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

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.

Trafalgar Square, May 23rd 2014

Our BIG Street Wisdom event to mark the climax of “Wisdom Spring” was amazing.   Huge thanks to Georgina and of course our generous, Street Wiz volunteers who guided the groups through their experience.    A crowd of new-comers showed up as well as past ‘grads’ who were returning to go deeper and further.   As usual there were some great stories to tell. We have gathered together links to a selection of the blogs and feedback here.

SW drawing of inside head May '14

Simon Heath on his blog say’s ‘I’m not someone who is easily convinced. That I came away from Street Wisdom determined to tell everyone else about my experience and to encourage others to take part is testament to the unobtrusive facilitation, intelligent inquiry and transparent passion of David Pearl and his fellow travellers. A renaissance in thinking is under way.’

He was also good enough to draw the inner workings of his mind…

David D’Souza calls it  ‘ the best development event I have ever attended‘.   Again well worth a read.

Ian Sanders writes ‘I kept an open mind and saw how my surroundings gave me signals. Yes, ‘the street’ gave me a fresh direction on my work challenge; by looking around and being more mindful of my surroundings I was able to see things from a new perspective.’

He has kindly shot a Q&A with David as well.

Kate Griffiths-Lambeth writes ‘I found my time with Street Wisdom a powerful and positive experience, so much so that I spontaneously created a mini Street Wisdom session on Friday for two employees at work, whom I do not know well. I was aware that they both were struggling with different issues in their lives. I felt that they might benefit from time to give themselves space to think things out. It worked brilliantly, all three of us were glowing when we returned to the office and I was delighted to have been able to facilitate the experience for them.’

We had some lovely sketches to illustrate the experience.

SW drawing flower May '14

SW drawing invisible woman May '14

Then there is the post from Nick Hammond published here previously and  Natalie Marsland tells her full story below;

‘We all met in Trafalgar Square. I never really hang out in that area, I must say. But that’s where we would meet our group’s facilitator, Sarah Sansom. With a twinkle in her eye she sent us off on our various tasks, a 40 minute “warm up”, attuning with the environment, London’s streets.  We had been asked to prepare a question, not to find a yes/no kind of response, but an open question…I shall share mine with you.

I asked, “How can I stop fear blocking me from right action?”

A broad stroke but I meant to apply this question across life, love, career, and so I took to the streets once more to see what came back at me.  Using the techniques we had used in our “warm up”, I applied this to my quest. At first it felt a bit overwhelming, but I slowed myself down, kept an open approach to the whole thing and began to see Soho in a different light; the people, the patterns. Where were the answers going to spring from? I did not know…

I decided to take a seat in a church courtyard on Wardour. I went inside the gate and sat. I sat and I just stopped. My question was rolling around in my head, on a loop. It was really beautiful. I’d never been in here before; walked past it hundreds of times. There is so much greenery in London and I let myself be drawn to it.   So there I was sitting in the courtyard, and my gaze fell upon the open gate, which lead on to the street.

“The gates are open. You need to step through.” Um…ok.

That’s what came to me; I have no idea why. Anyway, I continued cruising into Soho and passed the comic bookshop on the corner of Berwick and something. Two books popped out at me, “Adventure Time” and “Beautiful Darkness”. Hmmm; noted.

Next I walked further up Berwick and just sat on a bench for a bit, waiting to feel drawn in a particular direction. I looked across the street and saw a new store was about to launch. It was totally covered in posters saying “Find Me My Mojo”.

My question began to refine itself…”How can I embrace fear and stop blocking right action?”

Again the question rolled around in my head.   By now I had found myself at the top of Carnaby. I was walking past some café chain and in the window two stickers, in succession, read –

YES to adventure; YES to what’s next.

From here I began to practically skip along to the final destination where we would all gather once more.  My last little gem was discovering Soho Radio…did you know this place existed? It’s a tiny coffee joint in front, radio station out back…neon signs, posters, rough around the edges. What a find!

Street Wisdom reaffirmed for me how I get the most out of life, how I access this toolbox. It’s funny because I actually practise what I would call Street Wisdom when I go travelling, yet back in London, the pace can take its toll.   But words, words, words on a page will never replace an actual experience.

All I can say is get involved. Answers are everywhere.’

Jim with his Street Wisdom crew