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Jul 27, 2014

Taking to the Streets


Street Wisdom Trafalagar SquareBeyond the Workplace took its first major step on Thursday with over 50 people meeting in Trafalgar Square to experience Street Wisdom, kickstarting the Big Conversation in earnest.

For most, it was a completely different experience and for some it provided remarkable personal insights. Mostly, it enabled members of the people and place tribes to start to get to know one another and to build our understanding of how we fit into the ecosystem of work in the 21st-century.

As events go it was remarkably easy to organise, we only started a few short weeks ago, it had a modest cost and produced some very useful insights that will fuel our next steps.

In developing our thinking on how to have a Big Conversation with as many people as possible for our Beyond the Workplace initiative, serendipity played its part. I happened across David Pearl a few years ago by complete chance. As one of the masterminds behind Street Wisdom, David invited me to have a look at it last May. It immediately struck me as a great tool to help promote Beyond the Workplace and to bring a diverse group of people together.

The idea behind Street Wisdom is simple – it suggests that the environment and people around us are full of wisdom that we largely overlook. By tuning in and truly engaging with our surroundings, new solutions and alternative insights can be yielded. As their strapline goes – answers are everywhere, you just have to ask.

The day itself was a resounding success – and the beautiful weather certainly didn’t hurt. None of the participants knew exactly what to expect before the event, and this was deliberate and added to the sense of theatre, mystery and surprise inherent in the process.

As organisers we were a bit apprehensive as to how many people would turn up and whether it would even work. Using mainly social media contacts, the numbers grew steadily: having started out hoping to scrape together 15 people, we were overwhelmed by the response which left us with 50 participants and a waiting list!

Thanks to the simplicity of the design inspired by David Pearl and partners, those that joined us came away with the feeling that they had participated in something really different. The first part of the event was spent on the streets around Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly, as participants were guided through the Street Wisdom process by facilitators. We then came together to share our experiences, insights and lessons learnt as well as to have a world café style debate about how to improve the world of work. This truly was a Big Conversation and contributions came from people ranging in age from 16 to much older and comprised a very diverse range of backgrounds from students, receptionists and CEOs to global heads of HR and journalists.

The group gelled in an amazing way-so much so, in fact, that it was difficult to draw the event to a close! Conversation and debate continued well after the ‘official’ ending time. The unusual mix of personal development and the world cafe type debate proved to be very engaging, and the feedback was better than we had dared to hope.

One of the most striking reflections, so far, on the experience comes from Ian Ellison who recently blogged about;- “#StreetWisdom, territory and micro-ethnography in Soho Square” No doubt there will be further posts emerging over the next few days which will help fill in the picture of a most amazing day.

This is not a one off nor is it restricted to London: Street Wisdom and its founders have kindly agreed to allow us to use it as one of our key engagement tools for Beyond the Workplace. For those who could not make it, or who would be interested in participating stand by for further information on future events, there will be a Street Wisdom taking place in Sheffield in September and we’re aiming to roll it out to Edinburgh and other parts of the UK during the Autumn. There is now a good possibility that we will take Beyond the Workplace and Street Wisdom to the USA in October! It’s remarkable just how many people are interested in joining in, and Thursday proved to be a more than auspicious beginning to Beyond the Workplace’s Big Conversation.

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