THE BIG IDEA: The imagination is perhaps your most underutilized resource that, if tapped, can transform your organization through innovation and forever alter the course of your business.
In a 1929 interview, Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
Do you think he was correct?
Einstein was voicing his opinion about imagination in relation to scientific research, an area traditionally and currently dominated by pure rationalism.
How about in business? Do you value imagination more than (or as much as) what you know?
It’s unlikely. Western culture has a strong bias towards knowledge and reason over imagination and intuition.
But it is imagination that creates the new, the better, the unforeseen. All great visions are fueled by imagination. All inspired leaders can envision a future that doesn’t yet exist.
Discovering the Source of the Imagination
When we understand the source of imagination, we are better positioned to access it more freely.
When Einstein says “knowledge,” he’s referring to our conscious, rational minds. It is from our conscious minds that we operate each day. We mainly use our intellect or reason to evaluate our surroundings, to make decisions, and to communicate.
But as we’ve illuminated in many past articles, modern science continues to reveal that most of our behavior, attitudes, and decisions are influenced, even ruled, by unconscious processes.
The source of our imagination lies in what we can call the unconscious mind. This unconscious mind is a storehouse of every memory, image, thought, feeling, and experience we’ve ever had.
More interestingly, Jung postulated and others have corroborated, this unconscious has a collective or universal element that accesses the memories, images, thoughts, feelings, and experiences of all of humanity throughout time.
It’s as if, deep inside each of us, untold imaginative treasures, insights, and ideas are just waiting for us to discover.
Locating Your Inner Guide
Living strictly conscious lives, most of us rarely tap into these imaginative capacities. Those who do, we call artists.
Ancient traditions and modern integrative therapies suggest there’s a mediating factor that enables our conscious mind (or ego) to access, communicate, and even befriend the forces of the unconscious.
The Egyptians called it the Ba-Soul. Ancient Greeks called the inner daimon. The Romans saw it as genius in everyone.
Western religions call it our guardian angel or soul. Eastern philosophies, Jungian psychology, and transpersonal psychology calls it the Self (capital “S”).
Many artists call it the Muse. William Blake called it Poetic Genius.
By whatever name, it is this inner guide that we tap into when our imagination flows.
Tapping into the Unconscious Mind
Just as our conscious mind is providing us with a constant stream of thought, our unconscious mind is perpetually trying to express itself. Only, we haven’t learned how to give it attention, relate to it, and understand it.
Using our conscious mind, humans tend to communicate with one another through language. Language is a process of the rational mind (or prefrontal cortex).
The difficulty in approaching the unconscious is that it doesn’t communicate to us in words. It expresses itself in the form of images and symbols.
Only a select few of us have learned to access these images and symbols that come to us in dreams, fantasies, visions, and daydreams. Accessing and paying attention to these images is the first step; learning to interpret them is the second.
Celebrating the Dreamer in Your Organization
To balance out our bias toward rationalism, we need to create space for the imagination.
Disney uses a method for producing creative work that any business can emulate. They differentiated three roles necessary for generating creative ideas and actualizing them: the Dreamer, the Realist, and the Critic.
The Dreamer accesses the unconscious by allowing the mind to wander without bounds. Daydreaming isn’t just allowed; it’s encouraged.
The Realist accesses the conscious mind that organizes ideas, develops plans, sets forth strategies for execution.
The Critic tests the plan, plays the role of Devil’s Advocate, and looks out for what could go wrong.
A process such as this gives the Dreamer its rightful place in a corporate culture that might otherwise treat humans as purely rationally beings that need to be at their desks “working” at all times.
Experiencing the Imagination
It’s difficult to access your imagination when you’re body is holding unnecessary tension or anxiety.
Start by taking a few slow, steady, deep breaths. Breathe into the bottom of your belly and exhale, allowing an imaginary balloon in your belly to deflate. (See, we’re already using our imagination.)
Close your eyes.
Visualize yourself in your office. See the faces of your employees. Notice what they are doing. Feel the overall energy in your environment. How are they relating to each other? How do they perceive you? Try to get a realistic picture of the average day at work.
Now, imagine how you might want it to be. Imagine the potential of your people. Watch them collaborating enthusiastically with each other. Feel the energy, playfulness, openness, and creativity in the air. Notice the positive and passionate attitude of your people.
Imagining the Future
Can you see the untapped potential within your organization? Can you envision new and better ways of serving your customers? Your Inner Guide can. Trust that this is true and begin to look and listen within yourself.
Steve Jobs never saw Apple as a business that sells computers. In his imagination, Apple made products that unleashed people’s creativity.
Imagination is vital to creating of a bold, inspiring vision.
Never underestimate the power of such a vision. It can rally your people around a common goal. It can fuel the creation of something that will have a truly positive impact on humanity.