An active imagination is what fuels a child’s early learning. Children don’t rely on logic or analysis before they embark on an imaginary journey through unknown worlds in their backyard or playroom. Somehow in our evolution into adulthood we tend to lose our sense of wonder and imagination.
Leaders need imagination to creatively solve problems and discover the next breakthrough product or innovative service. Imagination helps us become more resilient as the pace of change accelerates and we navigate the many failures and challenges of life. So how do leaders hone their skills in this important area? Here is a short list to get you started.
- Ask more questions. When facing a dilemma ask, “How might we…?” questions to imaginatively consider possible solutions.
- Begin with what is already working. Share stories of past successes. Imagination doesn’t require only original thinking. Sometimes it builds on what is already there.
- Foster optimism by discouraging yourself and others to focus only on problems. When a challenge is encountered, try to reframe it into what you would like to see instead.
- Be skeptical without being cynical. While skepticism is useful for making new ideas better, if you spend too much time criticizing new ways of thinking imagination will suffer.
- Take time to read, write, connect, and visualize. Engage your childhood sense of wonder.
Unfortunately, many of today’s leaders lack imagination. They seem to believe that those they serve are too stupid or lazy to understand how to solve the world’s most pressing problems. Instead of engaging with them in a search for new possibilities, they seem content to blame, threaten, and label those who oppose or disagree.
One of my favorite Shel Silverstein poems is titled, “Listen to the Mustn’ts.” In it, he provides all the usual naysayer reasons we are given for playing it safe in life and work. He closes with the memorable line, “Then listen close to me – Anything can happen, child, ANYTHING can be.”
How might leaders apply this wisdom to how they approach their work?