain, relationship and mood benefits mentioned.

Ready to get started? A few tips from our experience:

  • Send a WalkTalk meeting invite. Manage expectations by scheduling your WalkTalk in advance with a start and end time. This gives your selected WalkTalk partner(s) the possibility to opt out as well as to come prepared both mentally and logistically.
  • The way is the destination. Avoid making the WalkTalk about getting somewhere. A walk down to the corner pastry shop makes the WalkTalk overly goal-oriented. Let both the Walk and the Talk have some space and see where both lead.
  • Keep a conversational pace. Yes, your body will thank you for the walk, but don’t make it about exercise. Get in step with your fellow WalkTalker(s) and ensure that everyone is comfortable and able to carry on the conversation easily.

So, what are you waiting for? Cancel that conference room, change your 1-on-1 meeting location to “In front of the building” and get WalkTalking today.

See you out there!

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