Steve Jobs has done it. Mark Zuckerberg has done it. And sometimes even you have done it.
When looking for inspiration or ideas, we have all indulged in pacing back and forth, or walking while having meetings, and now a new study by Stanford researchers provides an explanation for this.
Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.
The study found that walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.
"Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking. We finally may be taking a step, or two, toward discovering why," Oppezzo and Schwartz write.
A person walking indoors – on a treadmill in a room facing a blank wall – or walking outdoors in the fresh air produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down, one of the experiments found.
"I thought walking outside would blow everything out of the water, but walking on a treadmill in a small, boring room still had strong results, which surprised me," Oppezzo said.
The study also found that creative juices continued to flow even when a person sat back down shortly after a walk.
The research comprised experiments involving 176 college students and other adults who completed tasks commonly used by researchers to gauge creative thinking.
Three of the experiments relied on a "divergent thinking" creativity test. Divergent thinking is a thought process of method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. In these experiments, participants had to think of alternate uses for a given object.
The overwhelming majority of the participants in these experiments were more creative while walking than sitting, the study found. In one of those experiments, participants were tested indoors – first while sitting, then while walking on a treadmill. According to the study, the creative output increased by an average of 60% when the person was walking.
"This isn`t to say that every task at work should be done while simultaneously walking, but those that require a fresh perspective or new ideas would benefit from it," said Oppezzo.
Productive creativity involves a series of steps – from idea generation to execution – and the research Oppezzo said, demonstrated the benefits of walking applied to the "divergent" element of creative thinking, but not to the "convergent" or focused thinking characteristic of insight.
"We`re not saying walking can turn you into Michelangelo," Oppezzo said. "But it could help you at the beginning stages of creativity."
In the meantime, "we`d be healthier, and maybe more innovative for it."