Walk it Out to Work it Out

If you want to boost creative problem solving or get a fresh perspective, then get up from your conference room table and climb out of those comfy living room chairs. Walking is better.

Years ago, I took two mediation clients on a long walk through city streets when they were very stuck and frustrated in the conference room. I’ve done it dozens of times and I’ll do it dozens more.

Not only is there no rule that conflict resolution should take place seated, there’s an argument to be made that we’re limiting our creative problem solving capacity by staying on our derrieres.

Walking conflict resolution has several benefits:

  • Walking boosts creative thinking.
  • Walking increases oxygen intake, a bonus for clear headedness and stress management.
  • When we’re walking, we’re facing forward together, a potentially powerful, if subtle, alignment.

But don’t just take my word for it. In research published last year, Stanford researchers concluded that walking boosts creative inspiration and increases creative output by an average of 60 percent.

They examined the effect of walking on both divergent thinking and the ability to generate complex analogies, two types of creative thinking. Divergent thinking is a thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions (for example, “How many uses can you come up with for a chopstick?”). And while walking didn’t have a positive effect on the kind of focused thinking needed for single, correct answers, the researchers determined that tasks requiring a fresh perspective would benefit from walking.

Putting this idea to work for you

  • Consider going for a walk of at least 5 to 15 minutes before tasks that rely on creative output. That’s the length of time studied in the Stanford research.
  • If you’re resolving conflict sitting down and find yourselves stuck, get up and go for a walk. Do it alone if you must, but go for a walk together if you can. You don’t even have to talk if you’re too tense…just walk.
  • Walk indoors or outside. The act of walking is more important than the environment. Even study participants on a treadmill in a tiny room showed more creative output than seated participants.
  • The effect lasts during walking and for a bit of time afterwards, so continue to tap into the potential soon after sitting back down.

I’m going to take the dogs for a walk and think about this some more. Why not head out for a stroll yourself?

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