Walkstorming – Scientific Evidence That Going for a Walk Improves Brainstorming

Based on this research, my brainstorming capabilities should be at an all-time high.

Behavioral and learning scientist Marily Oppezzo, who studies how the movement of the body can affect the movement of the mind, found that getting up and going for a walk might be all it takes to get your creative juices flowing.

Oppezzo, along with Dan Schwartz, Dean of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, looked at the impact of going for a simple walk as a way to improve the creative process. Such a process consists of several stages, but their research just looked at the first stage of that process, the brainstorming phase. While many people have given anecdotal evidence about the creative benefits of going for a walk, from Aristotle to Steve Jobs, this study is the first to offer scientific evidence for such a hypothesis.

The study asked participants to come up with novel uses for an object, and then the researchers would count the use as creative or not. The definition of “creative”  used in this study was “appropriate novelty.” For something to be appropriate, it has to be realistic; for it to be novel, a use could only have been mentioned by one person.

The participants were then broken into groups; some were asked to come up with ideas while sitting; others were asked to come up with ideas while walking on a treadmill.

The results showed that the group that walked on the treadmill came up with nearly twice as many appropriately novel uses for the object, compared to the group that sat.

Oppezzo and Schwartz offered five tips to get the most impact from your walk:

  • First, you want to pick a problem or a topic to brainstorm.
  • walking at a comfortable pace is a good choice; you don’t want the physical aspect to take a lot of attention.
  • Come up with as many ideas as you can.
  • Speak as many ideas as you can, record them, and think about them later. Don’t worry about writing the ideas down.
  • Don’t do this forever. If you’re on the walk and that idea’s not coming to you, come back to it later at another time.

So if all of this is true, then I need to come up with some topics to brainstorm about. My first week in London, I walked 104,000 steps, and so far this week, in four days, I’ve walked 47,000 steps.

You’d think I would have come up with a few good ideas by now, but the best I could do was come up with a name for this phenomena: walkstorming.

I’m thinking it has a chance to be the word of the year for 2018. Remember you heard it here first.

By the way, here’s a TED talk by Oppezzo’s where she shares the results of her research:

4 thoughts on “Walkstorming – Scientific Evidence That Going for a Walk Improves Brainstorming

  1. Walkstorming. I will make sure the people who pick the word of the year give you credit for that. You deserve it, Jim.

    I know that walkstorming helps me come up with ideas, but I thought it was because I was outdoors looking at nature. I wonder how appropriately novel the walking test subjects were away from those treadmills.

    Interesting research.


    1. Hi Suzy, good to hear from you. I agree, I think such walks would lead to even more creativity if they are done outside, in nature. Hope all is well!


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