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Take a Walk, Sure, but Don’t Call It a Break

| September 30, 2014

by Jim Bruce

The Tuesday Reading today is “Take a Walk, Sure, but Don’t Call It a Break”, an essay that appeared early in the year in the HBR blogs.  Its author, Dan Pallotta, is an expert in nonprofit sector innovation and a pioneering entrepreneur.  He is founder of Pallotta TeamWorks, which invented the multi-day AIDSRides and Breast Cancer 3-Days.

Pallotta takes a three-and-a-half mile walk around his neighborhood, no matter the weather, every day.  When he was a kid he walked to and from school every day.  He says that he and the friends he walked with never stopped talking for a minute during their walks.  One of the reasons he created the Breast Cancer 3-Days, a charity walk, was to offer women with breast cancer and their supporters the luxury of having three days to converse, to daydream, and to imagine, without the aggravation of day-to-day life intruding.

He goes on to say:  “But we’re wrong to think of walking only as a way to calm the mind, a source of exercise, or a leisurely luxury.  When it comes to work, walking can dramatically increase productivity.  In a very real sense, walking can be work, and work can be done while walking.  In fact, some of the most important work you may ever do can be done walking.”

Pallotta points to a 2013 study by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato which found that people who go for a walk or ride a bike four times a week are able to think more creatively than those who lead a sedentary life.  Colzato has noted that Soren Kierkegaard, Henry James and Thomas Mann, among many others, would take a stroll before they sat down to write. Henry David Thoreau said it this way:  “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

I personally find that walking enables me to take a complicated jumble of thoughts and bring order to them and to organize my next steps.  I’ve had very productive coaching conversations while walking.  Pallotta talks about organizing and rehearsing the closing presentation at the 2013 TED Converence in his January and February morning walks.  He notes that “Walking affords no distractions [like we experience at our desks].  It’s just you and the work.”  Pallotta also notes that it is it’s great for professional heart-to-heart talks.  Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, noted that walking was Steve Job’s preferred way of having a serious conversation.  And, I remember such a conversation with Steve about computer windowing systems walking across the MIT campus when he was in Boston to announce the NeXT computer.

Walking is not necessarily a break.  It can be the venue for very serious work.  Movement makes the conversation less stiff, more authentic, more responsible.  So, when you really need to get something done, get away from your computer, your usual workspace, and go for a long walk.  It’s not a luxury, it is work.

Perhaps today is a very good day to do that.  .  .    jim