The power of imagination

Developing an essential 21st century skill

As an artist and CEO of a business built on the imagination of civic and cultural leaders, I have the privilege of working with highly creative people every day. The Akron Art Museum has a vested interest in harnessing the power of imagination, but for many businesses, the bigger question may be about how an active imagination can increase business development, productivity and teamwork.

Our economy, like many businesses, is locked in step with two general assumptions: That in order to grow, a business needs to maintain productivity (supply) to meet demand; and in order to increase demand, businesses need to continue innovating and developing new products and services.

Beyond the predictable

Imagination is the key to increasing innovation and productivity. The benefits of investing in the professional development of an individual’s ability to imagine new ideas in a creative workplace should be a top priority of every human resource officer. Imagination and creativity, like other 21st century skills, have a proven link to successful entrepreneurship, intentional risk taking and the “fail fast” ideation process.

Research has shown that when a business invests in an employee’s ability to participate in the development of solutions, as opposed to merely identifying problems, employee satisfaction increases incrementally in response to the level of engagement. The more people are given the chance to use their imagination and dream big, the greater the opportunity is for a business to retain employees who possess a high level of creativity and zest for innovation.

Albert Einstein said, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Einstein understood that imagination fuels a critical scope of human thinking beyond cognitive deduction, and he placed a value on the ability to imagine the possible beyond the predictable.

In order to move “outside of your lane” and to freely explore your imagination, consider taking time each day to discover something new — a song, driving to work on a new street, and yes, even taking time to experience art can lead the mind to new pathways to approaching life. Increasing your ability to be intentionally inventive will require time and commitment, but once you have allowed yourself to think differently, it will open your mind to new paths, new ways of looking at the world and new ways of approaching life.

Now or never

Innovation would not exist without an active imagination. The very underpinning of innovation is rooted in the creative process, being able to imagine new ideas and being open to diverse experiences. To once again quote Einstein, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

If you move beyond convention and trust your imagination, you will find that imagination can destroy our predetermined outcomes. It is the 21st century weapon of choice for catalyzing the creative process, and in order to transition from a knowledge-based economy to a creative based ecosystem, consider giving yourself permission to dream about the impossible and imagine the unimaginable.

With over 30 years of leadership experience, Mark Masuoka, John S. Knight Director and CEO of the Akron Art Museum, has successfully led nonprofit art organizations and businesses in achieving exceptional performance, profitability and sustainability.