In 1754 Horace Walpole wrote a fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, a story in which the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”.
Serendipity is one of my favourite words and whilst creativity is often based on data, science, process and observation, I think serendipity “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way” has a part to play too.
Last week 12 members of different London-based PR, digital and creative agencies joined me for a Creative Safari for the newly formed PRCA Creative Group. The idea for the Creative Safari is to take time out from the daily grind, to look up and outwards and to use the city or whatever surroundings you are in as creative stimulus. You bring your problem with you and then see if you can find answers to your challenge as you observe and really notice your surroundings. It might be a street sign, a chance conversation, a feeling, an emotion evoked by an experience, but it the antithesis to sitting in a room and expecting the muse to appear.
We met in Covent Garden and did a quick exercise to calibrate and attune our senses – noticing smells, sounds, physical feelings as well as what we could see. Each of the group then set off on their own for an hour or so to follow their noses, with no agenda, to see what happened. We then met and paired up to discuss what we’d noticed and whether we’d had any moments of clarity or answers to our problems. Everyone said they benefited from the ‘time to think’ and some people did have aha! moments.
I first experienced the idea of a dérive (French for drift) several years ago when I was studying for my MA and was inspired to share this practice with others. It’s amazing what connections your mind can make when you give yourself the time and space to do so. One of the participants this time was taken with the idea of ‘looking up’ rather than ‘looking down’ in relation to her challenge which was about managing, and making, more time for particular work challenges. Her attention was drawn to references to time – everywhere! This is Daisy’s image above taken at Somerset House featuring numbers. Another person was inspired by the street artists and entertainers that Covent Garden is famous for and left with unusual ideas that related to her self-confessed ‘dry’ communications issue. Kayleigh Attwood, beauty & style executive from Push PR found the experience helpful: “a big thank you for last night’s Creative Safari. It was really refreshing to try a completely new approach to creative thinking and problem solving.”
We had arranged to meet at an office in Southampton Street at the last minute due to the delights of the English weather. That office, of all the places in London that we could have gathered, happened to be the very same office where I started my PR career over 20 years ago. Sitting in that office, reflecting on everyone’s experiences and the role of serendipity in creativity, I couldn’t help but smile.