Leadership

This brainstorming strategy helped Steve Jobs generate his most creative ideas

Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivers a keynote address at the 2005 Macworld Expo.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivers a keynote address at the 2005 Macworld Expo.

If you find yourself stumped while brainstorming, consider adopting one of Steve Jobs' strategies for generating new ideas.

The late Apple founder was known to do much of his creative thinking while taking a walk. He regularly held brainstorming meetings while walking, especially if the discussion was about a serious subject.

In the book "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson, the author recalls inviting Jobs to speak on a panel. Jobs declined the speaking engagement but noted that he would attend the event so the two could take a walk and talk. "I didn't yet know that taking a long walk was his preferred way to have a serious conversation," writes Isaacson. "It turned out that he wanted me to write a biography of him."

The Apple founder's longtime friend Robert Friedland also recalls seeing Jobs "always walking around barefoot." On the Apple campus, Jobs and chief designer Jony Ive were often seen taking walks as they brainstormed new designs and concepts.

Though Isaacson initially thought Jobs' request to go on a walk was "odd," science suggests that walking is useful when brainstorming ideas. According to research from Stanford University, walking boosts creative thinking by an average of 60 percent.

To gauge the effects of walking on creativity, researchers asked 176 college students to complete certain tasks while sitting, and then again while walking. In one experiment, participants were given several sets of three objects and told to come up with alternative uses for them. The researchers found that participants were "overwhelmingly" more creative when walking as opposed to sitting. They also found that creative thinking from walking remained high shortly after sitting back down.

"Walking opens up the free flow of ideas," the researchers write in the study.

These findings have major implications for the workplace, where employees spend most of the day sitting at desks. "Walking is an easy-to-implement strategy to increase appropriate novel idea generation," the authors write. "When there is a premium on generating new ideas in the workday, it should be beneficial to incorporate walks."

However, the researchers found that sitting is a better option when you need to solve a problem that only has one right answer. In the study, test subjects were asked to come up with a single word that combines with the words "cottage, Swiss, and cake." Subjects who were sitting were better able to figure out that the correct answer was cheese.

Jobs wasn't the only executive known to favor walking meetings. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner all share this habit.

Dorsey tells Fortune that he prefers the outdoors. He adds, "If I'm with a friend we have our best conversations while walking." Weiner notes in a 2013 LinkedIn post that he also enjoys an outdoor view, and will take a "walking 1:1 over office meetings any day."

"This meeting format essentially eliminates distractions," he wrote, "so I find it to be a much more productive way to spend time."

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