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Finding serendipity in a mapped-out world

Creativity & Innovation

After spending 15 years in the travel industry, travelling the world and getting paid for it, I’m pretty good at finding my way around. There’s a certain satisfaction in unfolding a great sheet of a map in order to plot your route through a city, and there are some excellent guidebooks. And of course nowadays, as long as you have a smartphone, you just download an app or input your desired destination and you’re guided directly there.

Taking all that into account, I was interested to read a recent article in New Scientist which focused on a number of smartphone apps that promise to help you get lost, by giving you random directions or instructions designed to take you off the beaten path.

As described in the article, the apps (examples given are Getlostbot and Highlight) help the user take on the habits of a flâneur – prevalent in nineteenth-century Paris. Associated with strolling, idling, wasting time, flânerie was essential for understanding, participating in and portraying the city. Only through aimless wandering could one truly know and experience a city.

Another way of describing such an experience is a dérive, an unplanned journey, as espoused by Guy Debord. As Debord explains:

“In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.”

The point of describing all this is that it illustrates a useful philosophy and approach to thinking different – to moving away from established routes and locations. Acting like a flâneur on a dérive, you’ll see new faces, new buildings, be exposed to new interactions and be required to take new decisions. In doing all this, your brain will be busily making new connections and filing away new images and experiences. It’s these new connections and experiences that so often lead to a new idea.

In order to be creative, it’s essential to make the effort to resist the usual paths that our brain would have us take – to break free from patterns of thinking. Sometimes that can be as simple as taking a different route to work in the morning.

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