‘Permission to stop, think and dawdle.’ An outdoor experiment in problem solving.

Leigh-on-Sea

When we’re looking for answers in our working lives, we might pick up a book, look online or ask a friend. We probably don’t tend to look around the streets for answers.

That however, is what Street Wisdom’s designed for, a three hour walking-workshop to find inspiration in the everyday environment around us. Having been on a couple of Street Wisdoms facilitated by its founders Chris and David, I decided to host my own, inviting Lucy Taylor to join me as co-host.

I’d chosen the library since traditionally that’s a place people go to find answers; it was counter to that we headed outside, searching local alleyways, dead ends and shopping streets for ours. The group went off with a question to ask, such as, what direction to take their business in 2015; how to find new clients; how to incorporate the local community into what they do.

Having experienced Street Wisdom events in Soho and in Shoreditch, this experience in Leigh-on-sea felt different. Here, in a coastal town where the river Thames meets the sea, the attendees were much more familiar with the local streets than they would be in a big city.

Admittedly a cold Friday afternoon in December wasn’t the perfect weather for walking around slowly, so two hours after we started, against the backdrop of a stunning estuary sunset, we gathered in the warmth of the Peter Boat pub in Leigh-on-Sea’s Old Town. Over mulled wine and coffee the attendees shared their feedback. They told us that even though they knew Leigh well, today they had managed to walk in unfamiliar streets, they saw noticeboards, shops and businesses they had never previously. ‘It’s there but we don’t see it,’ said one.

One of the group had been brave enough to ask strangers for help with his question, and got great insight from talking to a homeless man. Several fed back that they had found value not so much in finding any answers, but through the exploration, in the process of Street Wisdom itself that unlocked something new.

Friday’s Street Wisdom gave people the opportunity to try something new, to be curious, to slow down in a town they thought they knew so well. As one person told me, ‘it gave me permission to stop, think and dawdle.’

I think of Street Wisdom as a live experiment, a process to reset your mind and rethink your approach to everything from creativity to problem solving. As Matt told me, as someone who walks around town at high speed, focused on where he’s headed, just the act of walking slowly was a new way of looking at the world.
Here are some more comments from four of the participants:

‘It was a great Friday afternoon away from the same old same old and interesting how we can learn to see and think more by removing ourselves from our normal environment and at the same time connecting with the environment we’re in on a deeper level.’ Andrew.

‘An eye-opening journey through the streets of Leigh that helped me connect with more of life than usual. Valuable experiments that can be used anytime or place giving us the potential to explore what we may overlook.’ David

‘Street Wisdom was a great experience. I was really surprised by how much more I really ‘saw’ simply by slowing down and by looking for something specific. I often look but without knowing what it is I’m looking for – today has given me a new technique to practice.’ Jo

‘Even though I did not come up with a specific question for this I found the exercise valuable in the questions that helped in noticing things and patterns that surround us. I believe I can use what I learned today to explore more, notice more and focus more by slowing down.’ Lisa

Ian Sanders is a creative consultant, business storyteller and writer.

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