Want to find answers? Get outside
On a balmy evening in May I joined seven strangers for a Street Wisdom walk in Dublin. Steve Blank famously said “there are no facts inside the building so get the hell outside”. While he was referring to customer discovery, sometimes when you’re feeling stuck the only thing to do is get out of the office. In fact, more and more research shows the importance of getting outside in generating creativity, reducing depression and even improving short term memory. Understanding this on an intellectual level is one thing, putting it into regular practice is another, especially if you work from home.
I had heard about Street Wisdom from a friend who did not give much information but said she thought I would like it. Naturally I had looked up the website which also did not give much information on what to expect. In keeping with that I will try not to give away too much – just enough, I hope, to entice other business owners and creative workers to get out and do it.
Our Street Wisdom facilitator, Kathryn Parkes, explained a little bit about the walk, what to expect over the next three hours, that we would be given tasks and short periods of walking followed by a longer period of walking. After this we would come together as a group and compare experiences. After introducing ourselves to each other we were sent off individually with the instructions to just go to what we were drawn to. For me, that turned out to be the colour yellow. I kept noticing it everywhere – in shop windows, on passers-by, down side streets, seagulls’ bills, double yellow lines. Doing my best Dorothy impression, I followed the yellow, sometimes doubling-back when someone passed me wearing yellow, until I reached the next yellow item.
We met for the walk on South William Street and most of the action took place in the very familiar surroundings of Grafton Street. In spite of this I found myself noticing things that I had never seen before. That angel on the side of the church must be new, I thought. Turns out it’s been there for the past 10 years, I just never looked up in that time.
For the final part of the walk we were sent off for 45 minutes to think about a question we wanted answered. The instructions were that the question shouldn’t be too big (what is the meaning of the universe) or too small (what flavour ice-cream should I get). Some people shared their questions, I chose not to. I wandered towards Stephen’s Green, which was busy because of the beautiful weather. From a distance I saw a woman who looked as though she was trying to clean dog dirt from the sole of her shoe. As I got nearer I realised that she wasn’t alone and that she was writing a message in the leaves for her boyfriend: “I ♥ u”.
After ambling around for another while eating an ice-cream, it was time to rejoin the rest of the group. It was fascinating to hear how the others had approached their questions. Some of them had gone to pubs and started conversations with strangers, asking them what the answer to the question was. Others had simply wandered the city streets. Almost everyone seemed to have got an answer or further food for thought from the experience.
Kathryn explained that as we had now all done a Street Wisdom walk we could become Street Wisdom facilitators. She told us about some of her experiences facilitating walks in Cork and Dublin and as a walker in Brighton. The Street Wisdom walks are run by volunteers and completely free and take place all over the world. If you are interested in participating as a walker or becoming a facilitator you can find more information here. There is also a podcast which you can use to take a street wisdom walk in your area if there isn’t a facilitator or to use on holiday.
I absolutely loved my street wisdom experience and have become a bit of a Street Wisdom evangelist as a result. I told a photographer friend of mine about it (the amazing Eadaoin Curtin of Firechild Photography, who took the lovely photos for my website). She signed up for a walk a few days later and loved it as much as I did. I also introduced Kathryn to a Belfast-based friend with a view to setting one up there too.
So what wisdom did the streets share with me that I can apply to my own life? Between the not-dog-shit and the unseen angel I concluded that I need to stop looking at the ground for danger and start looking up for inspiration. I’m trying to apply this to how I approach my work life as well as personal life. Instead of looking for pitfalls I have my eyes open for possibilities.