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TEDxStanford

Marily Oppezzo: Want to be more creative? Go for a walk

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When trying to come up with a new idea, we all have times when we get stuck. But according to research by behavioral and learning scientist Marily Oppezzo, getting up and going for a walk might be all it takes to get your creative juices flowing. In this fun, fast talk, she explains how walking could help you get the most out of your next brainstorm.

- Behavioral and learning scientist
Marily Oppezzo studies how the movement of the body can affect the movement of the mind. Full bio

The creative process -- you know this --
00:13
from the first idea to the final product,
00:15
is a long process.
00:17
It's super-iterative, lots of refinement,
00:19
blood, sweat, tears and years.
00:22
And we're not saying
you're going to go out for a walk
00:24
and come back with the Sistine Chapel
in your left hand.
00:27
So what frame of the creative
process did we focus on?
00:29
Just this first part.
00:32
Just brainstorming,
coming up with a new idea.
00:34
We actually ran four studies
with a variety of people.
00:38
You were either walking
indoors or outdoors.
00:42
And all of these studies
found the same conclusion.
00:44
I'm only going to tell you
about one of them today.
00:48
One of the tests we used for creativity
was alternate uses.
00:51
In this test, you have four minutes.
00:55
Your job is to come up with as many other
ways to use common everyday objects
00:57
as you can think of.
01:01
So, for example,
what else would you do with a key,
01:02
other than to use it
for opening up a lock?
01:05
Clearly, you could use it
as a third eyeball for a giraffe, right?
01:08
Maybe. That's sort of interesting,
kind of new. But is it creative?
01:12
So people came up with
as many ideas as they could,
01:17
and we had to decide:
01:20
Is this creative or not?
01:21
The definition of creativity
that a lot of people go with
01:24
is "appropriate novelty."
01:27
For something to be appropriate,
it has to be realistic,
01:29
so unfortunately, you can't use
a key as an eyeball.
01:32
Boo!
01:36
But "novel," the second thing,
is that nobody had to have said it.
01:37
So for us, it had to be appropriate first,
01:42
and then for novelty,
01:45
nobody else in the entire population
that we surveyed could have said it.
01:46
So you might think you could use
a key to scratch somebody's car,
01:50
but if somebody else said that,
you didn't get credit for it.
01:54
Neither of you did.
01:57
However, only one person said this:
01:58
"If you were dying
and it were a murder mystery,
02:02
and you had to carve the name
of the murderer into the ground
02:05
with your dying words."
02:08
One person said this.
02:10
(Laughter)
02:11
And it's a creative idea,
because it's appropriate and it's novel.
02:12
You either did this test and came up
with ideas while you were seated
02:16
or while you were walking on a treadmill.
02:19
(Laughter)
02:22
They did the test twice,
with different objects.
02:24
Three groups: the first group sat first
02:26
and then sat again for the second test.
02:30
The second group sat first
02:32
and then did the second test
while walking on a treadmill.
02:35
The third group --
and this is interesting --
02:38
they walked on the treadmill first,
and then they sat.
02:41
OK, so the two groups
that sat together for the first test,
02:44
they looked pretty similar to each other,
02:48
and they averaged
about 20 creative ideas per person.
02:50
The group that was walking
on the treadmill
02:54
did almost twice as well.
02:56
And they were just walking
on a treadmill in a windowless room.
02:59
Remember, they took the test twice.
03:04
The people who sat twice for that second
test didn't get any better;
03:06
practice didn't help.
03:10
But these same people who were sitting
and then went on the treadmill
03:12
got a boost from walking.
03:15
Here's the interesting thing.
03:17
The people who were
walking on the treadmill
03:19
still had a residue effect of the walking,
03:21
and they were still creative afterwards.
03:24
So the implication of this
is that you should go for a walk
03:26
before your next big meeting
and just start brainstorming right away.
03:29
We have five tips for you
03:34
that will help make this
the best effect possible.
03:36
First, you want to pick a problem
or a topic to brainstorm.
03:39
So, this is not the shower effect,
03:44
when you're in the shower
and all of a sudden,
03:46
a new idea pops out of the shampoo bottle.
03:48
This is something
you're thinking about ahead of time.
03:50
They're intentionally thinking about
brainstorming a different perspective
03:53
on the walk.
03:57
Secondly -- I get asked this a lot:
03:58
Is this OK while running?
04:00
Well, the answer for me
is that if I were running,
04:02
the only new idea I would have
would be to stop running, so ...
04:05
(Laughter)
04:09
But if running for you
is a comfortable pace, good.
04:10
It turns out, whatever physical
activity is not taking a lot of attention.
04:14
So just walking at a comfortable
pace is a good choice.
04:18
Also, you want to come up with
as many ideas as you can.
04:22
One key of creativity
is to not lock on that first idea.
04:25
Keep going.
04:28
Keep coming up with new ones,
until you pick one or two to pursue.
04:30
You might worry that you don't want
to write them down,
04:35
because what if you forget them?
04:38
So the idea here is to speak them.
04:39
Everybody was speaking their new ideas.
04:41
So you can put your headphones on
and record through your phone
04:43
and then just pretend you're having
a creative conversation, right?
04:47
Because the act of writing
your idea down is already a filter.
04:50
You're going to be like,
"Is this good enough to write down?"
04:54
And then you write it down.
04:56
So just speak as many as you can,
record them and think about them later.
04:58
And finally: don't do this forever. Right?
05:01
If you're on the walk
and that idea's not coming to you,
05:04
come back to it later at another time.
05:07
I think we're coming up
on a break right now,
05:10
so I have an idea:
05:12
Why don't you grab a leash
05:14
and take your thoughts for a walk?
05:16
Thank you.
05:19
(Applause)
05:20

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About the speaker:

Marily Oppezzo - Behavioral and learning scientist
Marily Oppezzo studies how the movement of the body can affect the movement of the mind.

Why you should listen

Inheriting an energetic passion for health from her dad, Marily Oppezzo's past research has investigated ways to use the world to motivate healthy brains and healthy behaviors. She is currently an Instructor of Medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. She is also working with Dr. Dan Schwartz to find out if fidgeting in the classroom may be a desirable cognitive tool rather than an irritating hallmark of inattention, and she's working with Dr. Margaret Neale and Dr. Jodi Prochaska to discover how walking may improve negotiation outcomes.

Along her way, Oppezzo has collected several souvenir lessons from her range of work and educational experiences:

Bartending:
1. The environment has incredible power to elicit and shape behaviors; and
2. Everyone has at least one interesting story in them.
 
Dietetics:
1. Biochemistry is fascinating;
2. We grant food immense powers. It can be simultaneously viewed as a vehicle of health, morality, social bonding, government conspiracy, inequality and pleasure; and
3. A plateful of knowledge doesn't always help the medicine go down.  
 
Teaching / education:
1. Watching people learn, grow, and change is a deep gratification unique to teaching and behavior change work; and
2. Learning, like behavior change, takes distributed practice to become part of you. (We can’t binge-watch knowledge any more than we should pull flossing all-nighters).
 
Cardiac rehab:
1. Everyone has the capacity to be an inspiration and in surprising, unexpected ways; and
2. Health becomes incredibly valuable once you experience a true loss of it; and
3. Exercise is the ultimate multitasker: it can heal the brain, the heart and the body all at once.

More profile about the speaker
Marily Oppezzo | Speaker | TED.com