Every month, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management come together to release a “nano tool” that hones in on small changes you can make to improve your performance and leadership abilities. Their September suggestion highlights the positive impact — and widespread usage amongst successful people—- of walking while making difficult decisions or thinking through complex problems.
Walking has a long history as a regular habit of successful, influential people — Queen Elizabeth I and Charles Dickens both used to take a walk every day, and Aristotle was famous for conducting his lectures, pupils in tow, while on the move. These figures have taken their walks for myriad reasons — to improve health with movement and fresh air, to find peace and solitude or to observe nature or cityscapes. There’s no shortage of good reasons to go for a walk.
But Wharton’s nano tool focuses on a particular one, and it’s a benefit that is encouraging business leaders like “the CEOs of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook” to start walking, as well: Walking increases your creativity, and can “improve business outcomes” by helping you “come up with more and better ideas and enhanc[ed] decision making and problem solving.”
Research backs this up. Wharton’s nano tool is based on a 2017 Stanford University study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. The study found that walking encouraged “divergent thinking,” whether the walking occurred before participants were thinking through a question or while they were thinking it through. Divergent thinking can be understood as a psychological definition of what we often refer to as creativity: It indicates a pattern of thought that brings original ideas to a question or problem.
That’s a great mental state to encourage if you want to find novel, successful solutions to stressful and difficult problems. So, next time you are puzzling through a complex issue that needs a special creative touch, go for a walk. You may be surprised by the ideas you come up with.