Walking indoors and outdoors increase our ability to generate appropriate novel ideas

Walking increases creativity

Walking increases creativity



Design Workshops

When you work with a service designer, or any designer for that matter, it’s likely that you’ll spend a considerable amount of time together discussing ideas, noting them down on sticky notes and sticking them to walls. This normally happens in a workshop setting. It seems cliché, and some find it trivial, to work in this way. But it’s neither. When workshopping problems and ideas in this way you are doing two things at the same time;

  1. placing your note in view of your group as soon as you’ve written it down, and;
  2. getting out of your chair and moving around, finding the right place for your note.

Placing your notes in view of the group is necessary because it exposes each participant to everyone else’s ideas. Seeing them initiates new ideas and the pool of thought widens and deepens simultaneously. This generates lots of new ideas as each participant inspires the others.

Standing up out of your chair and moving around is the part of the exercise that I find really interesting.

Walking increases creativity

In his enthralling and beautifully written book ‘Born to Walk,’ Dan Rubinstein writes about the way walking affects creativity.

Rubinstein references a study from Stanford University’s Awesomely Adaptive and Advanced Learning and Behaviour Unit about the effects of walking on creativity. Titled ‘Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking.’ (awesomely, freely available), the researchers ran a series of experiments to try to work out whether walking had any effect on people’s abilities to generate appropriate novel ideas (new ideas). They used alternate-use tests which essentially ask participants to think of as many uses as they can for common household objects (Guilford’s Alternate Uses) and to create metaphors or symbols for given phrases (Barron’s Symbolic Equivalence Test). They ran three experiments with the first group walking on a treadmill indoors, the second walking outdoors around the Stanford campus and the third being pushed around the campus in wheelchairs. What they found is fascinating (and kind of predictable).

Walking, whether indoors or outdoors, increases your ability to generate appropriate novel ideas. In other words, walking increases creativity.

In addition, walking has a residual effect on creativity meaning you stay more creative for longer after you stop walking.

Oppezzo and Schwartz write:

Walking is an easy-to-implement strategy to increase appropriate novel idea generation. When there is a premium on generating new ideas in the workday, it should be beneficial to incorporate walks.

But why is that? The authors suggest that walking decreases our inhibition, inhibitions that may prevent us from internally filtering imaginative concepts. Seems to make sense.

Rubinstein adds:

Walking can give us time and mental space for creative ideation and evaluation, an incubation period for effortless rumination, for ideas to bubble away…which can further propel the cross-pollination of ideas.

Walking helps us think creatively. So stand up. Move. Walk around your notes, your meeting rooms, your local park. The movement will help you figure out how to solve problems.


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