In our latest podcast, we talked with Brian Reich, author of The Imagination Gap. Brian talks about the ways he sees imagination utilized in our society. Additionally, he expands on ways that he thinks we can remove social and cultural influences that block us from fully using our imaginations.
If you’re looking for ways to think beyond traditional creative brainstorming, you’ll want to tune in.
Brian shares his thoughts on how we can think beyond boundaries and norms:
BlueBottleBiz: I love how you explain imagination and contrast it to creativity. Could you talk a little bit about the differences between the two and how we can tap into our imagination in our work lives?
BR: The first thing that I think you need to appreciate or understand when you’re talking about imagination, is that everybody has an imagination. And, it is easily the most powerful, most extraordinary tool ever created – available to all of us. So when I talk about The Imagination Gap, the idea is not that some people have an imagination and others don’t, or that some people have a bigger imagination than others. It’s that we all have this boundless extraordinary power.
There’s this imaginative capacity, and we’re not using it to its fullest extent. So…
…Imagination is really the spark – the beginning of a concept.
And, it’s your ability to think about things and to dream things up that are not tied to your current reality. You’re not tied into just making some incremental improvement to the experience you’re having. This is about skipping way ahead and creating whatever kind of future or putting yourself in whatever kind of situation you want.
It’s [imagination], the type of thing that allows you to plot out your entire life without fearing that something horrific is going to happen. And you can sort of play out the scenarios of that reality. Of course, your future may not always live up to what you imagined. In fact, I would hope that people’s imagination takes them way beyond what’s practical and appropriate to dream up. But if you need to go to that far off place, you need to use your imagination.
And, we all collectively need to use our imagination to its fullest extent to really live up to the potential of what’s out there.
The other thing I would say is, there are two aspects: There is this objective reality that trees and gravity exist. If I drop something, it’s going to fall to the ground and there’s no arguing. There’s no subjective consideration when it comes to that stuff. Everything else: government, culture, identity, language – all the things that make the world in which we live the way it is – are born from our individual and collective imagination.
Going back all the way to the beginning, we got here because of imagination. So, where do we go next – both short term, but more importantly long-term – as a society and as human beings of the universe? That is dependent on our imagination. So if you don’t use your imagination, and we allow this gap that I explain in the book to grow or even just stay where it is, the future’s not going to be nearly as compelling. And, the opportunities that we might encounter in the future won’t be as great. Imagination is this incredible power, and we all have this incredible power because of our imaginations. We’re just not using it enough. That needs to change.
BlueBottleBiz: You talk about The Imagination Gap as being the gap space where disruptive innovation is easier to implement in the technology industry. Why is it easier to employ imagination in the tech industry, but harder in other aspects?
BR: I think the tech industry cuts both ways. On one hand, what the tech industry excels at with respect to using imagination, [is using it] to create new things. So much of society has evolved in the last 20, 40, 80 years in particular. Throughout history, technology has always been a driver of that.
Anything that the tech industry takes on that hasn’t existed before, is born from people’s imagination.
And so you see a concentration of that happening in the tech industry because I think that’s where people are using their imaginations – and willing and interested in applying their imaginations. They feel like they can express themselves when they bring it [new innovations] to life.
At the same time, The Imagination Gap is very much present in the tech industry, as it is anywhere else. And the biggest example of that are things like algorithms. There is a certain part of our brain that is just designed to maximize survival – to figure out what we need to wear or to eat…Our imagination is great at taking the actions that are going to allow us to survive – to optimize our efficiency.
And I think in the technology industry, a lot of energy has been put into weaponizing that ability to be more efficient…and to survive more effectively. We confused it or conflated it with the idea of using your imagination to do new, novel and extraordinary things.
So, if we’re talking about driverless cars…that is an incredible innovation that is going to transform the world. The algorithms that allow us to ride in a car without having control over the steering wheel and safely navigate – and to be safe if you’re not in that vehicle – those algorithms are phenomenal!
But, all it is really doing is improving on the experience of driving that has been around for hundreds of years.
The better food delivery apps, the highest valued tech startups…and things like that – these are almost exclusively innovating on things in our society that we already know and are already comfortable with. It’s making them better but not dramatically transforming any aspect of our lives or society.
So the opportunity for the really exciting stuff is beyond that.
What happens when we are half-robot, half-human? And we don’t have to worry about what to wear or what to eat because a supercomputer takes care of all of the stuff that we get anxious over for no good reason? That frees up a tremendous amount of brainpower and imagination to dream up what kind of society we want to live in.
- What does the future of humanity look like?
- What kind of society are we going to build on Mars when we get there?
- And on and on and on.
So, part of the challenge with the tech industry is that we know we have this potential to use our imagination and to create things with greater power than we’ve ever had before – to just completely transform every aspect of human life.
Yet we’re mostly applying that energy not through the lens of imagination on these new things, but to making the experience of life that we know better, faster, stronger, more colorful, more cost efficient, and on and on.
And again, [there’s] nothing wrong with innovation.
Innovation means fewer people die of disease and more people have the opportunity to learn.
And culture is accessible without any limitations around geography or language. So much opportunity has been created by innovation.
But we have not been spending nearly enough time or energy on this stuff that doesn’t just happen next but happens way, way, way down the road and in the future. That’s where, if we don’t spend our time and energy on that, we’re going to set ourselves up for some problems.
BlueBottleBiz: What are some of the social factors that we should look out for, and that dampen imagination?
BR: Imagination is always there and it is always active. You can’t kill someone’s imagination, and everybody has it. But, we fall into patterns where we give our brain the excuse to just focus on getting from one place to the next and sort of getting through the day and not tapping into that extraordinary power. So we have to remember to break our patterns. If you’ve been in the city, you have to get out of the city from time to time. If you work at a desk, you have to remember to go walk around and take a break.
Imagination is always happening, but you have to acknowledge it and embrace it, and capture the ideas that are coming out of your head.
You’ve got to put yourself in a space to do that sometimes.
I wouldn’t schedule imagination time from 9 AM to 10 AM. That’s just another pattern you’re falling into. So the idea of breaking patterns…it might be as simple as: if you take the subway to work regularly, take the bus one day, or walk or ride a bike or take a taxi. Just mix things up because your ability to see different things and experiencing different things is going to feed your imagination and trigger things. That’s a big one. And then the other big one that I would say – and there are many, but these two I think are the biggest social factors by far – is that we have to stop shutting down other people’s imagination.
We’ve all been there. And, it starts going all the way back to elementary school and middle school, and then all the way through higher education if you pursue that, and into the work world. You come up with an idea, a question, something that pops out of your imagination, and your friend or your colleague or your boss says:
- “That’s a stupid idea or that’s not what we’re talking about.”
- “That doesn’t have relevance here.”
- “That’s not how we make money.”
- …on and on and on.
If you come up with those ideas and you’re excited about whatever your imagination has produced, but the feedback that you get is that it doesn’t have any value, then not only you’re going to stop sharing it, but you’re going to start to send the message back to your brain and your imagination that maybe it doesn’t need to share them with you either.
I think primarily it’s because people like to be right and people like to have control, and one of the best ways to have control and to be right is to tell everybody else that their ideas have no value – that they’re crazy thought doesn’t make sense. And, we spend a lot of time probably unintentionally shutting down other people’s imagination.
So, when you put the two of those factors together – when you make some effort to feed your imagination and put yourself in a position to get out of those ruts and give your imagination the ability to do what it’s designed to do at this extraordinary level – you recognize your own role in kind of the collective imagination. [You recognize] that you’re encouraging others to share ideas, that you’re feeding others with your questions, and not sending a message that your imagination doesn’t have value.
Between those two things, that gap that exists between the power of our imagination, and the extent that we’re using it, now can start to close. There’s lots of other prompts and ideas, but imagination is not something you can engineer and write a book [about] intentionally – that here are seven steps for being more imaginative. Because everyone’s imagination is unique and fed by their experience.
And our collective imagination is all the more powerful when everybody contributes in some way.
So it’s not about being prescriptive, and if you do these things you’ll be on top of your imagination game. I have tremendous faith in the power of everybody’s individual and collective imaginations.
It’s the social aspects – the nature of our society – that prioritizes things like efficiency and profit over transformation and the compelling nature of what we might be able to create in the future. And that’s a problem.
Looking for more insight on removing obstacles for imaginative thought with The Imagination Gap?
Then tune into the full The Imagination Gap BlueBottleBiz podcast with our guest, Brian Reich.
Or, login to BlueBottleBiz to read more from Brian’s book, The Imagination Gap, from the Emerald Publishing Group.