Struggling to think creatively? Try going for a walk outdoors!

I spent much of this year on this blog looking at how we create productive workplaces. One of the articles talked about a holiday cottage company taking its work outside for the day and walking meetings with a colleague. While the event described in the article was primarily, I’m sure, a publicity event, there’s a lot to be said for the idea of getting outside to work.

A recent study has looked into the correlation of creativity and walking outside and this is what they concluded (read the bits in bold for the summary conclusion):

Four experiments demonstrate that walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after. In Experiment 1, while seated and then when walking on a treadmill, adults completed Guilford’s alternate uses (GAU) test of creative divergent thinking and the compound remote associates (CRA) test of convergent thinking. Walking increased 81% of participants’ creativity on the GAU, but only increased 23% of participants’ scores for the CRA. In Experiment 2, participants completed the GAU when seated and then walking, when walking and then seated, or when seated twice. Again, walking led to higher GAU scores. Moreover, when seated after walking, participants exhibited a residual creative boost. Experiment 3 generalized the prior effects to outdoor walking. Experiment 4 tested the effect of walking on creative analogy generation. Participants sat inside, walked on a treadmill inside, walked outside, or were rolled outside in a wheelchair. Walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality analogies. The effects of outdoor stimulation and walking were separable. Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity

In other words, there’s creative value in walking, there’s extra creative value in walking outdoors. This conclusion isn’t particularly novel, or new, to many it would seem to be axiomatic – “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” said Friedrich Nietzsche back in 1889. That being said. it’s good to see more study based evidence added to our understanding.

It’s another situation where “there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does”. There is a strong correlation in organisations between sitting at a desk in an office and working, hence, if you are not sat at your desk you’re not working. What organisations should be doing is encouraging people to get away from their desks and go walking outside. If an outdoor walk isn’t possible they should be providing treadmills because there’s still value in that. That’s assuming that organisation want their people to think creatively?

And while we are at it, you might like to know that all of that sitting is probably causing you psychological distress too.

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