See What Could Be

TAoN No. 76: Taking inspiration from street art. PLUS: A new Icebreaker, and more

Sometimes the most interesting thing to see is what’s not there.

This can be a very practical exercise: what’s missing that we actually need, and how do we figure out how to get it where it should be? But it can also be a lighter exercise. Certain street artists are great at imaging what could be, and I particularly love it when their vision of the possible overlaps cleverly with what’s present and seemingly unremarkable. I collect examples from the terrific site Street Art Utopia, and today I’m sharing some as inspiration.

The prompt: See delightful possibilities in surprising places.

Disclaimer: I’m not encouraging vandalism! This is about looking at the world creatively; what you do after that is up to you. ;) That said, each of these examples definitely started with some heroic noticing.

(Another source of similar inspiration: the Instagram account @tombobnyc.) Enjoy!

Here is an example from one of my very favorite artists who works with existing urban landscape elements and finds wonderful ways to transform them: Oakoak. More Oakoak on Street Art Utopia, and on Instagram.

By Borondo, in Madrid. More Borondo on Street Art Utopia

By chalk artist David Zinn, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. More David Zinn on Street Art Utopia, and more.

“Mural for Peace” by Marycula in Berlin

By JPS, Triefenstein, Germany

Artist and location unknown. I know this one seems silly, but, really, very shrewd noticing and resultant creativity here. Impressive!

I really love Street Art Utopia — also on Instagram — where you’ll find all kinds of excellent street art, not just this niche that interests me so much. Putting this post together reminded me what a valuable resource it is, so I am now a supporter on Patreon.

  • Noticing is about other people, too. The Icebreaker series aims to help with that. There’s a central collection spot for all the icebreakers to date, here.

This week’s icebreaker is from reader Mallory Gilmore:

If you could be part of any world record, what would it be?

The back story: Mallory says she was talking to friends about the recent record-breaking temperatures in Canada — presumably a record most of us would prefer not to be part of. But that led her to this question. “I think it would be a neat little insight into what someone thinks is cool, and into their interests and personality,” she explains. “Do they want to break a solo, risky record (e.g., highest dive), or a goofy one (e.g., most straws in the mouth), or a big group one (e.g., largest round of ‘Ring Around the Rosie’), or a serious one (e.g., most patents owned)?”

I love all those examples, and I love this idea, a great one. Thank you Mallory!

As usual, I’m still working through the backlog of icebreaker submissions. But as always, I want more:

Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or found it elsewhere) to

Up next

  • On alternate Thursdays, I’m writing about how attention, engagement, and creativity intersect or overlap with work. Coming this week: the frenzy around the role of remote work, and what that frenzy is missing. That will be for paid subscribers! Sign up so you don’t miss anything. ; )

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