By Jeffrey Baumgartner
Imaginativefulness is a state of heightened imagination in which your mind allows thoughts, memories and ideas to play with each other freely. It is a state in which ideas come unhindered and with ease. When you are imaginativeful, you are in an alternative world of unlimited possibilities.
Children easily go into a state of imaginativefulness when they are at play and they create in their minds a world in which their whims become real. The back garden can become a kingdom or a jungle or another planet. The best artists, novelists and scientists easily slip into a state of imaginativefulness that feeds their creative endeavours. For others, it can be harder. Adulthood has taught them that imaginativefulness is not good. It is daydreaming, it is unfocused, it is playful, it is childlike. They learn to repress a freely flowing imagination and to be more businesslike.
Imaginativeful Here and Now
You can become imaginativeful in the here and now by looking at all that is around you and playing with it. As an example, some years ago I hosted a barbecue in my back garden and a number of families would be coming. Passing the swing set while preparing things, I was reminded that one of the swings had broken. There would be no time to replace it and I did not have an appropriate piece of wood for fashioning a new seat myself. So, I wandered around my house and garages (for some reason, this house has no cellar, but it has four garages), looking at items and imagining them hanging from the swing set. Many items were absurd. Some would be uncomfortable. Some would not be strong enough. Occasionally, one started to work in my imagination. When this happened, I would look more closely at the potential swing seat and imagine it more carefully. I rejected a couple of possibilities until I came to an orange plastic tube used to protect underground cables and pipes. A piece of it would do, I believed, so I measured the span between the ropes from which the seat would hang and cut a slightly longer piece of tube. Because the tube was ridged, it was easy to fit it in the loops at the end of the rope.
Although I existed in the here and now during these imaginativeful states, I was also altering the here and now in my mind, visually picking things up, hanging them from ropes on a swing set and, sometimes, imagining a big child sitting on them. Would they support the child's weight? Could they hurt the child? In my imagination, I was altering the world around me to find a solution to a specific problem. That is imaginativefulness in the here and now.
Sculptor of Elephants
There is a story told to art students about the world's greatest sculptor of elephants. She would take a piece of stone, study it for a while and then hack away at it. The end result was inevitably a beautiful stone carving of an elephant. One day, an interviewer asked the sculptor, "How do you do it? How do you make such beautiful elephants every time?"
The sculptor answered, "Easy, I take a piece of stone and cut away everything that isn't the elephant."
This is also a story of imaginativefulness in the here and now. The sculptor sees the stone, walks around the stone, feels the stone and starts to see an elephant within the stone. Once an idea works, she plays with it in her imagination further. What position does the elephant have? How does the colour of the marble affect the elephant. How does it inspire? Soon, she sees the elephant as clearly as you or I would see the stone itself.
Imaginativeful Worlds in the Mind
Albert Einstein used thought experiments to visualise the scenarios that eventually led to his theories of relativity. If we look at these thought experiments, it is clear they are created in an imaginativeful state:
If I pursue a beam of light with the velocity C (velocity of light in a vacuum), I should observe such a beam of light as an electromagnetic field at rest though spatially oscillating. There seems to be no such thing, however, neither on the basis of experience nor according to Maxwell's equations. From the very beginning it appeared to me intuitively clear that, judged from the standpoint of such an observer, everything would have to happen according to the same laws as for an observer who, relative to the earth, was at rest. For how should the first observer know or be able to determine, that he is in a state of fast uniform motion? - source
This was Einstein's brilliance, to be able to imagine complex scenarios, play them out in various ways until a scenario fit with facts and was logical. To do this required being in a state of heightened imagination − in other words, imaginativefulness.
The Insane Journey
My novel, The Insane Journey, takes place in an alternative world in the near future; a world in which Europe is a single country: Europa. It is a barren and desolate place. America has become a theocracy. Aliens are resident on Earth and one of the main characters is a talking penguin with high functioning autism. In other words, it is a somewhat different world than the here and now that most of us know.
To write the novel, I regularly had to reenter the Insane Journey's world in my mind in order to play out various scenarios. How would the characters respond? What would they say? What would they do?
Imaginativefulness need not be limited to visualising visible things. It can also be used to smell things, hear things and feel things. Composers in a state of imaginativefulness can hear instruments playing and experiment with compositions in their heads. In an extreme example of this, Ludwig van Beethoven probably only ever heard his ninth symphony in his imagination. By the time it was first performed, he was almost completely deaf.
Likewise, a creative chef can experiment with food in a state of imaginativefulness. She can imagine how different ingredients will affect the taste and texture of a new dish. In her imagination, she can play with ingredients and taste them. Thanks to imaginativefulness, she will have a good idea of how a creative, new dish will taste before she has actually made it.
The Usefulness of Imaginativefulness
Imaginativefulness may seem fine and dandy for artists, musicians, chefs and Einstein, but what about others? Why should a manager in charge of innovation be interested in imaginativefulness? Why should you care about mindfulness?
Because mindfulness leads to creative ideas and innovative implementations. You can be sure Steve Jobs imagined what the iPod, iPhone and iPad looked, felt and worked like long before the first prototypes were made.
Imaginativefulness is a means of solving problems by not only inventing potential solutions, but playing those solutions out in your mind.
Imaginativefulness is a way of breaking down challenging goals into manageable chunks by visualising various paths you could take in order to achieve your goal.
Imaginativefulness is a way of visualising radical new products and services and playing with them in your mind.
Sadly, one way that many businesspeople and civil servants use imaginativefulness is to identify risks in ideas. When a decision maker rejects an idea and gives her reason for doing so, that reason is usually the result of visualising the implementation of an idea and imagining what could go wrong.
In a way, that's a pity. Fortunately, it suggests that many normally unimaginative people have the ability to enter a more positive state of imaginativefulness. But rather than use the ability for good, they use it to prevent creativity from becoming innovation.
Getting into a State of Imaginativefulness
For some people, it is easy to get into a state of imaginativefulness. Such people tend to be authors, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs and others who need to be highly creative and who need to visualise complex situations in their minds. They need to be able to try out ideas and play them out sequentially. For others, it is difficult to get into this state largely because their adulthoods have discouraged it. Business often demands conformity and analytics, not imagination. Business leaders like colourful graphs rather than crazy ideas. Open plan offices make it almost impossible to escape into a state of imaginativefulness.
If you find it challenging to get into a state of imaginativefulness, there are a few actions you can try. First and foremost, think about where you have your best ideas. Is it while walking? Taking a bath? Sitting on the balcony of your apartment and looking out over the city? Whereever it might be, it is clearly a place where your imagination is more active than usual and, as a result, is probably place where it is relatively easy for you to enter a state of imaginativefulness.
When you are taking a walk or a bath or sitting on your balcony and ideas come to mind, you are entering a state of Imaginativefulness. Stay there play with those ideas. Touch them, hold them, smell them, see them. Imagine scenarios that involve the idea and play those scenarios out in your mind. See where they go. If they do not work, no worries. Try again. If the thoughts get crazy, don't flee your state, let the ideas go crazy. It's a good thing.
Walk and Question
Another way to get into a state of imaginativefulness is to go for a walk, observe things and question them. Play with them in your mind. I live in the countryside and go for a walk nearly every day. One of the routes I sometimes follow takes me past a field shared by an old goat and an old horse. I often see them hanging around together, looking contented. I assume they are good friends and imagine what such a friendship might be like. Could a horse somehow share his troubles with a goat? How might the goat respond? I wonder if other horses might make fun of this horse for having a goat as a best friend; but I imagined the old horse would not care. He and goat had been good friends for many years. Those other horses are probably jealous.
You do not need to live in the countryside, to take imaginativeful walks. You can do so in the city and in the suburbs. You can even do it in the dessert, but be sure to bring lots of water and a map. Wherever you are, just walk, observe and question the things you see. Play with those things in your mind. Imagine what people in houses might be doing. Imagine that you are being followed by the person behind you. Why is she following you? What does she want? Is she a friend or an enemy. An old woman is being led by a young woman into the bank. What is their story?
I remember, years ago when I lived in London, standing in the underground station waiting for a train and imagining all kinds of strange things coming out of the tunnel. One scenario which amused me was to visualise a snake-like, fire breathing dragon bursting out of the tunnel and scaring everyone away. Another scenario was a train that shot out of the tunnel and into space like a cannonball being fired out of a cannon.
In my workshops and at the Imaginative Club, I have experimented with guided, visualisation meditations. We start by thinking about and discussing a situation for which the workshop participants want creative ideas. Then I talk them into a relaxed, meditative state. I take them on a guided tour of their imaginations and the situation. I instruct them to walk around it, to explore it and more. I have them play with the situation in all kinds of ways.
The results of these exercises have been profound. People tell me about how they have suddenly seen a problem, that had vexed them for months, in a new and easily solvable way.
You can also try this yourself by self-meditating and then exploring a situation. I find it is useful to write the situation, in a few words, on a piece of paper and hold it (or imagine holding it) as you go into the meditative state. This seems to help people find the situation and explore it while in that state.
I have even used this technique in conferences with hundreds of people in the audience. While not everyone goes into a meditative state, many do and many tell me how surprisingly effective it was for them.
I am pleased, but not surprised. I am simply helping them get into a state of imaginativefulness. Their creative minds do the hard work.
Perhaps the best way to get into a state of imaginativefulness is the traditional way: play. When you were a child, play most likely brought you into a state of imaginativefulness where toys were no longer toys. They were real. You got lost in games of pretend and you built mighty structures from building blocks.
Fortunately, you can still play and play is still a great way to get into an imaginativeful state. Play is particularly good for collaborative imaginativefulness. This is something I have seen in role-plays, which I haved uses in my workshops − and long, long ago when I taught the English languate. People get lost in role plays. Bob from accounting is no longer Bob from accounting with all of his professional pride and seriousness. In the role play, he is someone else. He can let his guard down. He can be silly. He can be playful because, for a while, he is not Bob from accounting. He is someone else and he is in a state of imaginativefulness. That leads to the kind of creativity Bob is not normally capable of.
Imaginativefulness, in a business environment, is useful for developing innovations. When you are imaginativeful, you do not merely visualise the innovation. You visualise it in use, in practice and with modifications. You can play with the innovation in various ways and make it even more innovative − or less innovative, if you wish. You can visualise the implementation process, the hurdles you will face and how to get over them.
Imaginativefulness is useful for exploring and solving problems that do not have obvious or easy solutions because you can play in your imagination with various potential solutions in order to identify the best possibility. An important client sends an email complaining about bugs in a software project you delivered. The bugs are the result of a web platform you outsource. How do you respond to the client? Do you blame the makers of the web platform? What would the client think? How would they respond? How would you respond if the situation were switched? Do you take blame yourself? Do you ignore the email? You can visualise in your imagination various scenarios and how they play out before deciding on the best approach.
Imaginativefulness is useful for planning in times of change when the usual structured approach to planning may no longer be ideal or even viable.
Imaginativefulness is great for deconstructing complex ideas, goals and problems into smaller, viable chunks and then determining how to approach each chunk.
Business leaders say that creativity is an important asset in the employees of the future. Enabling employees to rediscover their imaginativefulness and learn how to use it is a powerful way for boosting employee creativity now.
A Little Help
If you would like to explore imaginativefulness and how it might help your innovation efforts and your team's problem solving ability, get in touch. I would be delighted to help and I imagine it would be very profitable for you!
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