Talking the Walk 1

I’ve been silent on this blog for a long time, to my shame. Half way through a sequence on social media I got inundated with other work and hence interrupted in my writing. Some people can happily write in little interstices in their lives—I’m not one of them, I need bigger chunks of time. The longer I didn’t write, the harder it was to find the time to get back to where my head had been, which led to another delay and another twist in the downward spiral of not writing.
Recently, I realised that I may never finish that social media sequence and to agonise over it was unproductive. So, with a kind of generic apology to the universe for unfinished business, I am starting today to on a series of posts around walking and talking. Making the effort to get out and walk while we talk has become something of a trend recently and a Google search will quickly turn up articles in the ‘quality’ press (NY Times, Boston Globe, Guardian, etc.) and in the more reflective weekly or monthly magazines. Blogs are talking walking, too, though so far most of the ones I have dipped into are, in my opinion, recycling a few good ideas or articles with no great added value.
Perhaps the most influential single piece has been a TED talk by Nilhofer Merchant (see http://www.ted.com/talks/nilofer_merchant_got_a_meeting_take_a_walk?language=en ) whose idea of walking meetings has caught on with the Ted talk getting many hits and citations. However, even the quickest survey shows that when the idea of talking while walking is increasingly entering common discourse, especially as a thing managers should think about using in office workplaces, the rationale for doing so is often not well articulated.
Of course, walking has benefits, among which getting off one’s backside and doing exercise to improve health is high on the list. If this were the only benefit then walking meetings (as an example) are simply a worthy extension of new trends such as standing desks, treadmill desks, standing meetings and so on. But even that simple link is more complex than it seems. Standing at one’s desk is likely to improve one’s health, while standing meetings are argued to improve the quality and timeliness of the meeting itself rather than the health of participants. Indeed, simply typologising who walks, under what circumstances, with what intent and with what demonstrated effect—mechanical though that process may seem—is likely to help clarify why walking ‘works’, for whom and so on and will also allow us to separate different types of explanation, look for evidence etc.
So, my first substantive task in the next instalment will be to offer a start on the typology.

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About stephenmugford

Once a sociologist (1970-1997) then a consultant who reads a lot in psychology, cognitive science, complexity, etc and wanders along paths from one topic to another.
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