I had my first Street Wisdom experience last week in Shoreditch, London. I now know it will be the first of many.
The great thing about Street Wisdom is that the structure puts you in an open, tuned-in frame of mind, but once you have it, it’s something you can apply every day. In fact, I’m on a train to London writing this and fully intend to walk from Waterloo to Pall Mall when I arrive, to get some insight and input from the city on the things that are on my mind today.
In case you haven’t yet had ‘an experience’, I’ll share mine…
On arrival at the meeting point I remarked that the weather was holding, which naturally led to an immediate downpour. No one seemed to mind the rain though – if anything it added to the experience. The open, friendly atmosphere was great and we broke into groups, ready to start.
Street Wisdom involves four short city wanders to get in the zone and a longer wander to reflect on a question you have.
Wander one was open – hit the streets and just be drawn to what attracts you. Ten minutes took me round the block in the back streets of Shoreditch. I saw some amazing street art and had a conversation with a homeless guy on the changing landscape as buildings are demolished and new ones built, before arriving back at a reasonable trot having covered some real ground.
Street Wisdom: It’s OK to hang around on street corners!
For the second wander, the only instruction was to slow it down. I got about ten yards down the road, then stopped on a street corner. Instead of being overwhelmed by the amount to take in as I had been before, I started to notice details. Within a few minutes I found myself leaning against a wall and closing my eyes, just listening to the city around me. The whole world had slowed down and it was strangely hypnotic to feel in tune with it.
Wander three and we were looking at patterns. I started to see patterns in the physical – brickwork, tiles, windows, leaves on trees, but also in other — more abstract — places. As I came to Great Eastern Street – one of the main road boundaries I seemed to have sub-consciously set myself, I could hear patterns in vehicle sounds accelerating from traffic lights briefly before slowing for Old Street Roundabout. I also started to notice patterns in where I was walking.
For the last of the short wanders, we were sent to ‘see the beauty’. By now I was so involved in the city and taking it all in, I completely lost track of time. Before I realised it, I had walked for over ten minutes in one direction and was completely lost! I’ve always been a fan of cities, but all of this took it to a new level.
On (finally) returning, I was given 45 minutes to take the question I had out to the street and find some answers. Interestingly, in the course of the morning so far, my question had become convoluted and needed a re-think. After a little conversation, I decided to explore:
How can I communicate what I do in a way that helps others understand it?
I set off walking, thinking about my distaste for being pigeon-holed and frustration at the seeming requirement to fit into a box to be able to be understood (or earn a living). I soon came to Great Eastern Street again and naturally started to turn back. But this time, I stopped myself, realising that all morning I’d framed territory by applying main roads as boundaries. No one told me to do that, I automatically applied a ‘box’ to the whole thing.
So I decided to cross the main road, break out of the box. Which got me thinking. If it’s natural for humans to apply definitions, boxes and structure, what if I applied what will now become known as ‘Cross the Road Theory’ to my question. If I don’t fit a box (or don’t want to) – then I should cross the road and create a new box. That in turn then led me to consider how I might do that.
Reflecting on the many signs around me explaining everything – shouting out, it was apparent that I’m not really communicating what I do very well. I need to simplify it.
I realised that by writing (and speaking), I could effectively communicate my new box and help the world understand it in a way that can be accessibly recognised and understood. As the thought went through my mind that I needed to start jotting down some thoughts using real paper and a pen, I looked up and realised I was passing a tiny stationary shop. Of course, I went in…
By Andy Swann on October 24, 2014
Exported from Medium July 15 2016