The Simple Trick Great Thinkers From Charles Darwin to Steve Jobs Used to Be More Creative

Icons & Innovators

The Simple Lifestyle Trick Great Thinkers From Charles Darwin to Steve Jobs Have Used to Be More Creative

History’s most inventive minds all used this one simple trick. You can try it today.

CREDIT: Getty Images

Read about the lifestyles of history’s great thinkers, and one of the first things you’re likely to be struck by is how diverse they are. Some of your heroes were night owls, others got up with the birds. Some loved a great party, others barely left their desks. Some were health nuts, others were bon vivants.

It’s hard to find any commonalities or inspiration for you own routine, with one big exception. Read about almost any genius, and you’ll find he or she was a walker.

From Aristotle instructing students while they meandered around to Charles Darwin’s daily pacing of a path he had explicitly installed for thinking, to Silicon Valley heroes like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs who have sworn by walking meetings, a shockingly high percentage of great minds loved to wander.

Walk your way to a eureka moment.

This can’t be a coincidence, and researchers are starting to figure out exactly why so many smart people came up with their best ideas while walking. For years, science has known that moving energizes your brain and makes you a little smarter. But that’s not the whole reason walking is so good for creativity.

Eureka moments tend to come to us not when we’re intensely focused on a problem but when we’re idly thinking about something else, allowing our subconscious mind to chew on the issue in the background. That’s why showers are famously the birthplace of so many ideas. Walking, neuroscience is uncovering, is a supercharged way to achieve this state.

"Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander–to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theater. This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight," explains Ferris Jabr in a fabulous New Yorker article on the science of walking.  

Make walking social.

That means walking is one of the most powerful tricks out there for unblocking your creativity. It’s also one of the easiest to implement — you can open the door and give it a go right now. But creativity isn’t the only way walking can improve your performance. Solo rambling is great for your innovation, but walking together has its own unique benefits.

On, business school professor Russell Clayton explains how walking meetings not only boost creativity, but also increase focus, engagement, and bonding.

"Walking meetings lead to better employee engagement by breaking down barriers between supervisor and subordinate or between co-workers," he writes. They act like "a micro version of the bonding that can be experienced when co-workers travel together on business trips."

Getting these benefits requires being mindful of a few simple guidelines:

  • Have a destination. Actually walking to somewhere like a local park or point of interest can help sell the idea to others and give structure to the outing.

  • But don’t make it food. Walking is a good way to be healthier. Don’t ruin it by making your end point a whipped cream-topped Frappuccino.

  • Feel free to roam. While an endpoint is advisable, let curiosity guide you. If you see something you want to explore, take a detour. Science shows that such spontaneity might further boost your creative inspiration.

  • Keep it intimate. Walking meetings should have a maximum of three participants, according to Clayton.  

  • Know your goal. Walking is great for brainstorming, getting to know people better, and chewing over issues. It’s not a good way to make final decisions.

Which upcoming meeting in your calendar could you do on your feet instead?

Published on: May 29, 2019
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of
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