Imagination – the spark that ignites

Photo of houses

FreeImages.com/Tulay Palaz.

Here’s a different sort of post – written in two parts for the left-brain and the right-brain. I think my point is made equally well in both! See which of the two parts appeals most to you.

My Left Brain Post

In 1983 a book was published that still has a huge influence on me today: A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative. I was in my first job after graduating in 1980, working at the Canadian Industrial Innovation Centre at the University of Waterloo. I think that I had a reasonably good mind at the time, but this book helped me realize that it worked in a thoroughly logical and linear manner. I was dealing with people who were highly creative and who came up with things that involved what we call today lateral thinking. Somehow they could break out of the paradigms in which logic and natural progression reign and which normally produce incrementalism rather than breakthroughs.

Incrementalism is great. In fact, in the absence of a breakthrough, there is nothing better! Incrementalism is a low risk way of moving forward. But it definitely limits opportunity to just a miniscule part of what it could be. The full range of opportunity goes instead to those who think differently, because the way they think creates opportunity rather than waiting for opportunity to present itself. They use imagination as the spark to ignite creative thinking, open up new opportunities and expand their potential.

What happens more or less naturally for right-brain thinkers can be developed systematically by left-brain thinkers. Here are some core strategies for stimulating imagination and creative thinking:

  • Ask “Why?”  Answer the question and then ask why again. Repeat seven times and you’ll finally get to the depth of thought that can lead to breakthrough thinking.
  • Get far away from your own area of expertise. If you are in ministry, get to know some engineers. If you are a management type, befriend some artists (and don’t forget to feed them!). If you live somewhere (anywhere), get on a plane and go somewhere else for a weekend that requires a passport and see what’s different there (thanks to Richard Adair, my second boss, for this one). Read a book or subscribe to a magazine that is way outside your field. The best advise I ever got from a business professor (Dr. Cosmo Marchant at WLU) was to always subscribe to a general science magazine just because it’s not business-related.
  • When you think you know how to do something, ask “What’s the second best way to do it?”
  • Tackle the opposite problem. Instead of wondering how to grow bigger, think about how you could shrink your ministry into oblivion. Then do the opposite! How would you put yourself out of business?
  • Reframe the issue. Cast it from a different perspective. Is it a fundraising issue or is it about developing a movement to accomplish a mission? Who else has addressed that issue? At CCCC, for example, we want to help (among others) volunteer church treasurers. Is this primarily an education issue? Or is the real issue how to communicate with them? How do you address the problem of people who may not know enough to know they need to know more than they do? Who else has dealt with similar problems? Ask someone from outside your sector (who has different assumptions) how they would frame the issue. I wonder how development ministries educated Third World community leaders about changing community practices related to health issues, such as clean water or HIV/AIDS? Can CCCC learn something new from their experience? I’m sure it could.

What these strategies have in common is that they are all designed to get your imagination working.

  • Just thinking about the future does not require imagination. After all, forecasting is simply describing the future based upon a careful, logical analysis of the past and present. It is incremental at best and requires little imagination.
  • Imagination describes the future based upon a willingness to break the boundaries and shatter your assumptions. Imagination creates opportunity based upon the what-ifs and why-nots.
  • Peter Drucker, in one of his many books, described a middle-way which involved an analysis that looks for the futurity of factors developing in the present. In other words, finding the seeds of discontinuity that exist today and extrapolating their potential future impact. If you can get that far, you have described a future scenario. The next step is to imagine how you can fulfill your mission in that scenario.

Perhaps the easiest way to kick-start your imagination is to complete the sentence that starts with the simple words, “I wish…”

My Right-Brain Post

This is from the book of poems I am reading called Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead.

Spring Azures by Mary Oliver

In spring the blue azures bow down
at the edges of shallow puddles
to drink the black rain water.
Then they rise and float away into the
fields.

Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy,
and all the tricks my body knows–
the opposable thumbs, the kneecaps,
and the mind clicking and clicking–

don’t seem enough to carry me through this
world
and I think: how I would like

to have wings–
blue ones–
ribbons of flame.

How I would like to open them, and rise
from the black rain water.

And then I think of Blake, in the dirt and
sweat of London–a boy
staring through the window, when God came
fluttering up.

Of course, he screamed,
seeing the bobbin of God’s blue body
leaning on the sill,
and the thousand-faceted eyes.

Well, who knows.
Who knows what hung, fluttering, at the window
between him and the darkness.

Anyway, Blake the hosier’s son stood up
and turned away from the sooty sill and the
dark city–
turned away forever
from the factories, the personal strivings,

to a life of the imagination.

Synthesis for Whole-Brain Thinking

Well, let me try my hand at a left-brain summary of this post expressed in a right-brain manner.

Opportunity’s Genesis by John Pellowe

This is the way.
Let’s do more of it.
We’ll tinker just a little bit.

Why aren’t we there yet?

Imagination.
It’s good.
Stimulate it.
Use it.

What if?
Why not?
I wish…

Bonus Factoid

For those confused as to who Blake is, he is William Blake the English poet, who as a four year old boy thought he saw God’s face outside a window. It terrified him. I don’t know his poetry, thought or life beyond a cursory review of Wikipedia, but suffice to say he is a complicated person! Anyhow, the point is… no, I won’t give the point. He was referred to in the right-brain post, and you should be able to figure that out for yourself.

Blessings!

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