Bob Lieberman's Blog

Commentary and Tools For Empowering Change

Imagination Is King

The culture at most companies encourages leaders to "force" – if expectations for delivery aren't being met, leaders are supposed to use incentives or discipline to speed things up. Possibly leaders at your company do this. Or maybe you do, yourself. So I ask you, "Is it working?"

Most of you will answer "no". There may have been short-term successes, but they've come at the expense of long-term problems in the form of high turnover, poor quality or service, and loss of customers. That's because forcing stimulates desire but neglects (and depresses) a much more important force – imagination. And in the creative economy, imagination is king!

To illustrate: if you were climbing the 897(!) stairs of the Washington Monument, desire might be useful to get you to the next landing. But only imagination will get you to the top (and without it you probably wouldn't have started at all).

Imagination is the jet fuel of adaptability, the single most critical success factor in modern business. Adaptability means following a developmental creative process (adaptation) that runs on its own schedule. Periods of no progress are followed by periods of dramatic progress. It would be myopic and destructive to force this process to live up to rigid schedule and production expectations. And it's not necessary either, because adaptive systems produce remarkably successful results all by themselves.

In light of these observations, you might be interested in reading an article on comparative brain development in animals, Why Infants Can't Walk. The article states that, in both the elephant and the human, development happens at a time that depends on the innate character of the organism. If you wanted to speed up development, you'd have to change that innate character.

Of course, it's not possible to change the innate character of an animal, but it is possible with an organization. And that's the real job of leaders – to re-wire an organization's reflexes, perceptions, internal communications, motivation systems, and decision-making processes. Stimulating desire is a superficial and, ultimately, ineffective strategy for that task. If you want real organizational change, you'll have to stimulate imagination. And a good place to start is with your own – now!