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.
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.
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.