Earlier this month, Elvis Costello played in Dublin, performing without the full line-up of the Attractions and accompanied only by his long-time collaborator Steve Nieve. After journeying together through 45 years of tour buses, dressing rooms, hotel lounges, flights, recording studios, and live performances, the seamless synergy between Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve is undeniable. Their collaboration and bond have evolved into an intuitive language, subtle to an outsider but vividly clear to them. The intuitive language shared by Costello and Nieve symbolises the essence of collaboration—a universal phenomenon that crosses various fields and industries.
Collaboration: the term is a buzzword in boardrooms, often discussed in strategy meetings and corporate corridors. Morten T. Hansen, in his pivotal book, ‘Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Results,’ explains that the core of collaboration isn’t about amassing tangible assets. Rather, it’s about unlocking value through shared knowledge and relationships.
If you’ve ever viewed collaboration as elusive, difficult to implement, or limited to a select few, it’s time to rethink that perspective. Drawing on insights from scholars like Robert Axelrod, we’re making the case that collaboration isn’t just an inherited trait like ‘DNA.’ It’s also influenced by factors such as leadership and vision, which can be actively nurtured to become a potent force for collective action within any organisation.
Collaboration in practice
Public opinion on collaboration varies. While some see it as vital to effective organisational practice, others dismiss it as mere managerial jargon. The truth lies somewhere in between; collaboration offers tangible benefits and value when practised effectively. Given the rapid changes in our world, the importance of collaboration has never been greater. With emerging nations reshaping the global economic landscape and partnerships becoming increasingly essential, is it now a non-negotiable asset? From the arts and sports to science and business, effective collaboration enriches our collective experiences and is indispensable for leadership. Symbiotic relationships like that between Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in football or Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in basketball have redefined standards for teamwork. These duos show that collaboration magnifies individual brilliance to create game-changing moments. In facing global challenges like climate change, the need for collaboration extends beyond industries to nations and continents. Initiatives like the Paris Agreement represent concerted efforts to combat an existential threat, underscoring the power of collective action.
In science, the importance of collaboration is ever-present. The International Space Station (ISS) is a testament to what can be achieved through international teamwork, bringing diverse skill sets and perspectives together to reach a common goal. Historical collaborations like that between Albert Einstein and Marcel Grossmann laid the foundation for ground-breaking theories like general relativity.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented levels of global scientific collaboration led to the rapid development and distribution of vaccines. This real-time, high-stakes cooperation among nations, scientists, and pharmaceutical companies demonstrated that extraordinary outcomes are possible when humanity unites for a common cause.
The business of collaboration
In the business world, partnerships have also yielded significant results. Procter & Gamble, which began as a small partnership, has grown into a global giant. The collaborative synergy between William Procter and James Gamble transformed a modest venture into an empire. Modern workspaces are designed better to facilitate such collaborative endeavours, but more can be done. As organisational psychologist Adam Grant proposes, people may work from home but come to the office to collaborate. Artificial intelligence is adding a new dimension to team collaboration, evolving from a tool for basic tasks to handling complex roles like data analysis. Integrating AI empowers teams to make agile decisions and foster a conducive, flexible work environment. In the age of remote work, tools like Slack and Zoom have become indispensable for team collaboration, breaking down geographical barriers and enabling real-time communication and project management.
Practical steps for effective collaboration
As the intricacies of collaboration unfurl, understanding its practical implementation becomes paramount. Begin with a shared vision, ensuring everyone recognizes the endgame. Assemble diverse teams, ensuring a mix of expertise and perspectives. Prioritize transparent communication, creating a culture where ideas flow freely. Regular check-ins are essential, not just to track progress but to celebrate milestones. Equip teams with the right tools and training, fostering an environment conducive to collaboration. And remember, genuine feedback, whether praise or constructive critique, is the cornerstone of continuous improvement.
Unpacking the potential of collaboration
Collaboration isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavour; it’s a nuanced and intricate dance that varies depending on context. In contemporary business settings, traditional hierarchical frameworks make way for more decentralised, cross-functional operations. This shift calls for a managerial approach that goes beyond mere oversight to include motivation and influence. As evidenced by the rise of virtual teams, mastering the complexities of modern teamwork often determines organisational success or failure.
Within this complex landscape, the durability of collaborative relationships is critical. It isn’t just the responsibility of the individuals involved; it must be woven into the fabric of organisational practices. Emerging technologies like blockchain also illustrate the potential of decentralised, collaborative systems. With its network of nodes working together to validate transactions, this technology represents a ground-breaking form of collaborative interaction.
Social psychologists like Debra Mashek outline various levels of collaborative engagement, each requiring its own set of rules based on the degree of trust, commitment, and resource-sharing. Dr. Carol D. Goodheart further emphasises that effective collaboration can significantly amplify organisational resources, an aspect often overlooked due to inadequate training in collaborative practices.
The real challenge lies in integrating the value of collaboration into daily operations. Investments in cultural and behavioural initiatives often dissipate when confronted with the rigid processes of ‘business as usual.’ Existing behavioural assessment tools also fall short, lacking the specificity needed to capture the multifaceted nature of collaboration.
Moving forward, an integrative approach is essential—one that aligns cultural initiatives with business processes and enriches traditional assessments with collaboration-focused metrics. The benefits of collaboration are clear; we can’t afford to leave them to chance. Fostering a genuinely collaborative environment requires a thoughtful convergence of culture, process, and leadership.
Attributes for greater collaboration
Research has shown that the following attributes enable greater collaboration within an organisation:
• Strategically Minded: Individuals can see beyond their immediate roles and consider broader objectives. This fosters cooperative behaviour and long-term value.
• Strong Team Orientation: Crucial for effective collaboration. It enables individuals to focus on common goals, adapt to team dynamics, and foster an inclusive environment.
• Effective Communication: Vital for success, characterised by openness, two-way dialogue, and responsiveness.
• Openness to Sharing: Encompasses a willingness to discuss ideas, accept suggestions, and change one’s mind, thereby encouraging meaningful collaboration.
• Creativity and Innovation: Willingness to think outside the box and find intelligent solutions to complex problems.
• High Levels of Empathy: Demonstrated understanding of others’ perspectives and emotions, thereby enhancing teamwork and customer focus.
• Inspiring Leadership: Effective leaders focus on collaboration and people management, avoiding micromanagement and bossy attitudes.
Collaboration is far more than a corporate buzzword; it is a nuanced, multi-layered approach that fundamentally influences all sectors of human endeavour—from the arts and sciences to sports and business. We’ve seen how partnerships like Lennon and McCartney have become legendary in the arts, transforming the music landscape. In science, collaborations like the International Space Station embody the pinnacle of what international teamwork can achieve. In the business world, the symbiosis between William Procter and James Gamble shows how small partnerships can turn into global giants.
As the work landscape shifts, with Adam Grant suggesting the office as a ‘crucible’ for collaboration even in the age of remote work, it becomes evident that we need to understand the complexities and subtleties involved more deeply. Scholars like Debra Mashek and Carol D. Goodheart offer valuable insights into the transformative power of collaboration, urging us to see it not as an optional asset but as a vital force for societal advancement. And in facing global challenges, whether it’s climate change or the complexities of emerging technologies like blockchain, collaboration scales from the individual to the global level, making it a non-negotiable asset for collective progress.
By actively embracing and nurturing the diverse forms of collaborative interaction, we do more than enrich our individual lives; we catalyse collective progress, paving the way for unforeseen possibilities and ground-breaking innovations. This makes it imperative to appreciate the concept of collaboration and invest in creating a culture, adopting processes, and establishing leadership that intentionally fosters collaborative engagement.
As we look toward the future, the question is no longer whether collaboration is beneficial but how we can cultivate it to unlock its full potential. This calls for proactive measures from individuals and organisations to move from mere understanding to actively promoting a collaborative ethos. Our collective progress depends on it.
Axelrod, R. (1984). The Evolution of Cooperation. Basic Books.
Chakkol, M., Finne, M., & Johnson, M. (2017). Understanding the psychology of collaboration: What makes an effective collaborator. Institute for Collaborative Working: March.
Hansen, M. (2009). Collaboration: How leaders avoid the traps, build common ground, and reap big results. Harvard Business Press.
Lipnack, J., & Stamps, J. (2008). Virtual teams: People working across boundaries with technology (3rd ed.). John Wiley & Sons.
Mashek, D. (2016). Collaboration: It’s Not What You Think. Psychology Today. February, 26.
The coveted office window seat has been the subject of much debate and envy among coworkers. But why is it so popular? As it turns out, science has a lot to say about our preference for this prime piece of real estate. From enhancing productivity and creativity to benefiting physical health, the perks of a window seat go far beyond the view. In this blog post, we’ll explore the scientific explanations behind the allure of the office window seat, sharing some amusing stories along the way.
The Power of Natural Light
It’s no secret that natural light can do wonders for our mood and well-being. Research has shown that exposure to daylight is linked to increased serotonin levels, which in turn can boost happiness, attentiveness, and productivity (Cajochen et al., 2000). In one office-based study, employees with windows in their workspaces reported higher job satisfaction and improved mental health compared to those without access to natural light (Matusiak et al., 2019).
A study conducted by Heschong (2003) explored the impact of daylight on human performance and satisfaction in various settings, including offices. The findings suggested that employees with access to daylight, even without a captivating view, experienced increased productivity and overall well-being. This supports the idea that the benefits of natural light, such as improved mood and performance, can be more significant than having an inspiring view from the window.
Cognitive Benefits of Gazing into the Distance
Staring into the distance is often seen as a sign of daydreaming or lack of focus, but in reality, it can be an essential mental break that leads to increased creativity and productivity. Research has demonstrated that brief periods of mind-wandering help facilitate problem-solving and creative thinking (Baird et al., 2012). Furthermore, being able to gaze out of a window provides the opportunity to rest our eyes and reduce eye strain, which is especially important for those who spend long hours in front of a computer screen (Rosenfield, 2011).
The Connection between Nature and Well-being
The view from a window seat often provides a glimpse of nature, whether it’s a bustling city park or a serene landscape. Studies have shown that even brief exposure to nature can positively impact our mental health and well-being (Bratman et al., 2015). In one study, participants who took a 50-minute walk in a natural setting experienced reduced anxiety and improved cognitive function compared to those who walked in an urban environment (Bratman et al., 2015).
A study conducted by Kaplan (1995) found that exposure to natural settings, even through a window, can have restorative effects on individuals experiencing mental fatigue. In this study, an accountant who felt overwhelmed and stressed during the busy tax season was relocated to a window seat with a view of a small garden. They discovered that taking short breaks to observe the birds and plants helped them feel more relaxed and increased their focus throughout the day.
The Social Status of the Window Seat
Let’s not forget the social aspect of the window seat. Being situated near a window often signals a certain level of status within the office hierarchy (Vinchur et al., 1998). It’s not uncommon for employees to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when they’ve earned the right to sit by the window.
So, the next time you find yourself envious of a colleague’s window seat, remember that science is on your side. Natural light, cognitive benefits, and connections to nature all contribute to the allure of the office window seat. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be lucky enough to snag that coveted spot and enjoy its perks.
Baird, B., Smallwood, J., Mrazek, M. D., Kam, J. W. Y., Franklin, M. S., & Schooler, J. W. (2012). Inspired by distraction: mind wandering facilitates creative incubation. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1117-1122. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612446024
Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., Hahn, K. S., Daily, G. C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(28), 8567-8572. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1510459112
Cajochen, C., Münch, M., Kobialka, S., Kräuchi, K., Steiner, R., Oelhafen, P., Orgül, S., & Wirz-Justice, A. (2000). High sensitivity of human melatonin, alertness, thermoregulation, and heart rate to short wavelength light. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 90(3), 1311-1316. https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem.90.3.8550785
Heschong, L. (2003). Daylighting and human performance. ASHRAE Journal, 45(6), 65-67. Retrieved from https://www.techstreet.com/ashrae/standards/ashrae-journal-june-2003-volume-45-issue-6?product_id=1722476
Kaplan, R. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3), 169-182. https://doi.org/10.1016/0272-4944(95)90001-2
Matusiak, B., Lyssenko, L., & Sakellaris, I. (2019). Window view, indoor daylight climate, and office occupants’ satisfaction, mood, and well-being. Building and Environment, 149, 347-360. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2018.12.017
Rosenfield, M. (2011). Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 31(5), 502-515. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-1313.2011.00834.x
Vinchur, A. J., Schippmann, J. S., Switzer, F. S., & Roth, P. L. (1998). A meta-analytic review of predictors of job performance for salespeople. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(4), 586-597. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.83.4.586
In today’s fast-paced world, productivity has emerged as a critical aspect of our daily lives. The conventional approach to productivity involves time management, but recent research indicates that energy management is a more sustainable method for improving productivity and well-being. By utilising insights from various disciplines, such as organisational psychology, social psychology, nutrition, mental health, stress management, fitness, and focus, individuals can devise strategies to systematically expand their energy reserves and achieve more in their daily lives. This article will delve into the importance of managing energy levels and present real-life examples of individuals and organisations that have successfully adopted energy management strategies.
Energy Management and Organisational Psychology:
Organisational psychology has demonstrated that individuals who efficiently manage their energy levels are more productive and engaged in their work. Establishing clear goals, prioritising tasks, and incorporating short breaks throughout the day can help sustain motivation and energy levels. For instance, Google has implemented a program called “Jolly Good Fellow,” allowing employees to take time off to work on personal projects, subsequently increasing creativity and productivity in the workplace.
Social Psychology and Energy Optimisation:
Social interactions play a vital role in energy management. Positive social support from colleagues and supervisors can enhance work engagement, job satisfaction, and overall energy levels. For example, Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, encourages employees to partake in outdoor activities during work hours, resulting in increased productivity and employee satisfaction. Moreover, a study conducted by Halbesleben & Buckley (2004) found that employees who perceived high levels of social support at work experienced lower levels of fatigue and burnout.
Nutrition and Mental Health:
A balanced diet is crucial for maintaining energy levels throughout the day. Consuming regular, nutrient-dense meals with complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean proteins can fuel the body and brain. A study by the Harvard Business Review discovered that employees who ate healthier meals had a 25% higher job performance than those who did not. Additionally, addressing mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, or chronic stress can improve overall well-being and energy management. General Mills’ meditation program exemplifies this, as it reduced stress and increased employee productivity.
Stress Management and Fitness:
Regular physical activity is proven to boost energy levels and mood. Incorporating exercise into daily routines can reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and increase overall energy. The law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe introduced a “wellness program” that includes exercise classes and meditation, leading to a 50% reduction in sick days among employees. Furthermore, practicing relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises can help control stress and maintain energy levels throughout the day.
Focus and Avoiding Distractions:
Distractions can rapidly drain energy reserves, making it challenging to maintain focus and productivity. Techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in focused intervals followed by short breaks, can help minimise distractions and optimise energy levels. This method is particularly useful for individuals who struggle with procrastination or find it difficult to concentrate for extended periods. Notably, the famous writer Ernest Hemingway used the Pomodoro Technique to help him write his books.
In conclusion, managing energy rather than time is a more sustainable approach to enhancing productivity and well-being. By incorporating strategies from various disciplines, individuals can systematically expand their energy reserves and achieve more in their daily lives. Real-life examples of individuals and organisations that have successfully implemented energy management strategies demonstrate the effectiveness of these techniques in improving productivity and well-being. Taking care of oneself, including eating well, practising stress management techniques, engaging in regular physical activity, and avoiding distractions, is essential for maintaining optimal energy levels throughout the day.
- Watanabe, N., Furukawa, T. A., Horikoshi, M., Katsuki, F., Narisawa, T., Kumachi, M., … & Cuijpers, P. (2018). A mindfulness-based stress management program and treatment as usual for university students with psychological distress: A randomised controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 48(14), 2327-2336.
- Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press.
- Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The Job Demands‐Resources model: state of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22(3), 309-328.
- Chatterjee, S., & Yilmas, E. (2019). Nutrition and Well-being: A Systematic Review of the Impact of Food Choices on Mental Health. Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 46(4), 674-690.
- Pronk, N. P., Katz, A. S., Lowry, M., & Payfer, J. R. (2012). Reducing occupational sitting time and improving worker health: the Take-a-Stand Project, 2011. Preventing Chronic Disease, 9, E154.
- Cirillo, F. (2018). The Pomodoro Technique: The Acclaimed Time-Management System That Has Transformed How We Work. Penguin.
The campaign of SNP leadership hopeful Kate Forbes came off the rails in February when her views on marriage equality, steeped in her deep evangelical faith and considered antiquated by much of today’s society, led people to argue that she could not be elected to govern a country like Scotland, whose values are so starkly unaligned with her own.
Subsequent discussions around Forbes’ views and the effect they have had on her leadership bid have divided commentators. Some proclaim the backlash to be a form of religious intolerance, a further example of ‘cancel culture’ orchestrated by an overzealous woke mob, narrowing the ideological field and denying a plurality of thought in public life. Others have simply assessed that Forbes is entitled to her views but that, in a democratic system, possessing views that are plainly at odds with the majority of her would-be constituents was always likely to have a negative political impact – that she is entitled to her faith, just as those who disagree with her are entitled to lend their votes elsewhere.
Regardless of where you stand, the issue raises interesting questions around the role of diversity of thought in leadership, whether ideological clashes in the workplace are possible, and whether they can potentially even be beneficial.
Diversity in the workplace
“The chains of habits are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” This saying – attributed by some to Samuel Johnson, by others to Bertrand Russell – is apt when it comes to diversity in the workplace. Far too late in the day, employers realised that their workforces were stiflingly homogenous, most especially when it came to race and gender. Recent cultural reckonings have set the wheels in motion for change in that regard, with a newfound urgency placed on ensuring workplaces represent a wider spectrum of society. The benefits of those changes on a social level are obvious. But the benefits to businesses are too.
Research shows that companies with diversity outperform the competition by 35% and are 70% more likely to capture new markets . While diverse teams are 87% better at making decisions , and diverse management teams lead to 19% higher revenue.  In other words, if you want a more successful business, you want a more diverse team.
Business leaders need to possess cultural competence to ensure they’re managing these diverse teams correctly. Cultural competence is defined as “the ability to understand, appreciate, and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from one’s own.”  People of different cultures and backgrounds – be they ethnic, religious, economic, gender or sexuality based differences – naturally bring their life experience to their role, and offer a distinct viewpoint characterised by that experience.
A culturally competent leader knows how to balance those wide-ranging viewpoints and use them to drive innovation, productivity and engagement. But while having differing perspectives offers clear benefits in terms of a widening the thought pool, it also has the potential to engineer greater levels of conflict, with these sometimes clashing opinions or ideologies going head to head. How can businesses ensure (sometimes vehement) differences of opinion lead to innovation, not ruptures?
The role of conflict in the workplace
A lot of people are uncomfortable with conflict, especially in the workplace. They don’t want to come across as aggressive or obstinate, or be labelled with that most unshakeable of reputations: “difficult”. But that relationship to conflict is flawed, built on the premise that conflict must always be in some way negative, that there must be a winner and a loser, and you don’t want to be the latter. But conflict that stems from a positive place and is well managed offers far more advantages than disadvantages.
Creative friction and stress-testing ideas results in superior quality output. As Liane Davey, author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done notes, “Conflict allows the team to come to terms with difficult situations, to synthesize diverse perspectives, and to make sure solutions are well thought-out.” Adding, “Conflict is uncomfortable, but it is the source of true innovation, and also a critical process in identifying and mitigating risks.” 
The way conflict is handled is obviously crucial to how your team functions. If your colleagues are obstinate, only looking to put their own point across and battling for it to win as a sign of their corporate supremacy, you’re doomed. But if everyone around the table is willing to listen to other ideas, willing to challenge them and willing to be challenged in turn, then not only will the standard of ideas improve, as it’s being assessed from a wider variety of angles and facing up to more prominent scrutiny, but relationships amongst the team will improve too. Instil a culture where colleagues can disagree in the boardroom but know that each of their ideas are being heard and that they can all head out for drinks later with no hard feelings, and there’s no telling how vast the improvements in your employees’ performance and mood will be.
Diversity of ideas
As well as the obvious need for diversity in more overt and definable areas like race and gender, it’s also important to employ a diverse spectrum of ideas. A racially diverse company made up of entirely the same cultural or political leanings can lead to a homogeneity of thought that proves restrictive. The need to employ workers whose views oppose our own can be an uncomfortable idea, as we tend to feel more at ease around like-minded personnel. But as Dr. Katherine Phillips notes in UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, “When disagreement comes from a socially different person, we are prompted to work harder. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.” Research shows that homogenous groups are more confident in their performance, but that diverse groups are more successful in completing tasks. 
Ensuring a business contains diversity of thought falls on the boss’ shoulders. As a paper exploring ways of harnessing plurality of thought in the digital age notes, “In a boss/subordinate culture, toeing the boss’s line is a given, and alignment of thought is subtly encouraged and rewarded.” The danger is that managers tend to prefer ideas that echo their own. A suggested solution for this is to – on top of ensuring your team has a plurality of thought, including potential contrarians – use what engineers call the failure mode effects analysis (FMEA). FMEA works by identifying and exploring the potential ways a new idea or system may fail, rather than purely assessing its positives. This can go against our natural instincts, especially if it’s an idea we’re passionate about, but forcing ourselves and those around us to search for the negatives in even our best ideas is a useful tool to ensure the idea stands up to scrutiny, as well as helping to normalise the practice of challenging all ideas on a meritocratic basis. Research has found that a strong, homogeneous culture can stifle natural cognitive diversity due to the pressure to conform.  A good manager will foster an environment where all thoughts – including and especially ones diametrically opposed to their own – are given a chance to be heard.
Diverse workplaces have greater levels of success because they produce a greater plurality of thought. A company culture that encourages employees to challenge ideas in a healthy and constructive way – and provides a platform for a whole spectrum of viewpoints – allows for enhanced creativity and innovation. It’s the right thing to do from an equality standpoint, it’s best for business, and it helps engender employees with a healthier relationship to conflict.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” 1 So said Friedrich Nietzsche in his 1886 philosophical treatise Beyond Good and Evil. In the more than a century that has passed since that book’s publication, many other leading public thinkers from Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs also preached the virtues of walking as a tool for thought. And they were right to.
The Stanford Strolling Experiment
A 2014 study2 co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition found that walking dramatically enhances creativity.
176 volunteers, mostly Stanford undergraduates, took part in the study. Across four marginally varied experiments, the study assessed the difference in creativity that emerged when the subjects were sat in front of a drab wall, walking on a treadmill (also in front of a drab wall), walking outside, sitting outside, and being pushed in a wheelchair outside. They assessed creativity through cognitive tasks commonly used to measure “divergent thinking”, marking the novelty of an idea as an indicator of its creativity. For example, when asked for the possible use of a loose button, one participant offered, “as a doorknob for a dollhouse.” This constituted a creative response.
The findings showed that not only does walking enhance creativity by as much as 60%, but that the positive impact of walking outside is only minimally more than walking inside. In other words, it is the act of walking itself that produces the results, not the surroundings. As the authors note, “While research indicates that being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking has a very specific benefit—the improvement of creativity.”
The results also showed that creativity remained high when participants who had just gone for a walk then sat down to undertake a task. We are not just creative when walking, but for a period of time afterwards too.
Creativity, not mood
A similar study3 was conducted by researchers at the University of Graz in Austria, published in Scientific Reports in 2020. The findings were along the same lines, though with an interesting twist. While it also concluded that, “active people come up with more and better ideas during tests of their inventiveness than people who are relatively sedentary” 4, it then factored in happiness too.
Its findings? While greater activity contributed to increases in both happiness and creativity, the two were not interlinked. In other words, being happy does not make one more creative.
This point is both backed up and contradicted by a 2018 study5 in The Journal of Positive Psychology. While this study, using a sample of 658 young adults over a thirteen-day period, agreed that undertaking creative tasks does not necessarily lead to one being happy, it did result in participants having greater energy and feeling more fulfilled. Creative output can stem from or exacerbate negative emotions but embracing that negativity and wielding it within one’s creative arsenal can foster a greater sense of meaning and engagement, if not necessarily fixing deeper lying issues.
Creativity is not the reserve of creative professions. One need not be an artist, musician, or poet to benefit from a boost to those creative juices. Creativity has endless benefits across almost all endeavours—professional and personal.
As Michele Root-Bernstein, co-author with Robert Root-Bernstein of Sparks of Genius6, surmises, “It’s the problem-solving processes they exhibit rather than the content or craft that make [people creative]. Just about anything we do can be addressed in a creative manner, from housecleaning to personal hobbies to work.”7 Self-imposing limits on our creative potential based on arbitrary measures like job title benefits no one. Creativity can and should be wielded by all, especially when something as universal as walking can help.
The static age
We are more sedentary than ever8. Strewn on our sofas, the latest streaming venture spills from the screen ahead of us while global catastrophes play out for cheap clicks on the one in our hands. We are in an era of perpetual information, digitally overloaded, mentally fatigued. And as a result, creatively stifled. Walking can serve as a simple fix, not to mention a welcome respite from the virtual onslaught.
Three brain researchers, writing in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, posit that our complex human cognition, including our remarkable capacity for innovation, developed alongside our ability to walk9 in an evolutionary sense. So, opting for that daily stroll may not just be a way of experiencing nature but embracing your own. And given the current state of global economic affairs, walking is one of the cheaper routes to inspiration available too.
The reasons for walking’s impact on creativity aren’t fully understood but have been widely speculated. Its rhythmic nature is thought to have the greatest effect as it allows walking to work in a similar way to meditation and other activities that incite a semi-fugue state. Rhythm is known to lower brainwave frequency. The lowest frequencies our brainwaves reach throughout the day are right before we sleep and right after we wake up, known as alpha waves10. This state appears to be the best at inducing creative thought.
Essentially, the less active our brains are, the further their reach may expand. Think of all the times the name of that song you were desperately trying to remember came to you in the shower or during any other such everyday act in which the brain is seemingly unrequired, and you’ll recognise that mundanity can free our minds in surprising ways. The simplest acts help access our deepest complexities.
This is another reason it may be best to eschew our phones when walking. Enjoyable as listening to music or a podcast may be, it is keeping our brainwaves active, and thus potentially limiting the beneficial effects walking can produce.
Walk the walk
Hippocrates called walking, “man’s best medicine.”11 Proverb fans may prefer to sub in laughter. The more practical amongst us, penicillin. But walking has certainly proved to be an effective and enduring form of creative inspiration.
1 Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900. Beyond Good and Evil : Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. London, England ; New York, New York, USA :Penguin Books, 1990.
6 Root-Bernstein, R., & Root-Bernstein, M. (1999). Sparks of genius: The thirteen thinking tools of creative people.