Solving problems by taking a walk


The other day, I felt inspired to write by my friend Morgan DaCosta coining the phrase:

“Coaching by Walking Around”

This was a “level up” from the idea of Management by Walking Around, part of the essence of which is to walk randomly around and be present to those working in the business and what is happening for them.

Reading this post, Bruce Peters, a regular contributor of inspiration for my writing (thank you too, sir!), wrote to me about the idea of:

Solvitur ambulando

Latin for “it is solved by walking”.

I wonder what problems we can solve by walking?

Recently I met someone for a morning coffee, then we took a long walk, and as we started the walk, we both suddenly realised that the conversation was different once we started walking.

I’ll give you three ideas today to begin, and what else would you add?

First, our lack of physical activity is causing major health issues, we tend to spend more time sitting than even sleeping. Nilofer Merchant has a short (~3′) TED talk on the power of walking meetings to literally solve thy problem of us sitting down too much at work by walking, and specifically by an idea she had of “walking meetings”.

Indeed, when she and I spoke recently, the calendar invite said “virtual walk and talk”. I didn’t clue in to the fact that she meant it literally, so I sat down on the call in London while she actually took her morning walk (from her home in the Bay area) while we were on that call. Nilofer, next time we talk I’ll make sure I too walk while we talk, love the virtual walk and talk idea !

Secondly, and Nilofer touches on this at the end of her TED talk, recently I met someone on a Saturday morning for a relaxed morning chat. We sat for well over an hour chatting in a coffee shop, then we started to walk. Almost immediately, we both realised that by walking, the conversation changed, opening up new ideas, energies, flow. When we walk together we are literally more dynamic, plus we walk side by side, not face to face, so the energy of the conversation will always be different.

So, to change things up, take a walk with someone. In coaching/facilitating groups, I’ll often send them off in pairs to walk and talk, it always shifts the energy, and where the group is looking for new solutions, it is wonderful how often fresh ideas and solutions come from walking.

Finally, for today, walking can take on a new layer depending on our level of presence. Allow me to muse across a few themes here.

To begin, Thoreau wrote a treatise entitled “Walking” written brilliantly about by Maria Popova of Brainpickings, in which she noted:

that Thoreau: “sets out to remind us of how that primal act of mobility connects us with our essential wildness, that spring of spiritual vitality methodically dried up by our sedentary civilization.”

She goes on: “his most prescient point has to do with the idea that sauntering — like any soul-nourishing activity — should be approached with a mindset of presence rather than productivity. To think that a man who lived in a forest cabin in the middle of the 19th century might have such extraordinary insight into our toxic modern cult of busyness is hard to imagine, and yet he captures the idea that “busy is a decision” with astounding elegance: “I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is — I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”

From Thoreau, my mind went to Erling Kagge, who, inspired by a solo walk to the South Pole, wrote a book called “Silence in the age of noise”, and I mused on his work in “What happens when we find silence“, as well as in that piece the power of Marina Abramovic being silent in her work “the artist is present” plus an experiment on whether two people can fall in love by first asking each other a set of questions then sitting in silence looking at each other for four minutes.

Silence, presence, walking. When we combine them when we walk, it can be a powerful experience for the walker and then what they can bring to others. One legendary case is of the wandering dervish Shams Al-Tabriz and the power of his meeting with Rumi, with the learnings and teachings still resonating for us nearly eight centuries later.

Finally, then, as I researched I saw that Erling Kagge’s follow up to his book on silence, to be released in April 2019, is simply called “Walking, One Step at a time“. At this stage the notes from his publisher are tantalisingly brief, yet also to the point.

‘Everything moves more slowly when I walk, the world seems softer . . .’

From the bestselling author of Silence comes an illuminating exploration of the joy of walking. From those perilous first steps to great expeditions, from walking to work to walking to the North Pole, Erling Kagge explains that he who walks lives longer, and better.

‘After having put my shoes on and let my thoughts wander, I am sure of one thing – to put one foot in front of the other is one of the most important things we do.’

From the bestselling author of Silence comes an illuminating exploration of the joy of walking.

From those perilous first steps to great expeditions, from walking to work to walking to the North Pole, Erling Kagge explains that he who walks lives longer, and better.

So, what problems are solved by you by walking?