The first Oldham Council experience

By Kev Wyke

At the start of their wellbeing week Oldham Council embarked on a Street Wisdom journey with a group of explorers joining me outside Oldham Gallery for their first Street Wisdom experience and here is one participant’s story. Dan Caborn is an Organisational Development Consultant with Oldham Council and this is his experience in his words .

“Although familiar with using similar mindfulness and coaching approaches, I turned up on a beautifully sunny morning looking forward to the full emersion Oldham Town Centre and Street Wisdom could offer.

Following a series of 10 minute wanderings contemplating a number of questions designed to heighten our senses (What do you notice? What patterns and meanings emerge from what you see? What happens when you slow right down & notice the minute? What do you appreciate when you see the beauty in everything) I was ready to tackle my ‘quest’ and ask the street to provide some guidance to help me answer my ‘question’!

In contemplative mood, I set off and after a little time refining my original question I found myself using what I saw, felt and interpreted from the landscape & people around me to ask myself further questions to advance my train of thought. Here are a selection of many moments I experienced …

  • On seeing a ‘One Way’ sign, I realised that I’d been caught in tunnel thinking and a new question popped into my head ‘Is there only one way? How else could I tackle this problem?’
  • On seeing a masonry stone in the wall of an old bank with an interesting pattern that reminded me of a brain, another question emerged ‘Are we just appealing to people’s intellect? How can we provide more immersive experiences to help people feel the change we are seeking to make?’
  • On seeing the patterns in a cobbled street, my train of thought moved onto the tensions between conformity and individuality often experienced in corporate environments and the impact that has on my approach with stakeholders
  • On noticing a single ladybird carved into just one of 100 or so base stones of some iron railings it made me realise that the small, unexpected but beautifully designed things matter to the overall effect.
  • Finally, on taking time to contemplate a particularly pleasant vista on the steps of the Holy Cross Church, a series of metaphors emerged for my ‘problem’. With the war memorial in the foreground (all change journeys start with the recognition of loss), a new road being laid behind it (the path is not always clear and sometimes you have to build it with others), the proximity of two substantial buildings dissecting myview of the destination (spending time to look between the gaps gives you a glimpse of future possibilities)

one waycobblesladybirdpatternsthe way forward

Individually, these sound like quotes from 1001 Business or self-help books but at the time they had real resonance and meaning to my train of thought and that for me is the key to Street Wisdom. The discussion when the group returned to our rendezvous point was quite striking in that we had all had some great & meaningful experiences as well as covering a serious number of miles between us, not to mention the sunburn!

Did Street Wisdom solve my ‘problem’ and transform the business? Well no, nor was it likely to given the nature of the ‘problem’ I chose to consider but it did give me a renewed energy, positivity to try again, a couple of anchors to draw on when I feel struck again.

Not everyone will get Street Wisdom’, or feel comfortable doing it but that’s okay – horses for courses – but if you do find yourself under a red umbrella with a group of slightly apprehensive looking people, my advice to you is:

  • Switch off from day to day distractions (emails, phone calls and social medial alerts etc.)
  • Switch on your sense of adventure and be open to possibilities
  • Allow yourself the luxury of spending a significant amount of time ‘single-tasking’
  • Be prepared to connect with your chosen location in a very different way – not as a means of travelling from one place to another – but seeing it as a destination itself

The further down the rabbit hole you allow yourself to go, the more you will get out of it.”