Walking and creativity

The Leap team out for a walk

Did you know that there’s a creature called the sea squirt that starts its life as a larva swimming around the ocean enjoying a spinal cord, a basic brain and seeing the sights with its single eye. But once it reaches adulthood and affixes itself to a rock for a more sedentary life, it literally decides that those body parts are redundant and eats them. If that doesn’t make you want to put your trainers on and go for a walk, I don’t know what would.

Oh, except maybe:

  • Unlocking of creative potential
  • Reduction in stress and anxiety
  • Growth and remodelling of the brain
  • Strength and mobility
  • Fresh air and sunshine
  • Reduced pollution and road congestion
  • Etc, etc, etc.

Although May is national walking month – May we suggest that any month of the year is a good month to take a walk. Us Leap-ians are big walking fans, bordering on walking fanatics. If there was anything out there that could be dubbed a universal solution, a walk is probably the closest thing.

Leap managing director and chief walker Simon Thomason often comes back to this sentiment from the Do Lectures;

“If there is a problem to solve, then go on a walk. If there is a big problem to solve, then choose a longer walk. At 4 mph, the brain thinks differently.”

Creativity unlocked

Researchers at Stanford university ran studies on whether people’s ability to come up with ‘appropriate novel ideas’ AKA creativity was affected by walking versus sitting down.

They found that study participants that were walking while performing their tasks did almost twice as well as those that did them sitting down. And the test setup was just walking on a treadmill in a windowless room. They then ran the test again swapping the groups around, and those who sat down twice didn’t get any better from practice for the second round, while those that switched to walking significantly improved. But the fascinating thing is that those who started on the treadmill, still did better when they did the test sitting down than those who hadn’t gone for a walk first. So, this shows that the positive effect lasts for sometime after the walk, as well as while you’re doing the actual walking. How cool is that, and imagine what an actual walk in nature could do?

One of our team members is putting the Stanford study to the test. Our sustainable web developer and keen hiker Nick, recently added a walking pad to his standing desk setup. And we have curiously (ok, enviously) watched him bob along in calls and huddles.

“My daily routine has been transformed by a standing desk and walking pad. While it is no replacement for the outdoors, starting the day with a walk on the pad whilst working not only gets me much closer to those 10k steps a day, it’s also energising my body and mind; kickstarting my creativity and supporting a positive mindset.”Nick Lewis, Leap’s senior sustainable web developer

The brain on Walking

Apart from boosting creativity, some researchers believe walking actually has a profound effect on the brain itself. Neuroscientist and author of ‘In Praise of Walking’ Shane O’Mara has what he calls a “motor-centric” view of the brain – that our brains evolved to support movement and, therefore, if we stop moving about it doesn’t work as well. “Our sensory systems work at their best when they’re moving about the world”.
Adding to that, brain nourishing molecules are produced by aerobic activity which O’Mara dubs a kind of molecular fertiliser for the brain, supporting the growth and remodelling of synapses and blood vessels carrying oxygen to the brain.

Earth Day seed bombing walk. Two of the Leap team scattering seeds next to road

Walk and talk

One of the easiest ways to reap the benefits of walking in a work setting is through a ‘walk and talk’. Also known as a walking meeting.

We have found at Leap that this works really well for 1 to 1’s. The movement and informal setting reduces any potential anxiety and encourages people to talk more freely. Walking side by side in the same direction alters the dynamic and can feel less intimidating than sitting face-to face across a table maintaining eye contact.

The other type of meetings that lend themselves to walking for us are brainstorms. Like the Stanford studies clearly showed, coming up with ideas and solutions while walking is like unlocking a ‘creativity and problem solving cheat code’.

Leap team out enjoying a sunny walk

Here are a few of our tips for getting started with walking meetings:

  • Keep it small – with a bigger group ideas can be lost, maybe better to split into smaller units
  • Let people know in advance so they can dress accordingly and swap out the stilettos for something terrain friendly
  • Consider accessibility
  • Think about confidentiality depending on the topic of the meeting
  • Plan ahead – your route, what topic or problem you’re discussion and how you’ll record outcomes
  • Start off with a small group of people who you know will enjoy it
  • Consider remote workers and how to not to make them feel excluded
  • Walks are great for generating new ideas or problem solving – not so much for presentations etc. where you need visuals
  • Record voice notes to keep track of ideas and outcomes
  • Keep it short and sweet

As well as meeting with others over a walk, a solitary one can also be an awesome way to  get unstuck, straighten your thoughts and gain some clarity. We have used walks for team building workshops and as a more informal way to bond and get to know each other.

Wanna go for a walk?