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When the concrete ends – you’ve arrived

I spent this weekend in the middle of nowhere, up a mountain in Spain with 50 other folk who hadn’t met each other before but who all had the shared intention of creating stuff – random stuff that would come from ideas we hadn’t yet had.

This was the Creative Tapas Experiment – an idea from the genius of Robert Poynton that would look to explore what happens if one invited the right people to the right place and encouraged them to play with their inherent creativity.  (The formula of People + Place + Play = Magic or, in Spanish, Gente + Lugar + Jugar = Magia!)

Before reflecting on the creative bit, the first thing to do is to correct a common misconception as to what ‘Tapas’ means.  In the UK we tend to think that eating a variety of small different dishes in a Spanish restaurant is Tapas.  However, saying “we went to a Tapas restaurant” is like saying “we went for a pub crawl to the Bulls Head!”  Tapas is the act of moving between places and taking a little food from each as opposed to a static meal.

Rob’s idea therefore was to improvise a ‘Creative Tapas Trail’, created by and then explored by the invited guests.  People from a wide variety of backgrounds, nationalities and professions came together, formed random, small groups and headed off into the beautiful environment of Arenas De San Pedro to create something.  In the evening the group took a walk together along  the Creative Tapas trail, stopping to visit and interact with each creation that had been made during the day, before moving on to the next exhibit.  A simple experiment with very little structure or rules that resulted in one of the most exciting, enjoyable and magical experiences I’ve ever had.

It is impossible to convey the experience in words on this blog, other than to say the power of human creativity and idea generation is phenomenal, especially when confronted with minimal structure and resources.  Despite language barriers and very new relationships, this group of 50 people created a Tapas trail of wonder, imagination and excitement and, as we paraded around the trail in the Spanish twighlight, we were treated to short films, innovative sculptures made from scarce resources, poetry, singing, dance, puppetry, music and stop-motion animation.  All of this arose from a strong, bold offer from Rob to come along and 50 people enthusiastically saying “Yes” (or “Si”!) and stepping into the unknown together.

One of the most profound things for me came from one of the most unlikely places – the directions from Madrid Airport to Arenas De San Pedro that Rob sent.   Arenas De San Pedro is very remote so detailed directions were required to navigate from the city of Madrid, through the countryside and literally to the end of the road up in the mountains 2 hours later.

The final bullet point on the sheet of instructions said “When the concrete ends – you’ve arrived!”  Whilst this was literally true, I also found it to be true at a number of different levels and I found it to be a very powerful metaphor about learning and creativity.

When the concrete-ness of our familiar experience ends, when the solid reassuring sense of safety and stability under our feet ends, when the sometimes winding but largely predictable road ends, when we step into a place with no pre-defined path that is bumpy, dusty, unknown and unpredictable – then we have truly arrived in a place of personal creativity and learning.

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