Complexity Matters

Do We Have Imagination Deficit Disorder?

Imagination and Creativity are Different

Are we so enamored with technical innovations, with the incremental improvements to all our gadgets, devices and the latest trendy life styles fads that we forget the possibilities of grander visions?
Brian Reich thinks so. In his new book, The Imagination Gap, Reich argues that the pace of change today is so rapid that it’s easy to become focused on small novelties that we think will make our lives dramatically different. He calls it innovation fatigue, and he thinks we’re in danger of losing sight of big questions and big ideas. Reich says creativity and innovation differ from imagination, which is the resource we need to tackle the big issues of today’s world-eliminating disease, poverty, mitigating climate change, and ending the wars that force people to flee their homes and become refugees.
“Creativity is a wonderfully powerful tool that lets us come up with all sots of things. It’s a way to employ or express our imagination” he said. “But that’s not imagination. Imagination is about going beyond what we know and what we can conceive is possible.”
As one example in business, Reich points to the workplace transformation by Paul O’Neill when he took over as CEO of the aluminum manufacturing giant Alcoa. He introduced the idea of a workplace where there would be no injuries, which was almost unheard of in manufacturing. The way he framed the idea of complete safety for every person in the workplace inspired people inside and outside the organization to use their imaginations to make it happen. Continuous and rigorous commitment to that one habit of complete safety caused shifts in behavior and attitude through out the organization, according to several analyses.
Reich said many of those he interviewed admired Elon Musk for his wide-ranging high intensity imagination. Musk is a business magnate, inventor, engineer and entrepreneur. He is the founder, CEO, and CTO of SpaceX; co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla Inc.; founder and founder of several businesses including one that became PayPal. Musk envisioned a high speed transportation system called the Hyperloop that would use reduced pressure tubes in which pressurized capsules ride on a motor driven air cushion. He investigated the technology and envisioned the system carrying people between Angeles and San Francisco.
One exercise to activate imagination, Reich said, is to rewrite history and consider all the possible crazy outcomes some change might have produced. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the book, the music and lyrics for the wildly successful Broadway show Hamilton. He read a biography of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant, with ideas for government, and imagined a modern American immigrant story. When he read about the 1804 dual between Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the New York Times reported, Lin-Manuel Miranda thought, “This is a hip hop story. It’s Tupac.” Critics say Hamilton has given people new ways to think about race, history and theater.
Reich says we all can learn to exercise imagination, look beyond our daily routines, and think big.

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