Get Up and Get Out: Walking Meetings Are Your New Creativity Booster

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Americans sit an average of 9.3 hours per day, and walking has been a proven creativity booster. Health, meet your new friend: creativity.

The average American sits 9.3 hours a day. 

And sitting has been deemed the new smoking.

This knowledge has inspired a new wave of work life balance. "Desk job" workers are increasingly incorporating a healthier lifestyle at work—standing desks, wearable technology and walking meetings—these trends are taking off and putting corporate workers back in control of their health.

Related Article: Sitting Is the New Smoking: How Standing Desks Impact Employee Health

Benefits of Walking Meetings

Walking for just 30 minutes can dramatically improve health and is a simple preventative measure for dementia, breast cancer, colon cancer and heart disease. Along with health benefits, walking meetings have been shown to increase creativity and productivity.

Walking meetings are a great step towards a better workday. A study at Stanford discovered the positive effect walking has on creativity, finding that 81 percent of participants can come up with more ideas after they walk. Additionally, the ideas people come up with are more novel and appropriate to the situation.

What's even more interesting is regardless of the location, walking boosts creative inspiration. The person walking either indoors (on a treadmill) or outdoors “produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down.” Taking a lap around the office just might be the solution to your writer's block.

Walking meetings are incorporated by some of the world’s greatest leaders and innovators. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Weiner are all famous for their forward-thinking companies; however, what is less known is their support and participation in walking meetings. Historically, Sigmund Freud conducted training analyses through evening walks.

In one of her TED Talks, corporate director Nilofer Merchant suggests conducting one-on-one meetings as walking meetings. This two-minute video generated an immediate following.

How Does it Work?

How exactly do walking meetings produce better results at work? Starting from the neurochemical perspective: walking constitutes the first part of the causal chain, signaling a chemical release in the brain that then triggers a boost in creative thinking. What this leads to is a greater recall once the participant stopped walking, with the average increase in creative output around 60 percent.

From a business perspective, anecdotal input suggests that walking meetings break down the hierarchical barrier between executives and subordinates. This feeling of discomfort vanishes in walking meetings. The side-by-side dynamic causes a more peer-to-peer relationship between the two people. The more sincere conversation brings a free-flow of ideas and solutions.

Related Article: Stop the Madness: Host Meetings That Don't Suck

Leading the Way for Walking Meetings

Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, has incorporated walking meetings in his company. He has discovered that the conversations are more candid—possibly because the two people aren’t making direct eye contact—with minimized distractions. Walking meetings force people to turn off their phone and there isn't the temptation to multitask on a computer screen. Being outdoors allows people to give their undivided attention, a novelty rarely seen in a packed conference room.

“It's energizing to get outside for a 30-minute walk a few times a day. In addition to the obvious fitness benefits, this meeting format essentially eliminates distractions, so I find it to be a much more productive way to spend time.”  - Jeff Weiner

Zuckerberg and Weiner Walking Meeting

Image via The Huffington Post

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Igor Perisic, LinkedIn’s vice president of engineering discussed his dislike towards in one-on-one meetings in the office. Sitting across someone's desk can feel uncomfortable, or at the very least unwelcoming. There is an automatic divide between the two people, both physically and mentally.

“You feel like you’re at the principal’s office. That’s not what you want." - Igor Perisic

Structuring Your Meeting

Just like in-office meetings, walking meetings should still have a structure to it. An article from the Harvard Business Review includes tips to ensure you get the most out of your time.

  • Try to include an interesting point of reference in your route.
  • Focus on using the walk for health benefits and work productivity (instead of a snack run).
  • Inform the client or employee that it will be a walking meeting.
  • Keep your group between two to three people.
  • Enjoy yourself; take a breath of fresh air.

Of course, walking meetings are not suitable to replace all scheduled meetings. For example, discussions in which presentations, models or whiteboards are necessary should still be set indoors. The Stanford Research further discovered that focused thinking is not influenced by walking. When people had to answer a problem with a single solution, walking had the same result as when people were sitting. 

Whereas meetings to exchange ideas or discuss solutions between two people work best.

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