March 21, 2006
News & Opinion: Prepared Mind World Tour #3 - Imagining
Last week, I spent several day with my three year old niece whose most consistent expressions where, Why? Remember when.? And What if.? She was spending her time making sense, making memories and making possibilities. I thought to myself, I need to prop this little one up in my office and just let her spark my imagination.
Speaking of children, I imagine that just as we are not supposed to play favorites with our children, authors are not supposed to play favorites with their characters or, in our case, our Prepared Mind skills. However, I have to confess that Imagining is my favorite Prepared Mind skill. I think this is so for three reasons.
First, according to the executives we interviewed when writing the book, it is the most underutilized of all the skills. I like a skill with lots of growth potential! Second, imagining is the most open-ended skill, some would say the least practical, so you can do anything with it. Now, whether you can turn it into a decision, an innovation or a problem solved is where the other skills come in, but without it, you have no future. So, the third reason imagining is so important in my mind is that it is sets the possibility for something new, different, truly innovative. It gives you the landscape and even the permission for your future. Without it, there is no energy to plant new seeds or recombine them, only to execute on the old crop of ideas.
Why do you think it is the most under-utilized of The Prepared Mind skills? Bill and I debated about this as we wrote the book, and included some risks and challenges in the chapter dedicated to Imagining. They included a focus on facts (e.g., metrics), lack of time and ingrained habits. Those are all legitimate reasons why imagining in the adult work world is difficult. However, after writing the book and keeping an eye out for imagination, or lack of it, I have come to believe there are two main reasons why we do not invest much of ourselves in imagining and leave it to the three year olds and artists.
The first is fear of failure. The adult development and learning research has said for years that the number one thing that gets in the way of learning in adulthood is fear of failure, sometimes translated as fear of looking stupid in front of ones peers or boss. And think about it, even to learn something new, we have to imagine that it is possible or that we can possibly do it. The irony is that imagination really cannot be wrong or fail in the empirical sense. It is simply a possibility, a proposal if you will. It can however, be different, and we are not always comfortable with being different or challenging what seems like ground truths and limitations, even in ourselves. Interestingly, the failure to imagine is the most memorable summary statement that came out of the 9/11 report. Not imagining can lead to bigger failures than imagining and then using other skills to test our ideas against reality and possibility.
The second is the fear of success. How many times have you encountered clients, co-workers, students maybe even yourself diminishing the possibility of an idea before the last syllable is even out of the speakers mouth? I think we tend to play it safe so we dont have to reach, change, reorganize our thinking, our work, maybe even our companies if some big idea really catches on. We say we are looking for the next big thing, but are we? Success can make us as uncomfortable as failure. Either way, we have to change.
What are your ideas that, if articulated, might make you look like a loose cannon or, perhaps, unreasonable? What are your ideas that, if they took off, might put a lot of wanted and unwanted pressure on you and those around you? Whether you articulate them this time is up to you, but at least spend some time imagining them and the world with them in action. If all else fails, get yourself a three year old!
[If you missed the first two tours, check them out: Observing and Reasoning]
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.