“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will.”
– George Bernard Shaw
It’s not only essential to entrepreneurs, artists, architects, musicians and authors – it’s the genesis to nearly everything we see, use and experience. Yet, unfortunately, for some an active imagination is for children or fleeting fantasies.
It is true that often our imaginations were much more active and vibrant when we were kids than they are later in life. But if we limit ourselves to that view, we miss out on a key part of what makes us so much more than mere mammals.
Mel McGowan has spent most of his life engaging with imagination and built some serious credentials in this area during a decade of working with Walt Disney Imagineering – the team of creatives responsible for looking into the future of possibility and innovation for Disney’s entertainment and experiences. Today, Mel heads up his own team at PlainJoe Studios that works to creatively incorporate story, community and space (i.e., working to combat suburban sprawl and human disconnection). We spoke with Mel about how necessary our imaginations are to a dynamic life and how we can actively engage that part of our design.
There are two big ideas to understand related to imagination and how it should be an essential part of each of our lives:
First, a lot of people think that they aren’t creative, and therefore, they limit their own imaginations. It really doesn’t have to be that complicated. You simply take any kind of raw material and turn it into something beautiful and useful – whatever that may be in your own world and with your abilities.
Walt Disney was really about the synthesis of ideas – he created a collective art form. Instead of starting from scratch, often his imagination created something new built on existing elements, places or ideas. He took the idea of a village and transformed his movies into three-dimensional experiences.
Second, we should always look for a bigger canvas. Disney took the comic strip to a motion picture; black and white to color; silence to sound; short form to long form with the first feature-length animation; then film to the three dimensional theme park. At the end of his life he wanted to take that into the urban city planning. What’s something in your life that you can enhance onto a bigger canvas?
There are some practical principles and tips we can put back into the rhythm of our daily lives to foster more imagination on a personal and professional level:
- Live with constant curiosity.
- Always ask questions and explore.
- Never assume you’re the head of the pack.
- Look for ways to take something to the next level.
- Have a vision.
- Remember that you’re a storyteller – your life is a story you’re writing.
- Combining ideas often creates some of the best inventions.
- Expose yourself to art and other disciplines that will challenge you.
- Be a co-creator; partner with people who will push you to see things differently.
In the Old World, we taught through apprenticeships, and we learned to be creative, to be curious, to explore. Then during the Industrial Revolution, we began to teach and prepare a workforce for the assembly line. Today, standardized testing also shapes and influences us a lot in this area. Unless you’re studying art, many people aren’t being encouraged to think differently and expand the bounds of possibility.
We have to learn to tap into our imaginations again – like when we were children and thought anything could be done. If you’re ever bored, you’re failing – there is too much possibility out there to not imagine something better than what you already know.