In the past year I have twice returned to London after several months very much somewhere else, once from South East Asia, once from Denmark. The city is different each time I return. Not because the city has changed, but because I have. Or, at least, my perspective has changed.
After three months travelling around Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia, I returned to London and saw a majestic city. In comparison to the throbbing chaos of South East Asian cities, London was orderly, spacious, dripping with wealth, full of old, understated power. Everything worked with such ease, there was so little friction with each interaction. But it was also the end of a vacation. London felt like a slap in the face with real life, telling me to smarten up my act before moving on.
Now, after five months living, learning and loving in Copenhagen, I come back to a very different city. In comparison to the Danish capital’s pristine streets and impeccable citizens, I see in London a messy, patch-work city, brimming with poverty, where tired, rushed and frazzled Londoners push their way onto crowded tubes, driving forward with their objectives, slaves to their social diaries and anti-social hours. Yet London’s diversity and grit emit an energy and ambition that Copenhagen often lacks. As a brief trip back to my homeland, each street is full of nostalgia. I miss the sense of being fluent in the city’s cultural cues, equipped with the insider’s view, and empowered in a way that in Copenhagen, as an outsider, I am not.
My perspectives as a returning traveller, as a migrant-visiting-home, together are like an optical illusion. All are true of the city. But one image always emerges more salient. And all these perspectives are my own, the same person, just coming from a different place. The perspective is capable of both prejudicing as well as enriching understanding.
For great work in strategy and insight, we should always be conscious of how our perspective is both shapeable and mutable. My perception of London has shifted. I learn more with each shift, a new facet to this fantastic, terrible city. It’s the same with all things that strategy and insight professionals are tasked with understanding. The best work involves consciously and constantly recognising one’s shifting perspective to try see the world at its fullest.