I recently had the pleasure of interviewing David Pearl, a creative confidante to the leaders of some of the world’s leading businesses – helping them and the teams they lead perform at new levels. He is perhaps best known for the artful way he designs, orchestrates and animates high-stakes business events, his inspiring keynotes and accessible business books.
Today, we are sharing an excerpt from his new book Wanderful: Human Navigation for a Complex World at the bottom of the original interview.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Well my website tells me that I am an ‘innovator in the arts, business and social change”. Sounds like an interesting combination. I grew up in a house with a father that did two professions at once – dentist and lawyer. He also studied philosophy and history. And, later in life, became an artist. I think from him I learned that you don’t have to be one thing. I started singing at the age of nine at the Royal Opera House and have been involved in opera and theatre ever since. Also film and tv. In my 20s I set up a circus and opera company (why do just one, right?) and was happily doing that when an international management consultancy asked me if I could use the arts to help them ‘connect with each other in ways they wouldn’t have dreamed possible’. That was the beginning of my work bringing arts and creative thinking to some of the world’s biggest companies and organizations. Today I am doing that, and singing in an improvised opera company and running an international urban mindfulness non-profit, and trying to be a good dad and husband. And cycling Italian hills. And doing some life drawing…. So, my father’s son, I guess.
What is your definition of consciousness?
I am not sure I can define it. For me it’s an aspiration. Noticing what I am noticing. To use a theatre metaphor, it’s like being on stage and watching yourself on stage at the same time. And being aware that ‘you’ doesn’t really exist in any meaningful way. It only makes sense when you see things from the perspective of a big, inclusive you.
So, yes, not sure I can define it succinctly!
How did your awareness process start?
For me, the process didn’t have a defined start. More like a process that’s been unfolding. And is continuing. There were a couple of life shocks that woke me up. Seeing my brother hit by a car when I was young. That upended reality for me. He’s fine, now, by the way. But my belief in so-called reality never really recovered. As a young man I also grappled with depression. After a while I began to realize that darkness is part of wholeness and that nudged my awareness onwards. Working in theatre is all about examining and playing with what it means to be human which was very helpful. And I’ve continued exploring, turning over stones ever since.
What are you the most aware of in your daily life?
Well, I get as caught up in the drama as anyone, but when I remember to be aware, I tend to focus on the apparently uninteresting stuff.
My social business, Street Wisdom, is all about being aware of the ‘normal stuff’ you encounter everyday in every street and appreciating that it is actually miraculous. When you hit the pause button and really experience what’s happening, life can be truly wonderful – or, as we call it at Street Wisdom – wanderful. That’s also the title of my new book!
Modern life is a distracting and sometimes disorientating place to be. It’s not surprising that we shove in our ear-phones and plough on, screening out the background noise and those annoying strangers – lost in our thoughts.
It was this awareness that prompted me to create Street Wisdom. We have so many wanderful stories from Street Wisdom WalkShop participants all over the world, that share the message that the key to access clarity and inspiration every day is to unhook ourselves from our daily routine, all that rushing from A to B, and find new ways to wander. Not just physically but mentally too. Straight-line thinking is less and less helpful in our complex AI focused world. To find a way through all the twists and turns, we need to wander our way into answers. By waking up the internal guidance system we all have within us, it helps us set a new direction and stay orientated. It will nudge you towards choices that are going to be more rewarding, authentic and healthy.
What was the deepest internal change that you have personally experienced from transforming your consciousness and how it did impact your life in both spiritual and practical ways?
Big question. I think it’s really a set of experiences over my life that have shown me, in a profound way, that I am not here. It ultimately helped me feel gratitude for everything that I have in my life, even the dull moments. They can often be the most inspiring.
What is the best advice, words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers about the importance of becoming more conscious?
The challenges we are facing as a planet aren’t going to be met by being smarter – but by being more conscious. I think that’s what they are ‘for’. We’ve designed a puzzle that requires us to grow. So, it’s more consciousness or bust.
Please inspire us by telling us about your current project or projects?
I didn’t expect Street Wisdom to grow as it has. The simple idea of using streets to learn, to problem-solve by walking, to find new direction – has really taken hold. We call it the modern urban route to mindfulness. From nothing a few years ago, we are now in 40 countries and counting. There have been nearly 600 public events from San Francisco to Shanghai, all run by volunteers and completely free. Street Wisdom is funded by businesses who’ve fallen in love with the methodology too.
I am really excited that my book, inspired by all we have learned and are learning through Street Wisdom, will be published in January ’20. It’s written as your very own wander, a bit like a cityscape you can browse and find your own path through. I will be sharing thoughts, stories, tips and techniques including a few from famous strangers we ‘bump’ into.
I really want to help make this confusing planet a little bit more wonderful – and wanderful – together.
I also have a secret project where I am going to be working with an orchestra. Oh, I guess it’s not secret anymore.
And my improvised opera company has a new project where we bring museums to life after hours called MUSO. That’s scary but indecently good fun.
What is the biggest problem in the world today?
The biggest problem for the world is climate change. The biggest problem in the world is we don’t collectively recognize that. The quicker we do, the sooner we can get on to creating and solving even more interesting problems.
Extract from David Pearl’s latest book Wanderful: Human Navigation for a Complex World published by Unbound.
‘Synchronicity is when the universe gets personal.’
Robert Moss, Sidewalk Oracles
The more we wander, the more we seem to experience
strange coincidences and chance encounters. These
apparently unexplainable phenomena are signs that
synchronicity is at work, and that we are connected to the
world and each other far more intimately than we realised.
Fancy meeting you here. You picking up this book at this precise
point in your life and me having written it at this moment
in mine. Of all the books in all the world – I mean, what are
OK, it could just be random. You just reached out and this
book just fell into your hand. But what if it’s more than that?
Scouring participant accounts of Street Wisdom WalkShops,
it’s un-ignorable. People tune up, ask a question and odd stuff
starts to happen. Long-lost friends run into each other by
chance, unexpected objects are found just where and when
they are needed, advice is given or overheard precisely when
it is most relevant, unlikely revelations, unpredictable happenings,
Something is going on.
Christians might call it grace; Buddhists and Hindus will tell
you it’s karma; astrologers understand it as the product of planetary
alignment; reasonable ‘grown-ups’ just stare at you with
the look of scepticism that says ‘really?’.
In the five or so years since we started Street Wisdom, we’ve
had consistent feedback that out on the streets the daily rate at
which ‘odd’ coincidences occur is somehow increased. More
right things seem to happen in the right place at the right time.
It’s as if someone has tinkered with the default probability filter
to allow more fluke and happenstance into our lives. It feels like
the world is co-operating with us in a different way, like normal
streets become charged zones of possibility, not just delivery
systems for commuters. I know the word ‘magic’ has been
somewhat diluted in our digitised, Disneyfied age, but participants
have the distinct sensation that genuine magic is afoot.
I confess the idea of creating more magic in our lives personally
appeals to me. But this isn’t about my view of the
world. The beauty of a movement that’s so widespread is that
I don’t know most of the people running or participating in
Street Wisdom events. I can’t influence a complete stranger in
Buenos Aires, Verona, Lagos or Cape Town, and I certainly
can’t skew their feedback.
Something is definitely going on.
The Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist Carl Jung had an
unquenchable curiosity about dimensions of existence that are
beyond the scope of conventional understanding. These ‘paranormal’
enthusiasms included telekinesis (moving objects with
his mind), numerology, alchemy, UFOs and predictive dreaming,
all phenomena that less open-minded colleagues would
dismiss as hokum. In the early 1900s he became fascinated with
the improbable – in his words, ‘acausal’ – events that he and his
patients would often experience, coincidences that didn’t seem
to have an obvious cause but couldn’t be explained as purely
random either. Seeking to legitimise the concept with his scientific
peers, he came up with a technical term to describe this
phenomenon – Synchronicity1 – or, as he put it, ‘a meaningful
coincidence of two or more events, where something other
than the probability of chance is involved’.
It’s the other than probability bit that has intrigued and baffled
thinkers from Plato and Spinoza onward. At the heart of the
conundrum is the tension between the objectively knowable
and subjectively experienced aspects of life. If ‘synchronicity is
real,’ say the objectivists, ‘then prove it.’ ‘Ah,’ respond the subjectivists,
‘but mystery doesn’t do maths: meaningful coincidences
can’t be studied statistically.’ Interestingly, Jung worked
alongside a scientist, the quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli,
to shape the concept of synchronicity. In trying to explain
synchronicity, Pauli described the wafer-thin line they were
treading as ‘between a blue fog of mysticism and … a sterile
rationalism,’ saying that, ‘this will always be full of pitfalls and
one can fall down on both sides.’
It’s worth mentioning that Pauli was treading his own personal
tightrope too: cool, calculating scientist by day, wild
partying womaniser by night. He was also something of a one man
synchronicity zone. Apparently, machines would break
down whenever he was around.
Working together to articulate synchronicity, Jung and
Pauli felt they had found a missing link between the apparently
disparate dimensions of matter and mind, a way for our
thoughts about the world to affect what manifest in the world.
I say ‘apparently disparate’, because Jung rejected the dualistic
idea that matter and mind are made of different stuff, instead
preferring to think of all reality as being connected in a single,
integrated whole – an unus mundus. We’ll talk more about that
connected view of the world a little later in our stroll but,
for now, I want to share a piece of advice a wise friend, the
uber-coach Michael Breen, once gave me for when encountering
something new, intriguing but apparently unexplainable:
‘Don’t spend time wondering if it’s true. Imagine it’s all made
up (because it is) and just focus on whether it’s useful.’
We could spend the rest of the chapter – and another book
or two – trying to figure out whether synchronicity is real or
not. And the chances are we’d still not reach a single ‘right’
answer. There is something wonderfully mysterious here.
That’s probably the point. Mystery wakes us up. It reminds us
that all is not what it seems and what we see is not all there
is. An insight that arrives in our lives in a way that cannot be
explained often has a resonance and significance that means
we’re more likely to take notice of it.