To pick up on the Richard Branson chatter in Australia from the past week, ‘there’s no such thing as an original idea (the trick is to get it to market before everyone else)’… but I really felt I had one when I ‘invented’ the concept of a walking meeting when I was taking a thought for a walk this week.
Needless to say when I searched the term I got smothered in hits on walking meetings from all over the world. Even Aristotle walked as he taught. It seems that history is littered with clever people who created stuff whilst walking; physicists, doctors, philosophers and poets, and that having meetings only around a table is a very modern idea indeed.
Not to be discouraged, I’m approaching this one from a slightly different angle.
The majority of the existing discussion around the concept of a walking meeting has focussed on the direct physical health benefits – fresh air, daylight, exercise, oxygenation and all that good stuff. Walking meetings also avoid office distractions, are more private [counter-intuitively], and good for office culture.
But there are some other dimensions to this that have a deeper relevance to sustainable cities – two in particular;
- The Brain: enhanced creativity and problem solving by letting the brain do its thing whilst you walk; and
- The Master Plan: how we can design our neighbourhoods and cities to facilitate and encourage walking.
I’m going to explore The Brain first [won’t take long huh?] and come back to The Master Plan tomorrow.
The Subconscious Mind as Creative Problem Solver
Have you ever woken up at 3am with that great idea, or a solution to what you thought was an intractable problem? Ever tried to see something in the dark but only succeeded when you looked to the side a bit [or is that just my eyes?]? And have you ever noticed that when you’re walking you’ll often think about some cool stuff and wish you had a note pad [old school or mobile device] with you?
These happen to me all the time. And apparently it’s because our right brain, the creative side of the partnership, often works better at a subconscious level. Our cognitive brain – the conscious bit that effectively holds the day job, can only effectively work through one potential design solution at a time. That’s why so often when we try to force a solution through brute-force thinking we end up getting nowhere.
I spent some time trying to find the agreed % of our mind that is subconscious but suspect I need much more time. The image below seems to be the common and conservative distinction;
Here’s the trick: when we distract our cognitive brain with a relatively menial task [like walking, gardening or watching reality TV] our subconscious brain gets on with the real work.
So here are a 4 tips for harnessing the creative power of your subconscious;
- head out for a 30 minute walk each day – to exercise and distract the body whilst your brain works through your tricky subjects;
- don’t rush into looking for solutions. Read the brief, let it sink in, and let your subconscious discard all the silly options before you put pen to paper;
- think slow – life-or-death threats often need snap decisions, but in our work we need the opposite, especially when the consequences are so long-lasting… we need to think slowly and deeply on a problem; and
- trust yourself – your brain is full of many years of experience, deep memory and wisdom; if you give it some freedom to explore you might be surprised with how clever it really is, all on its own.
If anyone’s up for a walking meeting in Sydney let me know – I’m keen to try it out!