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These boots were made for brilliance


I knew life would change with a new baby in the house – especially in my 50s.

But not this much, not this way.

(And no… it’s not what you think!)

It’s a dog.

Back in September, we welcomed Joe (an eight-week-old Labrador retriever) into our family.  It had been many years since we‘d last had a puppy and I’d forgotten everything that goes with it – the late nights, early mornings, sleep disruption, the chewing.

And the pure energy too.  Which means lots of walks. Without them, Joe goes bananas, we go bananas, the contents of our house pay a heavy price.  But when you take a puppy on a long walk, it comes home and goes to sleep.

Joe’s now six months, and the walks aren’t only good for him.  I’m walking 3-4 times a day, as much as 8-10 kilometres total. This gets me moving, which I’ve heard is good for my body.

And also my mind.

Beyond the exercise, my head clears when I’m walking. Ideas come to me more freely. The result? I’m not just walking Joe. I’m solving client problems, dreaming up blog ideas, clearing my thinking on a bunch of topics. Without even really trying. If you ask me to sit at my desk on a Tuesday afternoon and be creative on demand — it’s a chore and no guarantee. But walk Joe through the snow at 10pm while the neighbourhood is still?  Now we’re talking.

The clarity just comes.

All because of a puppy.

Turns out, there’s truth to the creativity-through-walking thing.

Over Christmas I came across this view on the secret to Steve Jobs’ genius.  Jobs was a prolific walker. He had a reputation for taking long walks to sort through the problems and opportunities in his head.  (These walks seemed to work out okay for Apple.)

The article cites some interesting work by two researchers that explains how our brains switch from “executive mode” (performing tasks, focusing on goals, doing stuff) to our “default network” (the mode that spurs creative thinking and new ideas). The research says taking a walk is the easiest (and best) way to trigger cooperation between the two modes – to switch from one to the other – and to unleash our best creativity. “If we had to choose one single mindless activity for you to do, it would be walking,” Judah Pollack and Olivia Fox Cabane conclude.

Emphasis on mindless.

I asked my friend, Mike – a guy that works out six mornings a week at an ungodly hour – if the same ‘free thinking’ shows up in his daily cardio and stretching.  Not the case.  He’s too focused on completing the activities in his routine.  His brain is in executive mode, not default.  But when I walk Joe, it’s the opposite, almost meditative.  I don’t think about what I’m doing.  I just walk.  (An exception is when Joe spies the two deer we often see on late nights in our neighbourhood.)

It’s in my default mode – with my mind at ease, unoccupied with what to do next – that my free thinking takes over.  Which sparks the creativity, without me even pushing for it.  It just happens.  So I arrive home from my walks and rush to scribble down my thoughts before they vanish.

To be clear, the default mode isn’t exclusive to walking.  It’s a cliche, but creativity really does come to me in the shower too, although all too brief.  It also shows up on long, repetitive drives where I know the route and don’t have to think about where I’m going.   And also on airplanes with no WIFI.

But I now appreciate that walking is the most powerful and preferred mode for me.  I’m moving, and it comes closest to mindfulness.  (This recent Stanford University study even suggests our creative output increases by 60 per cent when we walk.)

Our companies, our teams, our brands, ourselves – we all need clear heads and fresh thinking to keep moving forward in this crazy world.  None of us are standing still.  So, as you launch 2020 with your brain mostly in ‘executive mode’ – wherever you work, whomever you serve, whatever you’re up to – also consider how your ‘default mode’ is showing up for you.

And make this your best year yet.

Ask yourself:

  1. How do you free your mind up to new ideas and thinking?
  2. When and where are you most creative? (Hit ‘reply’ and tell me.)