Trade shows and comparative shopping are a prerequisite for cultural retailers. If, that is, a retailer is lucky enough to convince the powers that be that getting out and about is an intrinsic and compulsory part of the job. Your colleagues might think you’ve gone on a bit of a jolly, but this is the hardest work we do all year, and could have implications for far longer.

Arrive, dazed and confused by luxury brands, bespoke lighting with no price tag and mile upon mile of hokey interior brands. Your brief is to find that “hidden gem” that nobody else has, that will make the museum a huge profit, and of course reflect the collection. But how do you find the relevance in yet more Scandi design? How do you find the connection in wandering down a Lisbon side street to customer experience or visual merchandising?

That relevance is found in a way of walking that looks at things differently. It’s not just getting out and about physically, but mentally, imaginatively and emotionally too. Looking up and behind. Feeling as curious as a child. Seeking answers in the streets.

“All true great thoughts are conceived by walking.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche was not the first to believe that it was in the act of walking that the value of a book, a piece of music or an idea was created: not merely to “exist”, but truly to dance in our imaginations. To seek answers in the street, we are claiming nothing new from a long tradition of “botanists of the asphalt”.

The narratives of walking are endless and influential. The Seeking State translates this rich philosophy of walking into the process of strategic and creative idea generation. Whether for brand or retail projects, from Centre Pompidou to the Museum of London, we have seen how walking can lead to ideas that are both inspiring and useful, big picture and small detail.

Jostein Gaarder’s children’s book Hello? Is anybody there? is a playful metaphor for this strategic process. It describes a dialogue between a boy and Mika, who falls from outer space and lands upside down in an apple tree on earth. Boy and Mika get to know each other through a process of questions and answers. Questions deserve a bow (not answers): because it is only in the right question that you can together “aim further”. It’s in the mix between questions, a curious mind and the open environment that creates diverse ideas that are both vivid and tangible.

It’s time to walk into new ways of thinking.

How does it work?

  • Set out to walk the streets through the lens of your ‘project’
  • Take a set of tools to inform new ways of seeing
  • Keep in mind the question that you’re seeking to answer
  • Document and record the journey with photography, drawing, writing and collecting
  • Let things that are unexpected or metaphorical catch your eye
  • Reflect
  • See patterns, associations and connections in the images
  • Analyse why you chose them and how they address the question
  • Solutions and answers will be found.

The Seeking State is a business that helps clients redefine how we engage with culture. Find out more

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick
By Robin Cantrill-Fenwick
Robin is the Director of Digital and Communications for the Association for Cultural Enterprises, he was formerly Deputy Executive Director of the Mercury Theatre Colchester
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