You need to meet with one or two people. To make an important decision. To set a new direction. To seize an opportunity, or solve a problem.

In short, to find a new way. (Which is a great partial definition of entrepreneurship -- and leadership.)

Want to make your chances of coming up with creative ideas and solutions as great as possible?

Get out of your office or conference room, and take a walk.

Steve Jobs loved walking meetings, regularly holding brainstorming meetings while walking, and for good reason: Research shows that 81 percent of people come up with more, and better, creative suggestions and solutions when they walk compared with when they sit.

Convergent and Divergent Thinking

Researchers focused on two forms of creativity: The Guilford alternate uses (GAU) test of creative divergent thinking, and the compound remote associates (CRA) test of convergent thinking.

Eighty-one percent scored higher on the GAU. Only 23 percent of the people studied scored higher on the CRA.

And that's okay. In simple terms, the CRA is based on the premise that creative people are better at making associations between words or things. (In short, this is to some degree like that.)

The average CRA test provides three stimulus words and asks you to come up with a word that forms a compound word based on those words. For example, one CRA question provides the stimulus words "cake," "swiss," and "cottage." An answer could be "cheese," as in cheesecake, swiss cheese, and cottage cheese. 

The CRA tests convergent thinking: Providing "correct" answers to relatively standard questions. Think of convergent thinking as reaping the benefit of experience.

But if you need to come up with new ideas or new solutions, divergent thinking matters more. Divergent thinking is more like brainstorming: More free-flowing, more spontaneous, more random and less organized.

Add it all up and convergent thinking is "I've been in a situation kind of like this before, so here's what we should do," while divergent thinking is more like "Eureka!"

So Take a Walk. Outside

Again, where you walk matters. And with how many people.

Compared with walking indoors (or, if you're by yourself and hoping to be more creative, walking on a treadmill), walking outdoors produced the most innovative and highest quality ideas.

Which makes sense. Walk your office hallways, or walk through the facility, and for all intents and purposes you might as well be sitting in your office. Same environment, same people, same visual cues. You've done nothing to shake things up.

Plus, your attention will be divided. When was the last time you walked down the hall or through your facility and didn't notice what was -- or wasn't -- going on?

Walking outside lets you, and the people you're with, weed out the normal distractions and better focus. As LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says, a walking meeting "... essentially eliminates distractions, [and] I find it to be a much more productive way to spend time."

The same is true when a walking meeting involves too many people. There's no way that, say, six people can effectively interact while walking. Some will lag behind. Some will have a side-discussion.

Making eye contact, reading body language, reading the "room" -- those things are really hard to do when you're spread out on a path, all basically facing the same direction.

So limit your walking meetings to one other person, or at most two people. 

And then start your meetings the way Brendon Burchard, the author of High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way, says Oprah starts all of her meetings:

Oprah says:

"What is our intention for this meeting? What's important? What matters?"

Start by seeking clarity: Sifting out distractions so you can focus on what you hope to accomplish.

And then let your creative juices flow, which will be a lot easier since you're walking outside.

Science says so.

Published on: Mar 3, 2020
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