“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
― Albert Einstein
Words we associate with leadership.
Not so much.
And that’s unfortunate.
I suppose there are reasons we don’t talk much about imagination in the context of leadership.
Imagination is childlike.
It doesn’t show up on the balance sheet.
We use words that kind of sound like imagination but most of the time feel like an attempt to find more inspiring substitutes for the rational themes with which we are comfortable.
Vision is relegated to the outcome of a plan.
Dreams come off sounding more like a set of goals than something truly from the realm of our subconscious.
Creativity and innovation are tied to solving problems or building a better mousetrap.
Imagination feels a bit harder to spin as something rational or logical. It’s a bit of a game, isn’t it? A form of play.
Imagination allows for possibilities that do not exist, at least not based on our current awareness.
Imagination is visual, emotional, uninhibited, and instinctual.
Imagination is the music of our minds.
Music that has grown dim as the demands of life and the expectations of those around us created a disconnect between our imagination and the world in which we had to function. So we adapted.
In the process, we may have lost something vital to our lives and our work.
Where does our imagination fit in the logical, practical, results-oriented leadership paradigm?
My take is that imagination can be a powerful resource when we wish to instill an emotional and visual connection to the possibility we are trying to create and do so without establishing any context for what it should look like or what it should be.
I once stood before a group of people and, at the risk of some serious awkwardness, asked them to close their eyes and use their imagination in response to the following scenario:
Imagine what it would be like if we created an amazing place to work…
- What do you see when you walk into this place?
- What do you feel?
- What are people doing?
- What are they talking about?
- How are you interacting?
- What does it look like?
- What colors do you see?
- What are the expressions?
And so on.
We spent about 30 minutes on this exercise. Then I asked them to share the place they imagined.
We had a lot of fun with the stories and it really came as no surprise that we found a lot of common ground. Using our imagination allowed us to draw upon our deeper human needs and hopes and to recognize the dreams we share.
Building on that connection, we were able to talk about what it would take to turn the image into reality. It was quite exciting and emotional. Things we had almost forgotten we wanted or had hoped for were brought back into the realm of possibility.
The images and feelings we shared stayed with us as we embarked on the journey to create the workplace we had experienced in our minds. They also provided a frame of reference by which we could measure our progress.
Imagination is an amazing resource. It has the power to rekindle our childlike feelings of joy, hope, and creativity. To make real in our minds and our hearts what has yet to be realized.
It may not be suitable for all the practical realities of leadership, work, and progress but it should not be discounted as too simplistic or undisciplined to be of immense value in realizing the creative potential that lies in every individual and organization.
Let the power of imagination fuel your leadership.