Get Lost

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Synopsis

Is it possible that we are losing the ability to get lost in more than just the geographical sense? Is it possible that by knowing exactly where we are all the time, we are losing something more precious like our ability to be surprised?

When was the last time you got lost?

It's 5:30 AM. I am walking in an empty street in Tel-Aviv with a camera, as I have been doing at least once a week in the past ten years. Tel-Aviv is the second largest city in Israel, but on a global scale, it's tiny. Its area is less than 7% of the area of New York City, and less than 4% of the area of London. And as I tend to do my photo-walks always around a few neighborhoods in the southern part of Tel-Aviv, you would think that by now I know every building, every wall, every ally, and of course, every single street.

So, it's 5:30 AM, the sun is just about to peek above the urban horizon, and I find myself on a street I never knew existed. I don't know its name, and apart from a very vague orientation, I don't really know where I am. And it feels GREAT!

It has been a while since I managed to get lost. Really get lost, that is. I manage to forget the fact that I am in the city I grew up in and have been photographing for the past decade. I feel like I'm in a foreign country, although everyone around speaks the same language I do. It doesn't matter that I'm probably only five minutes away from a street I do know. I look around and everything looks new and unfamiliar. I feel like an explorer in an uncharted territory, and suddenly the magic happens: I find a little treasure I can use as raw material for my artwork.

The Power of the Unknown

It is so difficult to get lost nowadays. And why shouldn't it be? We are on the grid 24/7. There was never a time in history when you could know your exact location in the universe at any given moment. We know exactly which train to take and when. We know which road to take to avoid traffic jams. When we go abroad, we use Google's Street View to find the street in which our hotel is located so we could know exactly how it looks weeks before taking off.

Is it possible that we are losing the ability to get lost in more than just the geographical sense? Is it possible that by knowing exactly where we are all the time, we are losing something more precious like our ability to be surprised?

The unknown plays a major role in creativity. Remember The Magic Button? Curiosity is the key to even the most basic learning experience, let alone to creativity. So, how can we be curious when everything is known, planned, and expected? To be curious means to give into the unknown -- to embrace it. Using Google's Street View is at best a minor act of curiosity. Going somewhere new without knowing how it looks like in advance is the real thing. That's when you are alert (in the positive sense), when you observe and absorb the fine details. That's when you pay attention to things other people take for granted. And these are the foundations on which creativity is built.

By knowing exactly where we are, we go straight ahead. We take no detours. We don't look to our left or right. We simply don't need to. By knowing where we are, we don't even have to look ahead of us. Soon enough we will have autonomous cars, so we can spend even more time gazing at our smartphone screen instead of seeing the real world. Will we ever have the motivation to look up and admire the view?

In a sense, any act of creativity is a detour. Any act of creativity relies on our ability to go somewhere unexpected, sometimes physically and sometimes mentally. Getting lost is an essential part of the game. We need to allow ourselves to get lost from time to time, and as Elsa sings: "let it go." And that is a real challenge in this era.

Three Ways for Getting Lost

So, here are three ideas that will help you get lost not just physically, but also mentally. Let's start with the most trivial one to understand, but not necessarily the easiest one to do.

Wander Aimlessly

To get into a "lost mindset", there's nothing better than actually going somewhere you don't know. You can start anywhere, even at your home. The only guideline is not to know where you are heading. Take random turns, don't look at street name signs, or drive to a city you don't know very well. Whatever works for you (as long as you feel safe doing it) will do the job. Now, look around you and explore your surroundings. Don't use a map or a GPS (at least until you are ready to return). Try to absorb what you see, hear, or smell. Even if you are still physically near your home, try treating this hike as if you are visiting somewhere for the first time.

Even if you won't manage to get lost for real and even you won't find yourself on an unfamiliar street, allowing yourself to walk without thinking about where you are or where you are heading will free your mind to explore and find new things you might otherwise miss. Notice the buildings, the plants, the animals, the people. Let yourself be where you are, without knowing (or caring) where that is.

Hold That Search

After we got lost physically, it is time to try getting lost when we face a problem.

When I started using Photoshop to post-process my artworks, I knew nothing about it. So how did I start? Google Search and YouTube, of course! There wasn't a single problem I came across that wasn't already asked, answered, demoed, discussed, and analyzed from any aspect you could imagine. It was an incredibly efficient way to learn to use this powerful tool and harness it to my needs. I didn't feel lost for a minute.

But, effective as this method was, I didn't have any sense of exploration. I got exactly the information I needed, but who knows what I missed on the way?

Doing a quick search for any question or problem we face is very tempting. We don't have time to spare on the longer path -- the path of exploration. We have a deadline, or just something better to do than to "reinvent the wheel". But this is equivalent to getting to know a new city by setting the GPS to a particular location in it. It seems efficient, but at best you will learn the shortest route to that location. No more, no less.

So, every once in a while, try to learn something new (or solve a problem you are facing) the hard way: by exploring it. It will take longer and it might be more frustrating at first, but you will experience in-depth learning. You will enjoy the path, and you will find things you didn't expect to find. Some of them might not be relevant to the immediate problem you are facing, but they might serve you in the future. In some cases, you will find out that the question you started with was not even the right one.

Imagine

Almost everything around us urges us to be concrete. The tasks at work, the questions at school, and even some "creative challenges" are mostly designed for us to come up with one concrete answer, usually by following some well-defined (even if not trivial) set of rules.

The third level of getting lost is giving up the structure, the rules, and the concrete goal and just associate and imagine. It may sound easy, but unfortunately, what was trivial when we were young children will probably require some practice.

When most people take a seempli Seed for the first time, for example, their instinct is to try to understand what it means and to look for something concrete. After a while, though, they start to let go: they keep the Seed in mind, but they don't look for any particular meaning until they find something inspired by the Seed. Such free association is just like allowing yourself to get lost physically; only it happens entirely in your mind.

Let yourself associate, wander off, and imagine. Get lost in writing, in painting, in photographing, in doodling, in observing, or merely in thinking. You never know what you will find inside your head. It's an infinite space to wander in.

***

The opposite of getting lost is taking a well-defined and well-known route. In such a route there will always be fewer chances (and maybe even less room) for creativity. It is the exploration mindset, the ability to wander off with the abstract goal of discovering new things, which sets the foundations to new creations. If you could plan every step of the way in advance, someone would have already taken that path before you.

 

 

Lidor Wyssocky (@LidorWyssocky) is a fine-art photographer and the creator of seempli - a revolutionary game for igniting creativity and learning to see the world differently.

Lidor’s visual artworks, which are focused on the things hundreds and thousands of people pass by in the street every day, led him to create seempli to inspire people to practice creative observation on a daily basis.

Using seempli Lidor works with people, teams, and organizations seeking to develop and enhance their creativity. 

Tags: creativity, exploration, imagination, lidor wyssocky, seempli

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