Imagination has little place in many workplaces here in the US. In fact, you don’t see much imagination around you in day to day life. You do see lots of concrete, copy+pasted tract homes, and “parks” that consist of large lawns, a few trees and maybe a swing. Do we really have to live so uninspired? More specifically to this post, do we have to work with so little inspiration?
I don’t think so.
More than that, I believe that a company will eventually fail if it does not deeply value employees, get the right people on board and implement norms and structures within the company to help protect and articulate that sense of value.
I have to just say, as young and idealistic as I am, that a company cannot survive if their stated and practiced core values have nothing to do with creating a better world or improving the lives of particular individuals. If profit is the only motive, a company will eventually only attract those who care about profit. And people who only care about profit tend to have a negative impact on the world and lack imagination.
Do I think we should throw out the bottom line from our reports? Not at all. I just think we have to throw out the false dichotomy of “either/or” thinking. We have to get rid of what Jim Collins (in “Built to Last“) calls the “Tyranny of the Or”. You can have a commitment to healthy thriving company culture AND have an agressive profit motive. And even if you can’t have both actually, you should still aim that high.
That said, I would like to touch on one commonly overlooked but essential ingredient for creating an inspired and enduring workplace: imagination.
What is imagination? Well, as I understand it, imagination is our ability to create mental images, concepts, sensations and experiences that tell us something interesting and meaningful about ourselves and our world. Imagination sometimes calls up creativity from our supressed sub-conscious. It taps into the deep roots of human existence and invites others to go there. It injects new life into a world that has become cold and stale through our culture of distractions and other defense mechanisms.
Not only that, imagination can help us solve complex problems by thinking strategically or theoretically about how to approach a problem from different angles. Imagination sees new connections and makes sense of those connections in a powerful way. A scientist, a mathemetician and a programmer ought to use their imagination as much as an artist, philosopher or writer.
Imagination is dangerous because it disrupts apathy and narrow-minded dogmatism in our thinking and way of life. Imagination brings commonly held assumptions to light and questions. Imagination conceives of alternate possibilities, embraces paradox and believes in big hairy audacious goals. (There I did it again. A needless Jim Collins reference)
When you create space for creativity in the workplace, get the right people on board who have the drive and ability to articulate their creativity and translate it into a finished product, I think one piece of the company culture puzzle is in place. Imagination helps bring unified vision, freshness and innovation, without which a company is sure to become divided, distracted and stagnant.
As far as how you can specifically instill and protect imagination within a company, maybe I will take a stab at that in another post.