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

the chances?

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,

serendipitous bumping…

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?’.

Yes, 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.