The power of walking

Nothing beats the creative rush of a good stroll. Let's walk and talk, says Faisal Butt.

by Faisal Butt
Last Updated: 16 Jan 2018
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Down to business

I walk. I walk a lot. Everyone seems to have their own style when walking. Mine is mostly a brisk kind of walk with an intense sense of purpose. But style doesn’t matter when it comes to walking – there is an incredible amount of substance in our footsteps.

The virtues of walking are extolled in writings that trace back to Classical Greece. The great physician Hippocrates, presumably an avid walker himself, left us with some profound wisdom on the subject. ‘Walking is a man’s best medicine,’ he said.  I suppose the Father of Medicine had not only discovered the curative qualities of walking… but he also had an inkling of the creative power hidden in our steps.

The Walkabout

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche hit the mark when he said, ‘all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.’ But perhaps more interesting than the immediate benefit of a mid-walking epiphany is the longer-term neurological benefit of walking.

Some argue that one of the most powerful tools available for strengthening the executive brain is the ‘walkabout.’ In business, this is known as management by walking around - the practice of getting out of your office and talking to the team. According to the Harvard Business Review article ‘Cognitive Fitness’, by Roderick Gilkey and Clint Kilts, walking is not just good business practice; it is also a sound form of cognitive exercise.

Warren Buffett is one leader who realizes this. According to the Harvard article, when Anne Mulcahy, the CEO of Xerox, sought his advice about how to help the company manage during a financial crisis, he urged her to engage in a walkabout. His advice was that she should learn what Xerox employees and customers were thinking and worry less about what the financial analysts and shareholders were saying.

A walkabout is also a complete sensory experience; with each step we take, we see, hear, smell, and feel. This not only keeps us mentally fit, but it is also the ideal breeding ground for the next big business idea.

Venture Walking

Steve Jobs was famous in Palo Alto for going on long meandering walks. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen tells an anecdote about driving around his neighbourhood when he had to swerve to avoid what he thought to be a crazy old man wandering on the street. On closer inspection, the ‘crazy old man’ was Steve Jobs, in his trademark glasses and black turtleneck. Jobs also mentioned in interviews that he used these walks for problem-solving, thinking, and sometimes even held meetings ‘on the go’ as he walked and talked with executives. Such meetings on the go have become known as ‘pedaconferences,’ (pedes being Latin for feet).

Silicon Valley has truly embraced the walking meeting, particularly after the two tech titans, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, enjoyed a now-legendary walk around Palo Alto in 2010. As part of the tech industry’s disdain for business formality, the walk-and-talk meeting is about creating a relaxed atmosphere and doing away with niggling doubts about whether you are making enough, or too little, eye contact.

As with most things in business involving alpha males (something tech is still notorious for), these so-called pedaconferences often come down to a display of power. As Linda Kinstler notes in her article ‘Strolling Meetings: the power move of tech gods and Roman senators’, the words ‘walk with me’ are a uniquely perambulatory power play.  The idea of conducting an important meeting during a vigorous stroll, projects both physical and professional strength, forcing colleagues and competitors to keep up.

Final Thoughts

‘Meandering leads to perfection,’ said Lao Tzu. Even by ancient Chinese philosopher standards, that’s a pretty bold statement. I personally wouldn’t quite go so far as using the ‘P’ word. Perfection is a fleeting concept, if it exists at all. There is, however, some truth in the Old Master’s words.  Perhaps the missing second half of the sentence was ‘one must meander to find inspiration.’ 

As I attempt to write this article while tucked away in a holiday home five thousand miles from London, I’ve already drawn up my plan for 2018. I intend to be focused and disciplined, and most of my walking this year will be the intensely purposeful type or the walk-and-talk Silicon Valley style pedaconference. But if history is anything to go by, getting to the finishing line of the year will be no easy feat. 

If I stand any chance of making it through the obstacle course of the year, I’ll need more than just sheer focus and brute force. A dose of inspiration and creativity will smooth the path.  Alas, a flash of inspiration is rarely found while speed walking through the city from meeting to meeting. So… in 2018 in case I tentatively disappear and you can’t find me, please don’t come looking. I may be aimlessly meandering, kindling the creative power hidden in my footsteps.

Faisal Butt is the CEO of Spire Ventures, a property focused private equity boutique, and the Founder and Chairman of proptech VC firm Pi Labs.

Image credit: Piti Tangchawalit/Shutterstock

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