Creativity IS alive – and walking!


Are you bored of rambling meetings? Walking while you talk could be the answer.
Dr Peter Honey – one of the great gurus on learning and behaviour, and co-author of the world-famous Learning Styles Inventory (which we at The Way Ahead use extensively!) – has shared his thoughts on the benefits of a good walk to aid creativity:

For as long as I can remember I have gone for a walk before breakfast. It used to be a jog until a doctor warned me that if I continued I’d wreck my knees. So, brisk walking has been the routine for many years now.

When I ran residential courses (in the days when it was the norm to take people away to a hotel in the country for five days) I used to slip out for a clandestine walk when the participants were beavering away in syndicate groups. I was always careful to return in good time for the inevitable plenary session. I was only late once when a bank I visited to withdraw cash was raided by two men in balaclavas wielding shotguns. I was delayed, not only by them, but also by the police who took witness statements before anyone was allowed to leave the premises. Amusingly, in my absence, the course participants had taken various initiatives which included checking I hadn’t fallen asleep in my room, phoning my wife to see if she had heard from me, checking my car was in the car park, conducting a search of the countryside immediately surrounding the hotel and, having drawn a blank, reported me as missing to the police.

But I digress. The reason why I’m mentioning walking is because I have just read about some research carried out by Stanford University that suggests that people think of more creative ideas whilst walking. Apparently they found that people who walked came up with twice as many creative ideas as peers who were asked to think whilst sitting down.

This finding doesn’t in the least surprise me; I have had some of my best ideas whilst walking. The process seems to be similar to the well-known phenomenon of ‘sleeping on it’ where the solution to a problem that seemed insurmountable one day, reveals itself after a good night’s sleep. A good walk clears the head and, even if you are not actually thinking about the problem, somehow things fall into place.

Another advantage of a walk is the change of environment provides triggers for ideas that would not otherwise have occurred. I once had a pedometer that told me the number of steps I had taken, my pulse rate, the calories I had supposedly burnt etc and I fell to wondering if management meetings might benefit from a supply of similar information. This led to an idea for a ‘meetings meter’ that would show, minute by minute, how much a meeting was costing, taking account of the average salaries of the participants, the cost of the room etc. Scary information that would surely speed up meetings!

I often used to conduct one-to-one coaching sessions with clients by suggesting a walk. Despite all the advice about seating arrangements and eye contact, I always found it far more productive to walk side by side whist mulling over sensitive issues. It aided creativity in helping the client to think of possible ways forward, reduced the intensity and avoided the need for intrusive eye contact. Clients were always delighted with the novelty of coaching-on-the-hoof. Please note: Do not try this in congested city streets – find a park.

So, in my experience, walking is not only beneficial physically, it helps mentally too.

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