It's easy to get wrapped up in the creativity bubble. At the RSA we talk a lot about untapped creative potential, and how we might go about living and working more creatively, while not always being able to express ourselves in a truly creative way. A few weeks ago I swapped the office for the streets for a morning and found a way to unleash my creativity by taking a question to the street.
Street Wisdom is structured in three one hour sessions, which are called TUNE, ASK and SHARE. First their Street guides (facillitators) help you tune up your senses so you can pick up far richer information from the environment that you would normally. Then you’re off on a journey by yourself – your street quest – where you ask your question and see what answers present themselves. In the final session everyone gathers to share what happened and, more often than not, their wonder at how magical an ordinary street can become when you’re really aware of those hidden messages, chance meetings and unexpected discoveries.
After watching this Ted Talk by David Pearl FRSA, I was instantly intrigued by the idea of Street Wisdom. My journey started on a rainy morning in Covent Garden, which was the perfect starting point to embark on this experience. This is my first Street Wisdom story, and it certainly won't be my last.
"Follow what you're drawn to but notice what you're not" was the first exercise to tune up the senses. Starting my journey, I tried to free my mind and follow my intuition. I was instantly drawn towards the mix of bright colours illuminating a dreary London morning; sweet stalls, souvenir shops, ice crime parlours - within a few minutes of the exercise I found myself giving in to an urge to indulge in a chocolate ice cream. This exuberance shifted in to sadness as I failed to "see the beauty in everything" in the following exercise. Corporate coffee cartons, money exchanges, a faceless mannequin - I could only see the negative in everything around me, although this feeling shifted as the sun started to shine on Covent Garden. Less than an hour in, I'd been seduced by the streets and was ready to throw my question at it and see where it would take me.
"How can I work more collaboratively" - that was my question, and I had one hour to find some answers. It really is amazing how much is going on if you give the streets of London your full attention - phone boxes, ice cream parlours, ladders, road signs, people building, working, selling - just some of the things that kept jumping out and grabbing my attention. On a normal day this would all pass me by as I frantically try to respond to emails while dodging the reflection of on comers doing the same - but today I was tuned up and taking it all in. I started my journey with a couple of conversations - first with a chap called Sanjay who was working in a confectionery stand in Covent Garden Piazza. With a giant grin on his face he put an arm around his colleague and proceeded to tell me how important working collaboratively was to him in the day to day running of their shop.
Spending the next 20 minutes or so rather frustrated and not feeling like I was getting anywhere, I had stumbled into Soho. On a Soho street corner, covered in road signs, I stopped and inspected closer - something was telling me that it was time to stop. I'd hit a dead end. Not just physically but on my journey. I thought back to the conversations I'd had earlier and how they had focussed on other people being the key to unlocking the answer to good collaboration. I couldn't figure this out on my own, the street had shown me that much. Noticing that my hour was already up, I started to make my way back to the meeting point. On that journey back, moments before re-joining the group, two things grabbed my attention within seconds of each other. At the base of a red Telephone box was the graphited image of a typewriter with the text 'Smile. It's an old school status update'. As soon as my gaze lifted from the ground, I was grabbed by the sign to an Ice cream parlour that I had passed earlier, between the coffee cup & the ice cream was the phrase 'Bea Nice'.
Bridge. Cooperation. Give way. Smile. Be Nice. Those were the things that stuck in my mind after my first Street Wisdom experience. Although I hadn’t fully answered my question, I think that the street had certainly given me some pointers. To foster successful collaboration I need to go back to basics, listen to the people I’m working with and those relationships will develop organically.
Mark Hall is the Regional Manager for London. We will be running a Street Wisdom session in London on Friday 11th September. It would be great if you can join us!
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I used to be on Yahoo! chat when I was growing up. It's not active or available anymore (I don't think), but certainly when you need a quick answer - something that a new researcher can't find on his or her own - then I would ask my colleagues online. My father also had a thought-laboratory. It was a walk-in service which involved having a fee for an idea. If only I got paid my two cents!
I was sceptical about trying this, but it's well worth doing. Its surprisingly liberating and relaxing to be so directionless for a change.