In thrall to my FitBit, I have taken to having startup meetings on the move. I slam on the headphones and hold conference calls as I ramble down Broadway in NY or stride along Market Street in SF.
Now, my original motivation for this was really nothing more than the accumulation of enough steps to keep my wife, who is a walking machine, from lording it over me too much. However, once I began doing them, walking meetings turned out to have benefits beyond steps and burning calories.
I’ve found that my concentration on what I’m hearing is actually stronger while strolling. I’m not distracted by a screen or the docs on my desk. It is interestingly intimate to have someone’s voice poured directly into my head, in stereo no less.
And, the passing people and surroundings give a real-world color to the conversations. I’ve found them so useful that I’m now doing walking meetings even when I don’t absolutely have to.
My new devotion to working while walking has gotten me thinking about the very different experience that lies behind many of the digital platforms we rely on so heavily these days, and that our funds invest in. These increasingly essential elements of our lives are invariably produced by workers locked in cubes or cloistered in hermetic campuses far removed from the grit and gaminess of real life.
While this approach may seem efficient and productive on the surface, it seems to me that tech companies would be well served by getting their people out of the bubble and onto the sidewalk. Not only would all those steps produce a healthier workforce, they would, I believe, result in better products.
Why? Because the actual world full of messy, maddening people who will use these products is… out there. Not in the cube. Not on the campus.
Only by getting teams out where reality lives can tech companies create the best possible products to live out there as well. I think by getting out and walking more, teams become less likely to create products that simply reflect the circumscribed environment they grew from. After all, how can products created in echo chambers really avoid creating echo chambers among users?
Walking is focusing. It is clarifying. It is revealing. It is a great way to compel separation from ubiquitous screens. Steve Jobs was a inveterate long walker. Beethoven, too. And Charles Dickens and Darwin.
Do it. Your best ideas -- your best work -- might be out there on the sidewalk waiting for you right now.
Mike Edelhart is the managing partner of Social Starts, one of the most active moment-of-inception venture funds in the US. A pioneering media and Internet startup executive, Mike became widely known in tech circles as the original Executive Editor of PC Magazine. Find Mike on Twitter @MikeEdelhart.