creative walk: river isar route 1

This post is also available in German.

Difficulty level: easy.

The Isar is Germany’s 4th longest river. It starts life in the Austrian Alps eventually giving up and committing river suicide 295 km later where it joins the Danube. It carves its way through the heart of Munich and offers locals enough space to sunbathe on its stoney shores. Thousands of joggers run up and down the river making complete fools of themselves in fluorescent green knickers, especially around the start of a new year.

There are a number of routes that can be used for a creative walk on the Isar, all of which are good for the not-so-fit office dwellers among us. This route is the gentlest of them all: the only real physical challenge faced here is the distance which, at 24 km, is short enough to be more than achievable and yet long enough to show off to your friends and colleagues with.

creative walk: river isar in the fog

The first foggy steps along the river Isar on the 1st day of 2016

It’s the 1st of January, we went to bed early we’re going to walk this foggy old route, encounter the zombies of the new year, hungover dog walkers and rabid mountain bikers.

We’ll stick to the western bank of the river for the first leg of the walk, which takes us south. We’ll need about 7 km of walking to finally feel free of the city. They’re a good 7 km though with plenty to look at: parks, beer gardens, ducks, the zoo on the opposite bank and a river that never stops looking pretty.

creative walk: river isar towards the zoo

Out there, somewhere in the fog, is where we’re going. Along the Isar towards Munich’s zoo.

The water is incredibly clear: deep greens, turquoise and spring crystal water swirl around stranded tree stumps that were washed downstream during the floods of the last ten years.

Creative Walks: Isar Route 1

The mess of the floods and the colours of the river. 

There are lots of little walking options during the first hour or so and I like to pick and choose depending on the weather or the amount of joggers, nordic walkers and mountain bikers that are out and about. Mountain bikers tend to be a bit grim, slightly aggressive and rarely understand the rules of not running people over, nor do they understand to necessity of a decent mud guard to keep themselves from looking as though they’ve had a sever case of diarrhea. I’m always looking for the quiet track, a path with less noise – a better place to think, enjoy the scenery and get we can get stuff done.

Creative Walks: The River Isar with Großhesseloher bridge in the distance

The River Isar with Großhesseloher bridge in the distance

It really feels like we’ve made it out of the city by the time we’ve reached the Großhesseloher Brücke. It’s a big bridge. You cross it when you take the train down to the lakes. Reaching the bridge offers you a whole host of opportunities like giving up and catching the train home or crossing the river and walking back north. A steep climb on the western bank and you’ve found yourself a beer garden. A steep climb on the eastern bank and you find yourself in a suburb (Haarlaching) and you realise that you’re not out of the city at all.

Creative Walks: The River Isar just past the Großhesseloher bridge with the river split in two

Just past the Großhesseloher bridge with the river split in two

We press on, past an Irish kiosk. I have often asked myself why this kiosk is Irish. The further south we go the fewer people we’ll see and the more peace we’ll have. The river is split into two halves: one half is mainly used by bavarian party rafts – huge things that carry about twenty people, a band (all your favourite Oktoberfest hits) and a lot of beer. The other half can’t be seen because of the high bank separating the two.

The party rafts are odd things. You hear them coming from quite a way off, the music echoing and bouncing off of the high cliffs, becoming some kind of strange bavarian soundtrack: ghost like and reminiscent of what Tom Waits might do if he ever spent any time here. These little things, the music, spiky plants, spectacular weirs and abandoned buildings all offer interesting things to distract the mind with, which is helpful because it’s about now that our legs start to hurt and our stomachs call for food.

Creative Walks: River Isar - East Bank

Everything looks a tiny bit English on this side of the river.

At about 12 km we stop, rest and eat at the Brückenwirt. We then cross the river and make our way back up north on the eastern bank of the river. It’s striking that this side of the river is completely different: the wooded sections feel strangely English and the river is natural and looks slightly more dangerous.

Creative Walks: River Isar - East Bank

We’re staying down low, keeping to the river.

We have a number of walking possibilities on this side of the river, where we can climb high above the water or remain low and stick to the river bank (which I prefer). This is the quietest part of the walk and you’ll hardly see anyone – I always have to remind myself that we’re actually walking in the city. I have had chance encounters with cowboys on horseback on this stretch of the river. Parts of the track have been closed off due to falling rocks but everyone ignores this and carriers on all the same.

Creative Walks: River Isar - East Bank

I like walking in weather like this. Foggy, a bit wet and cold – lovely.

We’ve chalked up 17 km and we’re back at the big old bridge and it is here that I always notice that there are advantages and disadvantages to round-trip walks. I like, for example, the shift of perspective, the fact that I’m physically and mentally in a different space when returning to a place I’ve visited only hours before. It can be a bit demoralising but that a mental thing and the trick is to just keep on and enjoy the walk. One thing I’ve learned about long walks is that there is no use in moaning.

Creative Walks: River Isar - East Bank

Sometimes it makes sense to turn around, and see how glorious your route has been.

We know that we’re nearly home when we smell the goats in the zoo but a quick look at the map reveals that we’ve got another 4 km to go, which is not a lot, but all those weak parts of my body – the chinks in my walkers armor – are starting to complain and burn but we press on, walk through the pain and actually start to enjoy each of the final steps.

It’s a lovely walk and a great route for getting things done.

Creative Walks: Stadtwald Rodgau

Activity level: Easy.

This post is also available in German

Christmas is over and it’s nearly the new year. I’m writing this sat in the kitchen of my in-laws after another excellent Christmas and a nice batch of walks with my wife in Rodgau’s City Forest.

Creative Walks: Stadtwald Rodgau

I love this forest. It’s a stone’s throw away from where my wife grew up and it is the place where, exactly a year ago, I came up with the idea of taking people on long creative walks. It’s an incredibly varied forest that’s large enough to get lost in: you can walk for hours without seeing anyone and yet it’s small enough to walk back to civilisation should you need to.

Creative Walks: Stadtwald Rodgau

There’s a lovely mix of cultivated and wild, private sections of forest that give wild boar enough cover for breeding that they’ve become a bit of a pest. If you’re lucky and very quiet you’ll spot them hunting for worms and acorns.

Creative Walks: Stadtwald Rodgau

Woodpeckers and Jays, Buzzards and Great Tits offer the musical backdrop for the walks and large sections of the forest are covered in beautiful green moss and heather. It’s a wonderful place.

Creative Walks: Stadtwald Rodgau

What makes this and many other forests like it a great place for a spot of creative walking is that the terrain is easy going: it’s very flat so there’s no need to worry about getting up a mountain. This means that you can fully concentrate on the project you’ve taken with you to work on. I work on my own ideas here and it’s possible to do walks of 8, 16 or 25 kilometers which makes it the perfect place to work on small, medium or large projects/ideas/problems.

Creative Walks: Stadtwald Rodgau

I jokingly call this forest my  “Rodgau Office” and as I’ve started getting requests from other parts of the country for walks so I’ve decided to include this forest as one of my bookable routes.

Creative Walks: Stadtwald Rodgau

So if you’re in the Frankfurt area and can’t manage a day in the Bavarian Alps you can now book me for a walk in southern Hessen. 

 

Creative Walks: Lynton. Lynmouth. Devon.

This post is also available in German

Where ideas go to die.

I hate offices. I hate the physical, psychological, political and emotional structures of offices and I have always found it incredibly difficult to concentrate, let alone focus on or create fantastic ideas in them. My loathing for offices is only topped by my utter contempt for conference rooms with their air of sullen desperation and the odour of flip charts and moderation kits and cheap biscuits that are two years past their sell-by date. Sound gloomy? Sure as hell is. The conference room is where your ideas go to die. You’ve all been there. You may be there right now, looking over the top of your screen and eyeing the room that, much like a dementor, will eventually suck all hope of creativity out of you. Paradoxically, it is the room where you go to “create”, “ideate” and try to come up with things that will make you and your company better, more interesting and more successful but, in this our corporate Germany, it has become a place to bury success under rules, stale coffee and bullet-points.

Distraction as an unfortunate occupational hazard.

It is an uncomfortable truth the some of the most senior people in your organisation are wasting time in meetings. The people who should be creating a vision, building fantastic products and helping their staff to become even more awesome are suffering from something that I call corporate distraction. That senior person might just be you. It’s nearly impossible to sit down with these people and work on creating something meaningful for their business without being interrupted by a piece of important business that requires their immediate attention. I’m sure this is something that you’ve experienced too: the email, the ping on skype, the slack request can all be managed by simply turning your computer and mobile phone off but you can’t turn off the colleague who magically appears at your desk and request “a minute of your time” which actually means thirty minutes of painful distraction. Now this is all part of daily business life and one, I suppose, must accept it for what it is: an occupational hazard but when you are working on something that is really important corporate distraction is very damaging to you and your business.

Something borrowed. Something new.

I discovered a solution to this problem. It’s a paradigm shift of your chair. It’s called standing up and getting the hell out of your office and going for a walk. It’s a spin on something that we’ve known all along – that walking is good for creativity. There has been a long history of very clever people going on walks to solve problems. Stanford University have even done a study called “Give your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect on Walking on Creative thinking” that proves that going for a walk can dramatically increase your divergent thinking skills. So the idea that going for a walk instead of sitting in an office is good for you isn’t really new. Steve Jobs did it and Richard Branson still does.

Creative Walks

Really long walks for really big ideas.

The Stanford study looked at the effects of walking on both divergent and convergent creative thinking by making participants walk on treadmills as well a short thirty minute walks outside. The impact on the divergent (or free) thinking was considerable (an 81% increase in creativity) but the convergent (or tight) thinking only seeing a 23% increase. As a creative my brain works in a very divergent way so it is no real surprise that going for a short stroll helps me discover and mould new, albeit basic, ideas. Short walks are good for focus. I’ve discovered, however that long walks are excellent for letting the mind wander and discover really big ideas.

Short Walks as proof of concept.

Blocking a day to go walking may seem like an impossible assault on your busy calendar but I should remind you that it may well be the most important day’s work you’ll do this year. I understand that that might be difficult to explain to your colleagues or your line manager or even to yourself so I would suggest using shorter walks as a proof of concept. As I mentioned before, short walks are good for framing basic ideas. They’re also excellent for getting your head clear and the creative juices flowing again as well as preparing yourself for longer walks should you be considering going on one. Just leaving your desk for thirty minutes, going for a short walk and getting a new perspective on something that you are trying to solve and then finding creative ways to solve it, is a perfect way of proving to yourself, your colleagues and your bosses that walking works for your business.

Creative Walks

Long Walks are physically and emotionally rewarding.

Once you’ve proven that walking has a positive impact on your work then you can then consider going on longer walks. I’ve discovered that the longer I walk, the bigger and better my ideas become. There is something thoroughly rewarding about putting one foot in front of the other and letting your mind and body suck in your surroundings in order to ponder over a problem or just think without purpose and stumble over a remarkable idea. I’m amazed how swiftly hours and kilometers pass by and how focused I become when I’ve got my walking boots on. Walking in nature and being surrounded by forests, mountains, streams and lakes is emotionally rewarding anyway but when you use all of this as a part of a creative process then the results can be quite extraordinary. The smell of the forest: the trees and the leaves, the sound of bird song or the rush of the stream as well as the physical effort of walking thirty kilometers all swell up in your chest and push your creativity into a special direction – a walker’s high. Nature will inspire you to inspire yourself. I’ve recently discovered the Norwegian notion of “freiluftsliv”. Created by the Norwegian playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen this “free air life” is a kind of poetic escapism, that embraces a life outdoors; a creative life full of adventure and wonder.

Creativity is a process and a discipline.

So what is creativity anyway? Well, the Oxford English dictionary describes creativity as follows: “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something”, which is a splendidly pragmatic way to describe something that feels so magically. I studied art, which mean that I would be forced to stand in front of my class and explain my work, a practise called the “critque” and something that takes place weekly in every art college in the world. I would have to explain the paintings on the wall as well as my creative thinking that was kept in my sketch books: little black books of sketches, notes and scribbles that we were encouraged to keep with us and use at all times. I still have sketch books. This is a very renaissance approach to harnessing imagination and although it does feel slightly romantic there is a clear process and discipline to documenting your thinking and being able to communicate your idea in a manner which others can understand. Taking the process on a walk simply increases your chances of improving the quality of the idea, as long as you focus on the path to that idea.

Creative Walks

Planning your walk.

I go on really long walks that can take up to eight hours to complete. I’ve found that by committing to a walk of this length I enter into an emotional and physical contract with myself to complete the task at hand without allowing anything else to distract me. A walk of this length is both physically and emotionally challenging and needs to be planned very carefully. I once tried to walk from Munich to Hamburg (something which is called thru-hiking), an undertaking that went horribly wrong and I wish I knew then, what I know and here are some simple rules for you should you wish to embark on a longer walk of your own.

1. One Day. One Path. One Task.
Before you go off on your walk your need to clearly define what it is you want to do. Solve a business problem? Create a new product? Come up with a campaign? These are all things you can take with you but you should only choose one and work on it.

2.Choose your route to match your fitness
I’m not the fittest man on the planet; in fact I abhor any kind of sporting activity and have tricked myself into believing that walking isn’t sport but the activity of a gentleperson. I have several routes that take me along the river Isar and up into the Bavarian Alps and I choose them depending on my current physical and emotional state. Don’t try and be a hero.

3. Have the right kit.
For long walks you’ll need to go to shop that specialises on walking shoes and get advice and listen to the advice that you are given. The right shoes for you and your feet might be ugly (mine are) but you will learn to love them after a thirty kilometre walk. You’ll need clothes that breathe. You’ll need a change of clothes too. You’ll also need things that you can scribble ideas down on (I use artefact cards which are produced by a chum in England). You will need a packed lunch and plenty to drink.

4. Take no more than two colleagues with you.
I’m often asked why I’m so strict about this rule but a maximum of three people can walk, talk and work comfortably together. Any more than three leads to smaller groups and separate discussions which isn’t the point of your walk: one day, one path one task. If you do decide that you need to take a group out of the office then find a nice spot out in the countryside: somewhere that is pretty and where you can see the horizon. If, however, you want to walk then stick a maximum of three people.

Creative Walks - 4 Phases

Working on the walk.

In my experience the longer walks can be split into four phases, that can be mastered to make your day out on the road a successful one. There’s a phase where you realise you’re actually going to spend a working day walking and working without distraction on an important piece of work. It’s a storm in your brain and you walk too fast and talk too much. Then you experience something like a “walker’s high, which has little to do with endorphins but more to do with the fact that, your eyes have become accustomed to forests, rivers, mountains and lakes and your pace slows, you talk less and you make more notes and you let your mind wonder. Then there’s the phase where you go hunting for new ideas, really strong ideas that you think will help solve your problem or challenge. Then there’s the long slog home and you quietly start piecing everything together; you review your notes and consolidate your ideas leaving the weaker ones behind you until you have one strong idea that you fully support.

artefact-min

Post walk trauma.

I’ve often described the walks as the best day’s work I have ever had. I’ve sat in a bar, drinking a glass of Bavarian wheat beer after a hard walk up and down a mountain and I’ve had tears my eyes because it was a way of working that has positively touched me intellectually, physically and emotionally. It is very easy to romanticize this kind of creative process but you will need to remind yourself that it was actually a day of work and something useful needs to come of it. You’ll need to debrief and action the ideas and communicate them in the appropriate way. I sort my ideas in sketch books and present them to people in much the same way as I did as an art student.

Creative Walks

The heroic return to your desk.

Eventually, however, you will return to your desk. Once again you’ll be confronted by the coffee machine, the meeting room, the photocopier and Klaus from accounting. Your heart will sink a little and your colleagues will want to know what happened to you “out there”. This is where you will notice that the walk has had what the Stanford report calls a “residual boost” on your creative ability: the walk stays with you and has become an integral part of the ideas and thinking you communicate to other people. You’ll start to notice that there is a small outdoor renaissance taking place: that there are specialised publications available about hiking, and the great outdoors. You’ll notice that artisan companies are popping up all over the world offering handmake, bespoke equipment for you to take on walks with you. You’ll notice that your ideas are better and your colleagues, partners and customers will notice this too.

Creative Walks: Disrupted by nature

This post is also available in German

I’ve lived in Germany for coming up to 22 years now. I came here a day after finishing my degree with nothing but a suitcase and was lucky enough to quickly settle in, find a job and slowly but surely take my first steps towards becoming an adult. I was and have been incredibly fortunate and can look back at a huge wealth of chance meetings, interesting projects as well as amazing colleagues, business partners and clients. Twenty two working years tends to bring a lot of experience with it and I’m grateful for a large percentage of it all. There have been ups and downs all of which now help me to decide just what it is I want to do with myself and what I’d rather leave to other people. Last year I made the decision to set up my own business, a decision which cost me a lot of sleepless nights and one I worried about but it has turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m learning to be far more critical about my own work, I’m taking more risks and much more open to radically changing the direction of the business should that be necessary.

Conference rooms are suffocation rooms.
I’ve spent a huge amount of time in conference rooms. It’s where I seem to spend most of my time with clients and I’ve started to notice how unconcentrated they are as soon as they enter one. I suppose that that is understandable when one considers the amount of emotional-office-baggage most of these CEO’s, and senior managers carry around with them: reportings, performance reviews, and a seemingly endless stream of nonsense meetings are all tugging at the hem of their attention span. And they suffer for it – their concentration suffers and their creativity suffers. I’ve noticed that, instead of using the conference or meeting room and the time with me as a space for creating interesting stuff, my clients have started using the conference room as a panic room and seem hopelessly optimistic that, once inside, no one will send them Email, no one will call them on their mobile phone or that they’ll be left alone and that no one will knock on the door and drag them away from something that they were actually looking forward to doing. This is of course a fantasy and one that makes a farce of getting anything done. They simply don’t have enough space to breathe, think and be productive. This is something that I want to change.

workinginbook2

Focused without distraction.
I’ve been working on a new product and launched it on Thursday. It’s called “CreativeWalks.de” and is intended to help entrepreneurs, business owners and senior managers to come up with better ideas and get them made or as John at Smithery would say “make things people want”. I want to drag my clients out of the daily grind of their offices and finally get down to doing the things that they should be doing: thinking, breathing, going a little crazy with an idea, planning, scheming and getting good stuff done without being brutally dragged away from a brilliant thought to sort out a tiny crisis in a Excel sheet. I want to think a thought all the way from the beginning to the end without interruption.

openjacket

Ideas – step by step.
A couple of years ago I tried to walk from Munich to Hamburg to have a chat with someone called Dr. Peter Figge. It was adventure that sadly ended prematurely because I hadn’t sufficiently prepared for the journey. Not finishing that walk annoys me to this day and I have sworn, one day, to walk from Munich to Hamburg. Last year I quit smoking and became fat so I needed to do something that didn’t look and feel like sport. I started walking again.

walking-up-rotwand

The walks became longer, I became thinner and I started using the walks to work out problems and come up with ideas for some of the client work I’d been commissioned to do. I was becoming physically stronger and so was my work.

workingoncards3

Process.
It started to become a process. Slowly, I shifted from just “going for a wander and having random ideas” to getting it into some kind of process. I’d noticed that these walks had clear phases to them, both physically and mentally. I wanted to use these phases and align them to working on really good ideas. I’ve recently started working with Smithery’s Artefact cards, and although my initial reaction to these blank pieces of paper was “hang on, they are just blank pieces of cards”, I’d decided to give them a go. They’ve turned out to fit perfectly to the process of walking, thinking, getting great stuff done and my initial suspicion of them has given way to a tiny bit of card fanaticism. I think that they’re brilliant.

cards1

Alps instead of Apps.
I decided that I wanted to offer walks to clients as a service or product during the 100 odd kilometers my wife and I wandered over the Christmas break. It didn’t take to long to sketch out what kind of a service “CreativeWalks.de” could be. The idea is ridiculously simple:

  • I take one, maximum two business owners, CEO’S or senior managers on a 30 kilometer walk
  • We spend eight hours working on one theme, idea, solution or problem
  • By the time we’re finished they’ll be sore and exhausted but sipping on a nice cold wheat beer and gazing at a finished idea.

 

buchenslider2

I’ve chosen some of the most amazing routes that the Bavarian Alps have to offer and I’ve had loads of great input and support from friends, clients and business partners. I’ve driven my wife half around the bend with this. The feedback since the launch on Thursday has been fantastic and I’m delighted to say that the first bookings have already come in. I’ve never worked harder to get something up and running and, to be honest, I’m pretty damn proud of how the thing has turned out.

And I’ve still got my eye on the Munich to Hamburg walk. I just won’t be doing it for Dr. Peter Figge. I’ll let you know how I get on.