“Imagination is the only weapon against reality.” ~ Lewis Carroll
“The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable.” ~ Carl Jung
You can’t realize your dreams by remembering where you came from. Yet, this is what most organizations and most people habitually do when trying to change or create something new.
Very simply stated, it’s far easier to remember than it is to imagine. This distinction is important due to a phenomenon with which most are familiar. It’s a phenomenon that I call the “law of least resistance” in which a body in motion will always default to the path that offers up the least resistance. Memory and the act of remembering provides such a path.
The mind is far more than a place where rational thought, planning, abstraction and cognition occurs. Our minds are holographic repositories of a sea of experiences that are all flavored with emotions steeped in a neurochemical stew of hormones, synaptic linkages, embodied emotions, and well-traveled and robust neural pathways. As a consequence, the act of remembering can best be described as a habituated neurochemical phenomenon that occurs mostly out of our awareness. I say mostly out of our awareness because voluminous research suggests that 0nly 5% of our behavior is consciously self-regulated (see “The Unbearable Automaticity of Being”, John A Bargh & Tanya L Chartrand, American Psychologist, July 1999).
Imagination, for most adults, is a seriously atrophied faculty. Many of my clients report great difficulty in imagining a future state for themselves or their organizations that is significantly different from that with which they are already familiar. As a consequence, their futures are often only incremental improvements on what has gone before. The net of this is that their futures are uninspiring, boring, rote and devoid of true joy. They have futures that don’t make a difference! Their organizations have futures that are uninspiring and in no way compel active engagement.
What if we could imagine with the same fidelity that we experience when we remember? What if we could remember our future with the same richness of emotion, thought, hormone secretion, and synaptic linkages? This is what the effective use of imagination makes possible…it literally recalibrates the holographic mind so that a different reality – a different memory – is experienced.
Remembering the future is not a fantasy – it is a skill that is absolutely required of entrepreneurs and effective leaders. It requires discipline, practice and a willingness to make big shifts in paradigms that, for many, define and constrain what we think of as possible. It requires suspension of belief and an ability to quiet the mind in a way that makes room for the unexpected to emerge. Remembering the future is about moving an imagined possibility to an experienced probability.
Here’s a quick and simple primer…what is your 1,000 year vision – for your company and for yourself? Notice your initial reaction, your first thoughts to this question.
In Lewis Carroll’s classic Through the Looking Glass Alice and the Queen have this interchange: “I can’t believe that!” said Alice. “Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.” Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Your future and the future of your organization is in your imagination. To see, hear, taste, smell and feel it as a reality today is the challenge. Doing so positions you as a leader that can legitimately and congruently insist that the people around you behave as if that future already exists. This was the essence of Steve Jobs’ infamous “reality distortion field”. To borrow another quote from Carroll – “it’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”