The huge overlooked benefit of outdoor recreation

By Bill Yeargin

Recently, during a visit to the White House with other leaders from the outdoor recreation industry, the president’s economic advisors listened attentively as we discussed the significant impact our companies and customers have on the U.S. economy. The numbers are truly staggering. The outdoor recreation industry creates over 1.1 trillion dollars of economic impact. For those curious, that economic impact is more significant than both the electronic products and agriculture industries and bigger than the extractive industries (oil, gas, mining) combined.  

And the impact of outdoor recreation is more than just economic. National Marine Manufacturers Association president Frank Hugelmeyer often says that we are in the “Pursuit of Happiness” industry, cleverly connecting the outdoor recreation industry directly with our country’s foundational documents. However, on this visit, the White House team was interested – as they should be – in how we can work together to drive more economic impact.

Outdoor recreation driving economic impact is not new. President Obama said that every dollar we invest in our national parks benefits the nearby communities by ten times that investment. So, looking for an economic return on investments in outdoor recreation is not an unexpected or unreasonable request.

The return on investment (ROI) made in outdoor recreation investments is often calculated by the new economic activity and jobs created by the investment. People smarter than me – generally economists – accurately calculate these numbers with a pretty high degree of accuracy.

However, sitting in that White House meeting, I realized something big was missing in our $1.1 trillion calculation of outdoor recreation’s economic impact. We are not including what is likely the most significant economic impact of outdoor recreation: the creative and innovative ideas that are born while recreating.

Last year, I wrote a column called “Rest is a Weapon” that described why we need to step out of our daily routines and do something fun or relax. In the article, I wrote about how people like Isaac Newton made huge intellectual leaps that laid the foundation for the technology we enjoy today – during times when they were out of their daily work routine. New ideas may come excruciatingly slow while you are in the office but flow like a raging river when you are outdoors.

You, and almost anyone else, are much more likely to come up with the next big idea out on the lake than in your office. The idea that leads to the next big technology, scientific breakthrough, business idea, or cure is likely to occur while someone is enjoying the outdoors and having fun. Those creative and innovative ideas are not only outdoor recreation’s biggest economic benefit but are also likely to change the world for the better.

This is not just anecdotal or a crazy idea of mine; it is proven. In his outstanding book Blue Mind, my friend J Nichols shares the science that proves we are much healthier mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually when we spend time near, on, in, or under water. J’s work is compelling and demonstrates that being near water, especially outdoors, sets us up for the great ideas that can change our world.

In another great book, The Anxious Generation, Jonathan Haidt writes about the significant mental health crisis among teens and young adults since 2010. Haidt’s book is exceptionally well-researched and interesting. His cure for this mental health crisis? Put down the smartphone and spend more time outside, having fun.

Usually, when considering outdoor recreation, we count benefits such as improved emotional well-being, fun, enhanced relationships, healthy exercise, etc., which are all legitimate benefits. Still, there is a much bigger benefit: creativity and innovation. The creativity and innovation that comes from being outdoors is likely to make the world better, much better.

Spend some time outdoors soon, even today. Even better, spend it on, in, near, or under the water. Your new idea might change the world.

Bill Yeargin is CEO of Correct Craft and author of six books, including the best seller Education of a CEO.

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