Sustaining Imagination is Hard

by Braden Kelley

Recently I stumbled across a new Royal Institute video of Martin Reeves, a managing director and senior partner in BCG’s San Francisco office. Martin leads the BCG Henderson Institute, BCG’s vehicle for exploring ideas from beyond the world of business, which have implications for business strategy management.

I previously interviewed Martin along with his co-author Dr. Jack Fuller in a post titled ‘Building an Imagination Machine‘. In this video you’ll find him presenting content along similar themes. I think you’ll enjoy it:

Bonus points to anyone who can name this napkin sketch in the comments.

In the video Martin explores several of the frameworks introduced in his book The Imagination Machine. One of the central tenets of Martin’s video is the fact that sustaining imagination is hard. There are three core reasons why this is so:

  1. Overspecialization – As companies grow, jobs become increasingly smaller in scope and greater in specialization, leading to myopia as fewer and fewer people see the problems that the company started to solve in the first place
  2. Insularity – As companies grow, the majority of employees shift from being externally facing to being internally facing, isolating more and more employees from the customer and their evolving wants and needs
  3. Complacency – As companies become successful, predictably, the successful parts of the business receive most of the attention and investment, making it difficult for new efforts to receive the care and feeding necessary for them to grow and dare I say – replace – the currently idolized parts of the business

I do like the notion Martin presents that companies wishing to be continuously successful, continuously seek to be surprised and invest energy in rethinking, exploring and probing in areas where they find themselves surprised.

Martin also explores some of the common misconceptions about imagination, including the ideas that imagination is:

  1. A solitary endeavor
  2. It comes out of nowhere
  3. Unmanageable

And finally, Martin puts forward his ideas on how imagination can be harnessed systematically, using a simple six-step model:

  1. Seduction – Where can we find surprise?
  2. Idea – Do we embrace the messiness of the napkin sketch? Or expect perfection?
  3. Collision – Where can we collide this idea with the real world for validation or more surprise?
  4. Epidemic – How can we foster collective imagination? What behaviors are we encouraging?
  5. New Ordinary – How can we create new norms? What evolvable scripts can we create that live inbetween the 500-page manual and the one-sentence vision?
  6. Encore – How can we sustain imagination? How can we maintain a Day One mentality?

And no speech in 2023 would be complete without some analysis of what role artificial intelligence (AI) has to play. Martin’s perspective is that when it comes to the different levels of cognition, AI might be good at finding patterns of correlation, but humans have more advanced capabilities than machines when it comes to finding causation and counterfactual opportunities. There is an opportunity for all of us to think about how we can leverage AI across the six steps in the model above to accelerate or enhance our human efforts.

To close, Martin highlighted that when it comes to leading re-imagination, it is important to look outward, to self-disrupt, to establish heroic goals, utilize multiple mental models, and foster playfulness and experimentation across the organization to help keep imagination alive.

p.s. If you’re committed to learning the art and science of getting to the future first, then be sure and subscribe to my newsletter to make sure you’re one of the first to get certified in the FutureHacking™ methodology.

Image credits: Netflix

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3 thoughts on “Sustaining Imagination is Hard

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