Looking for Your Next Big Idea? Take a Walk

Felicia Sullivan

We’ve heard the news and read the headlines: Sitting is the new smoking. The chained-to-a-laptop lifestyle is all too familiar to small business owners: You arrive in the office with your morning coffee and later, when you finally look away from your computer, it dawns on you that you haven’t moved in hours. Add a little stress and the addictive, always-on nature of our culture, and you have a laundry list of health challenges on the horizon.

Our bodies were designed for motion, and the sedentary lifestyle not only impacts our physical health, but also chips away at our mental capacity. Being a small business owner is about being on top of your game, because any misstep could hurt your business. Your ability to analyze a situation, make decisions, and think creatively can be hindered by too much sitting.

A pilot investigation by the Texas A&M School of Public Health revealed that students performed best when they were on their feet, literally. Over a period of a year, high school students used standing desks. Computerized tests and imaging devices analyzed changes in their cognitive abilities (that is, how their brains functioned). The results were jaw-dropping. Students experienced significant improvements to the area of the brain that regulates deep, complex thinking, memory retention, and decision-making.

As a result, you’ve probably seen examples of the movement to sit less and move more: from standing desks in offices to people tracking their steps — using expensive technology designed to bring awareness to how much we move or don’t move. Instead of buying digital watches and desks that would require a team of MIT engineers to assemble, you already have the most valuable tool in your toolkit: your own two feet.

Good old-fashioned “hoofing it” is now a trend. Instead of meetings held in cafes and conference rooms, people are doing the walk-and-talk and are seeing results.

Some of the benefits of moving meetings include:

  • Honest, authentic connection with your employees. In her TED talk, technology executive Nilofer Merchant shares that when employees and their bosses walk side-by-side, organizational hierarchy diminishes and true relationships are formed.
  • Heightened creative thinking. In a study conducted by Stanford University, participants experienced an 81% increase in creativity and even enjoyed a creative boost when they sat down after a period of walking. When you walk, your brain is relaxed and free to release certain chemicals that impact executive brain functioning, that is, how we manage our tasks and deal with the unknown. You’ve probably experienced this for yourself — such as having a light bulb moment in the shower, grocery store, or on your morning run? Some of your best revenue-generating ideas could come simply by taking a few laps around the block.
  • Health-related cost savings. We know that moving benefits your health, and that the average person spends an average of 12 hours a day sitting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks data by occupation, as certain jobs require more sitting than others. Healthy employees are a gift to the bottom line in the form of fewer sick days taken and reduced health care costs.

As a small business owner and founder of Walk with Walsh, Jennifer Walsh knows first-hand the benefits of the walk-and-talk. “Walking meetings have not only changed my business for the better, but I have now incorporated nature walks into a part of what I offer clients and large corporations. Two years ago, I began working with neuroscientists from around the country to truly study the research and data of what happens to our brains when we are walking in nature.”

“Taking a walk in nature for a meeting has helped open up conversations in a new way,” says Walsh. “Walking, talking, and truly appreciating the nature around you really helps open lines of creativity in a way that you don’t get when you are sitting in a conference room. It also has a calming effect and it is scientifically proven to reduce stress.”

Now that we know that some of our best ideas and strong working relationships come from being in motion, here’s how to make the most of walking. After all, you have a business to run.

  • Know when to walk. Walk when you’re energized and clear-headed. If you’re a morning person, trying walking to work or parking your car further from your workplace. Taking advantage of when you’re most on your game can further increase the creative benefits. If you’re walking with a team member, define the objective of the walk-and-talk going in. Are you having a heart-to-heart with an employee about their career or are you negotiating a pay raise? There are instances — like when you’re about to negotiate — when sitting down at a desk and referring back to notes or a whiteboard is more productive. Walking with employees is about getting free-flowing feedback and brainstorming ideas. Keep the official business back at work.
  • Plan the event. Make sure you coordinate the outing in advance so you can map your day around it and get coverage, if needed.
  • Stick to a one-on-one or an intimate group. Walk-and-talks work best if you’re moving at a similar pace. If you’re yelling over your shoulder to a crew of people behind you, the environment feels less intimate. Go for walks solo or with one to two other people at most.
  • Check the forecast. This is Captain Obvious, for sure, but doing a quick scan of the forecast in advance of your planned walk, as well as having a back-up date in the event of unforeseen weather, will ensure you’ll stick to the date.
  • Don’t make it about a calorie fest. Ever have that delicious cheese danish with a mocha coffee and feel like you want to nap Rip Van Winkle-style? Sugar crashes kill creativity, so stick to water and nix the pastries.
  • Define the next steps and follow-up. Eureka! You’ve had a breakthrough, a monster of an idea. (Good thing you had a pen and paper, or your phone, handy to capture it.) So what’s next? When you get back to work, flesh out the key ideas you generated on the walk and spend some time mapping out a plan of action.

There’s truth in the old saying that a breath of fresh air will do you good. Who knew that fresh air could also be gold for your small business’s bottom line? Instead of sitting at your desk, get up, lace up your shoes, and go for a stroll. Who knows? You might have your next big business idea along the way.

One Response to "Looking for Your Next Big Idea? Take a Walk"

    • Angela | July 14, 2018 at 4:10 pm

      I couldn’t agree with this more! Back in 2000, in the early days of my career, I had the privilege of working for a woman who taught me these core fundamentals. Rather than do our weekly status meeting holed up in a cube, we would talk-and-walk along the lake on our campus. Sometimes we’d even do it on the treadmill in our companies’ gym — a win-win for our company and our health. Unfortunately, her leadership methods were considered quirky and unconventional so she was devalued and let go. But I’ve never forgotten her.

      Fast forward 10 years later when I became an executive at that same company. I’d hold monthly one-on-one meetings with my local directs where we’d take our meetings over food truck lunch in the park, a walk around the DC monuments, or grab a frozen yogurt in Bryant Park. Fresh air coupled with a less formal environment opened up conversation beyond just problem solving and work deliverables. I learned how stressed my team was. How overworked they were. How they felt like terrible mothers because they spent more time at work and on the road than with their families. I learned a lot about myself in those meetings too. The cut-throat management style expected of me was in great conflict with my true self.

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