There are two reasons that cause us to underestimate our imaginative ability:
We convince ourselves that some people are just more imaginative than others; and
We expect too much of our imagination.
Everyone can be more imaginative
Picasso said: “All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”
It’s the same with imagination.
You might have had the experience of giving a specially chosen toy as a present to a beloved three-year-old son, daughter, niece or nephew…only to have the kid playing with the box it came in!
All of us are born with imagination. It’s just that most of us forget how to access it as we become older.
This is mostly because we learn very early in life that it is important not to be wrong.
And, if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything imaginative.
Placing yourself (and your team) in a different environment can help you re-discover your imagination.
You could change your physical environment by moving to a different place. But sometimes, all it takes is changing positions.
One participant in a course recently told me: “I can’t think sitting in a chair. I can only think if I’m standing up or sitting on the floor.”
It might also come from placing yourself and your team in a different mental environment — perhaps by listening to music or watching a video before a meeting.
Some research shows that groups that start their meetings with a joke session come up with more imaginative solutions.
Re-defining what is imaginative
The biggest hindrance to being imaginative is our level of confidence in our own ability to be imaginative.
This is because when most people think about being imaginative, they expect themselves to imagine something totally new. Not so.
Imagination doesn’t always have to be seeing something totally new. Sometimes it’s seeing anew what’s already there.
There are two types of imagination (as described by American author Napoleon Hill):
creative imagination, and
Synthetic imagination — where you imagine a modification of something that already exists — is by far the most common.
What motivated Steve Jobs
One of the most creative human beings of all time was the genius the world lost last year — Steve Jobs.
Yet, it wasn’t creative imagination, but synthetic imagination that he used for all his world-changing innovations.
He didn’t create the mouse and graphic user interface — he saw them at Xerox in 1979 and imagined what they could become.
He didn’t invent the MP3 player and music downloads, yet he changed the music industry with the iPod and iTunes.
He didn’t invent the smartphone or the touch screen, but he imagined what they could become with the iPhone and iPad.
The object or issue requiring your imagination might be right in front of you. And while that should make it easier, in fact, it is harder.
In 1804, Swiss physician Ignaz Paul Toxler discovered a phenomenon of nature that now bears his name.
Toxler’s Effect comes into play when you stare fixedly at a point for about 20 seconds. Once you do that, some other point in your field of view will become invisible to you.
Radar operators during World War II were taught to continually move their eyes about otherwise they would miss other “blips” on their screens.
It is easy to suffer a form of Toxler’s Effect in your work, where you become so focused on a goal or target that you miss an opportunity right in front of you.
Like the World War II radar operators, you must continually move your eyes (and your mind) around.
Looking through others’ eyes
Your ability to change perspective allows you an easy way to trigger your imagination: Look at your problem or issue as if you were someone else.
This is what Dick and Mac McDonald did in their hamburger restaurant in 1948.
They looked at their business through the eyes of Henry Ford, who, 40 years earlier, had revolutionised car production.
They massively reduced their range of food, standardised their hamburgers so they could be produced on a production line and asked customers to come to the counter to order…and a legend was born.
Change your environment, change your perspective and tell yourself you have all the imagination ability you need.
Remember, your imaginative solution could be right under your nose.