It seems to be a truism that entrepreneurs tend to work themselves into the ground.
It is funny that so many people leave stressful and exhausting corporate desk jobs to pursue the freedom of entrepreneurship, only to find they spend even longer sitting at their computer trying to solve startup problems.
That can often feel like a waste of time, and for good reason. Sitting for hours can be counterproductive.
Taking time out to go for a walk, on the other hand, can be the perfect remedy. A short leg stretch in the open air may be all that’s needed to kickstart the creative juices. Scientific research has proven that outdoor walking benefits the thought processes, but how many business owners are aware of it?
Not many, according to Norwegian entrepreneur Torill Bye Wilhelmsen founder Fjellflyt AS which has inspired the Walking Movement.
According to government figures 80% of Norwegians aren’t moving around enough.
As in many western countries, people who work in offices spend, on average, nine hours a day sitting at their desk. Not only does it dull creativity, it impacts on business, with an estimated loss in productivity valued by the Norwegian Directorate of Health at 239 billion Norwegian krone ($28 billion) annually.
Whilst working as head of business in a municipality Bye Wilhelmsen was struck by the fact that entrepreneurs often became so engrossed in their new business they neglected to take care of themselves.
“They weren’t the only ones,” she says. “The combination of long work hours, travelling and being a new mum also resulted in burnout for me, so I quit my job to get some headspace and create a healthier work environment for myself.”
Wilhelmsen began experimenting. She says: “I had to work out what it was that gave me the most creative thoughts and renewed my energy? It turned out to be taking walks. To test what worked best, I walked on and off paths, went fast and slow, and even ran into trees.”
But it was after being interviewed by Mia Keinänen, who was carrying out research on walking and thinking that she discovered the scientific evidence for walking being a catalyst for creativity and productivity.
“This was a big turning point,” she said. “I learned how movement aids learning by stimulating neurotransmitters in the brain. It helps the brain connect the dots. We all know that walking reduces stress and increases the level of hormones that are good for us, but we don´t act on it.”
Armed with her new found knowledge of walking and its tangible business and health benefits, she launched Fjellflyt AS, with the aim of helping entrepreneurs and employees ‘walk the talk’ to achieve better business results.
Based four hours north of Oslo, in a small town called Vaga surrounded by six National Parks, the environment could not be more appropriate.
Bye Wilhelmsen self-funded her startup and ran beta-tests of Walkshop, the online course and mentoring programme offered by Fjellflyt,
With the revenue from the first course she developed a new version, which quickly sold out. Meanwhile the Fjellflyt community was growing, organically, by word of mouth, and online marketing and media coverage.
Much like the US government’s ‘Let´s Move’ campaign, the Norwegian Directorate of Health started a campaign to get people to do 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
Bye Wilhelmsen’s Walking Movement takes the concept a step farther, directly targeting changes in workplace culture to fight the negative consequences of prolonged sitting, and promote the benefits of taking walks.
Specifically it encourages employees and entrepreneurs to solve a problem, brainstorm, or take part in a meeting on the hoof.
She says: “I like to think of Walkshop as ‘a workshop with legs’, an alternative to traditional seminars and conference sessions, with participants walking while they discuss a topic. At one event, focused around the link between movement and innovation, we had 130 people participate.”
Fjellflyt has already gained an international audience, with walkers in the US and Europe.
“What I thought was a niche topic has resonated with a broad audience,’ says Bye Wilhelmsen. “I have seen reports of leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and President Obama adopting the strategy. I’ve enjoyed seeing how much it resonates with people in all types of organisations.”