Garry Pratt - Sparking Creativity Outdoors | VarnFest '23

Garry Pratt at VarnFest 23

"Sparking creativity outdoors"

Garry Pratt's Talk at VarnFest 23

Garry has been the co-founder of several businesses, a Teaching Fellow in entrepreneurship at the University of Bath and is now very well known as an outdoor innovator.

Garry is the author of the book The Creativity Factor, uncovering the importance of creativity in business success, and how the outdoors can help unharness your creative potential, a book that was which was a finalist for the Business Book of the Year Awards. 

His research proves that the best creative thinking is when we are away from desks, and we are active outside and at VarnFest Garry shared some of his top tips and insights to spark creativity…




Sparking creativity outdoors & the 7 entrepreneurial plot lines


Garry Pratt is a Generation Xer with an upbringing that was pre-device, pre-internet and involved playing outside in woodlands. For Garry, it was a foundation for his fertile imagination to flourish.  


“My childhood was largely outdoors. I have fond memories of being outdoors with friends. We spent time making mud pies, exploring woodlands and hitting things with sticks, making dens, and creating whole imaginary worlds.

For me, it was endless summers of outdoor fun. We did not have computers or screens when I was young, to tear ourselves away from our imaginations.”


Bee and trail


Garry recalls he and his friends made a hill fort, a witches’ house, they explored dark woodlands and a disused quarry and embellished a local myth of a mad monk in the woods.

“It’s the imaginary worlds that I remember creating there, with my childhood friends, and as I began to reflect and research my book, I realised that it’s outside where our brains and imaginations are not just fired up but evolved. In the book I delve into neuroscience which indicates that our brains work best when we are outside in nature.”



Garry argues that creativity is really the only tool we have to imagine the future and imaging the future is the key to innovation and being truly entrepreneurial.


“The tools of creativity are pens, pencils, paintbrushes, cameras and computers but they are just the tools for creative expression. The only thing that separates us as a species is our imagination, our individual imagination.”


Garry’s book, The Creativity Factor combines research, and interviews with renowned thinkers, writers and philosophers to understand the source of creativity. 


“Pretty much all of them use the outdoors. They went for walks and spent time in nature, some more than others but almost all of them did it. It’s also true of my own experience and how I found inspiration for running businesses.”


Garry Pratt VarnFest talk

"The science of fresh air thinking"

There is a wide collection of research that backs up academically the premise that being outside can spark and fuel creativity. This research is cited in Garry’s book.

For example, Joseph G. Allen and colleagues in a Harvard University study, found that when working in a well-ventilated, cleaner air people scored up to 101% better in cognitive tests compared to people that were not immersed in fresh air. Similarly, American academic, Benjamin Baird tested people on their creative reasoning based on doing nothing, doing a complex mathematical task or doing a slightly distracting task and the ones doing the slightly distracting task scored 40% better than the other two groups in their creative reasoning. 

“An Irish neuroscientist did some work on parts of the brain involved in creativity and it happens to be the same part of the brain that is used for cognitive mapping, which is how we literally navigate the world, the natural world especially. When that is working well, our creative reasoning goes up in the brain and that is a quirk of evolutionary history.”


Bee and trail


Garry shared a post-pandemic Google survey which revealed that workers spend 23 percent more time in meetings and those in the meetings confessed that about 11 hours of those meetings are ‘useless’. It is far better, Garry argues, to leave the confines of office buildings and fire up the imagination with walking and fresh air.

“It’s been found that just walking improves creative reasoning by eighty-eight percent. The issue is the seventy-five percent of workers spend no time outside in their working hours. So, something is broken.” 




Walking to work

Garry Pratt shared with the audience that he has a revolutionary way to inspire and kickstart creativity in teams. He takes them for three-day adventure walks in the wilderness.


“They think it’s a holiday, that it’s like bunking off, but I say, ‘no, it’s work’. The work I do with teams is to take them out into nature on journeys. I always discourage meeting in a hotel using post-it notes for writing ideas on.

Brainstorming like this restricts the ability to have good new ideas. The natural world is full of marvellous places to get inspiration. My whole book is about how to get ideas.

We have to find ways to generate ideas, and whilst most might be rubbish, if you are never going to have ideas, you’ll never discover the good ones. Currently, I think most companies are stuck in video calls, hierarchy, emails, meetings and these self-imposed limitations.”


Bee and trail


Garry shared with the VarnFest attendees two famous quotes perfectly sum up the philosophy of fresh air inspired creativity.  The first is by German philosopher, Frederic Nietzsche, who said:

“Sit as little as possible and give no credence to any thought that was not born outside whilst moving freely about.”


The other is by writer John Le Carre, who said:


“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

“Those are two tenets I carry with me. I interviewed many founders and investors for the book and asked them: ‘where do you get your best ideas?’, and less than three percent said at work, while over seventy-five percent said ‘outside’. They didn’t know what my book was about at the time, so it was not a loaded question. To innovate you have to spark your imagination.”

The 7 entrepreneurial plot lines


Garry explained to the VarnFest audience that there are seven entrepreneurial plot lines to help you spark your imagination and think differently. These are loosely based on the author Christopher Booker’s concept that there are only seven basic plot lines in fiction in which all the stories we will ever read are based around.

In fiction they are: 


1. Overcoming the monster

A protagonist sets out to defeat an evil force. 


2. Rags to riches

A protagonist acquires power and wealth, loses it, regains it and learns a lesson.


3. The quest

The Protagonist set out to find an object or location.


4. Voyage and return

Adventures to a strange land, faces threats and returns with experience.


5. Rebirth

An event triggers someone to change their ways.


6. Comedy 

A pattern where conflict becomes more confusing and made plain in the end by a clarifying event, with humour.


7. Tragedy 

The protagonist makes a big mistake which leads to their demise.

Supposedly, every fictional story you can imagine will fit into one of those categories. They represent overarching structures for all the creativity in books and films. There is a movement in entrepreneurial thinking that there is a similar set of places where your ideas might come from, in terms of business or products or innovation. 

Bee and trail

Universal guidelines for startup thinking


Garry then summarised that there is an equivalent of these in ‘entrepreneurial plot lines’.

These are universal guidelines for start-up thinking…


1. What are you best at?

Focus on the one thing you are good at, more than the thing that’s easier.


2. Is there a demand? 

Are there people who will say ‘I want one of those?’


3. What do you want to do in the world?

Because that comes with passion, always. It’s never about the money. 


4. Ride the wave

Always be exploratory, inquisitive and open to ideas.


5. Think of marginal gains

This is about ‘chipping away’ to be slightly better than the competition.


6. The wisdom of the carefully selected crowd

There is wisdom in a carefully selected crowd with advisors who want to talk about your ideas.


7. Check the trash

The adage that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Great innovation can be outmoded quickly in fast-moving markets. Are you future-proof?


Garry Pratt at VarnFest 23

5 Takeaways from VarnFest Talks


1. Spend time outside in fresh air

Boost your creativity by escaping the office desk.


2. Innovation must fill a need

It might be something we all want.


3. Limiting your environment limits creativity 

Meetings in hotels and screen time are detrimental to creativity.


4. Generate all the ideas you can

Some ideas will be bad, but creating new ideas is key.


5. Walking and being activate boosts creativity 

Exercise makes you more prone to have ideas.


Do you want to find out more about VarnFest events?

If you are looking to be inspired and connect with other business leaders at our woodland business festival in 2024, or have a thought provoking idea for a talk at our next VarnFest event, get in touch with us.

Images of VarnFest Event 2023. The woodland business festival leadership event at Varn's outdoor woodland office on June 29th featuring John Snare of Thought Clothing, Garry Pratt and Becky Ricards-Small of New Wave Law

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