Streets Mean


Tom, a leadership coach friend of mine tells of an eminent academic and highly respected pioneer of “decision tree” theory who received a seductive but troubling job offer from a rival university. He went to the Dean to confess his dilemma and ask for advice.  The Dean looked at him oddly and asked “why don’t you use your own decision-tree to help you decide?”  “No you don’t understand”, replied the decision expert, “this is an IMPORTANT decision!”

The moral of this story is – it’s a good idea to learn from what you teach others. This is something I rediscovered last week on the streets of New York.

Street Wisdom is an inspiration technology I have pioneered to help people find fresh answers to the questions on their mind – using ordinary city streets and for free.  It’s already really successful – practiced in 27 countries around the world – but that success begs a question.  Where to take this plucky but stretched non-profit next?   Do we let it amble along or really go for it?  It’s a dilemma that my colleagues and I want to make some big decisions about but the direction isn’t obvious. Social enterprise is easy to start but hard to sustain.

So we decided each to do our own solo street wisdom session – about street wisdom.

I’d planned mine for NYC but when the time came I didn’t feel like Street Wisdom’s inventor.  I felt a real beginner –  distracted, pressured for time and, I know this sounds odd, skeptical.  Even though I have years of experience my Inner Doubter still occasionally resists the idea that something so simple can be so powerful. Also the atmosphere in New York seemed unusually troubling and un-magical.  Was it The Donald holding court two blocks from my hotel in a Trump Tower ringed by protesters and police? Or the neurotically jolly, jingle-bell backbeat to the Xmas consumer gorge-fest? Either way, it was tempting to abandon the exercise and just join the hordes of shoppers in some self-medicating consumerism.

Ahem…Street Wisdom gets my attention!

Happily, I pressed on and within seconds – yes seconds- of going through the tune up exercises* I was in a different place.  More connected, more open, more receptive, remembering who I really am – happier.

Street Wisdom is a way of logging into the wisdom that’s all around us and surfing.   Quickly I found myself in creative conversation with the environment. Messages popped out of the visual static like personalised prompts tapping me on the shoulder. Patterns emerged from the randomness and strangers appeared with uncannily timely wisdom to offer.    As we say at Street Wisdom, answers are everywhere and so are teachers.

Dan, the barista philosopher

Daniel, a barista who made me a gorgeously pungent espresso on the top floor Samsung’s swanky flagship store taught me about how much people need a dose of genuine reality to balance all the virtual reality now available.   Also, he’s been involved in the non-profit movement (synchronicity alert!) and it’s important to get the funding handled elegantly if you want to do good without getting worn down.  Thanks, Dan!

Not the usual New York cab ride!

Mohamad, who drove me to the airport, reminded me of the value of people simply talking, particularly people that are currently being pulled apart by labels like Muslim and Jew, Elite and JAM, us and them.  Our trip didn’t end with a receipt and a grunt, but an embrace.  Thanks, brother!

And in the departure lounge I ‘bumped into’ (synchronicity alert!) someone I hadn’t seen for 5 years and, in truth, had probably been avoiding.  It was life affirming to tidy that relationship up and he also said something I really needed to remember about understanding the full value of who I am and what I am doing.  Thanks, K.

So, lots to learn personally and professionally.  No money changed hands but lots of wisdom was transmitted and gratefully received.

What’s clear to me now is that what I have been offering to the world as a tool for individuals has real value for our culture as a whole.  It’s a way for us individually and collectively to step out of the illusion that others would have us live and recontact what’s real.  It’s a way to combat the loneliness and dislocation many feel in our cities, it helps us refind our direction and rekindle appreciation for all we have and all that others give us.   It’s about building bridges not walls between strangers.  And though Profit may be King – even President – we’re determined the Street Wisdom experience stays available to ordinary people on ordinary streets for free.

How we’ll continue to do this sustainably on a global scale is something our Street wisdom gang is thinking hard about right now.  We’ve already started working with some far-sighted, socially-minded companies like Lush and Google who see the potential of this powerful technology. If you can see an application for Street Wisdom in your own workplace as a way of generating new ideas, fresh thinking, productivity and – well – joy, then please get in touch.

Whatever your suggestions, we’d love to hear them.

The future may be uncertain, but one thing is sure.  We’ll continue to use Street Wisdom to inspire our own thinking, because this is IMPORTANT

*If you want to know more about how it actually works, please check out my TEDx talk or download our audio guide onto your smartphone and let me take you, step by step, through your own  experience.  




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *