“Know imagination, know creativity. No imagination, no creativity.”
-M.D. Ockuly collage 2018
How do you define or understand imagination?
What words, definitions, or actions do you associate with your own lived experience of imagination? Through the lens of my own lived experience as an educator and creativity practitioner, I am very clear imagination alone is not creativity, but there is no creativity without imagination. My personal understanding of imagination is fluid and always expanding. At the core, imagination relates to being able to envision something not yet in form or taking ‘what is not yet’ to ‘what is.’ When we engage with our imagination, the experience can be fueled by insight, intuition, wondering, possibility thinking, visualizing, daydreaming, or visionary thinking.
As a researcher and practitioner, I understand imagination as a uniquely human superpower that grows and develops based on our lived experiences, memories, family history, DNA, openness, curiosity, creativity influencers (positive, negative, inner), and willingness to question the status quo. Imagination is – without question – a key component of creativity, but that is not all. It is also a way to attract or push away what we want most.
Feeling-Based Perspectives of Imagination
In my lived experience of being an educator, I have worked with adult students who did not self-identify or feel creative or imaginative. This is not surprising because we live in a world where it is rare to explicitly teach or orient students toward growing or stretching their imagination. One of the techniques I teach involves explaining worry, wishing, or pretending as different forms of imagination. For many students, the idea that some forms of imagination are productive, while others are non-productive or even damaging, comes as a surprise.
Advertising professional and pioneer in the field of deliberate creativity and creative problem solving, Alex F. Osborn pointed out: “Worry is essentially a misuse of imagination.” Imagine the amount of time we would all have to imagine positive change if we eliminated negative imagining (worry)? I intentionally include teaching for imagination in my curriculum for awakening creativity across the lifespan. Seeing imagination as a way to attract or push away what we want most, we can all feel empowered to express openness to possibility and growth rather than feeling trapped by limiting fears, self-doubt, or worries that drain energy.
What is the Future You are Imagining?
We are living at a disruptive time in history. Futurists around the world are suggesting human survival could very well depend on the possibilities we imagine today. Between the current pandemic, climate crisis, political unrest, injustice, and unstable conditions around the world that seem to be getting worse, the importance of imagining what ‘does not yet exist’ and acting on it has never been more important.
Inviting students at all grade levels to think about the future with more creativity and optimism could help us envision what’s coming faster. It could also contribute to being better prepared for new disruptions. What if every high school classroom became a ‘think tank’ for future-focused thinkers? I suggest this could be a pivotal time for students and educators to work on developing future-oriented mindsets. Crafting a collaborative ‘personal and planetary future’ mural is another suggestion. Done as a class or school-wide project – it could be expressed as a wall-size ‘possibility-tree’ with each leaf holding a positive imagining from each student and the teacher.
The next three sections offer ways to help your students stretch their imaginations.
MARTA’S IMAGINATION STRETCHING EXERCIZES
The power behind hope is imagination. These prompts have the power to stimulate and stretch the imagination. Go as far as you can. Every time you push past old ‘limits’ you are stretching your imagination. Try again the next day and see how far you go.
What is your biggest hope for the future? ___________________________________
Now imagine a hope that’s 2x bigger: ______________________________________
Now imagine a hope 10x bigger: __________________________________________
Now imagine a hope 20x bigger: __________________________________________
Now imagine a ‘hope’ 50x bigger: ________________________________________
How far did you get in the ‘hope’ challenge? _______________________________
As soon as we feel we can’t imagine anything bigger or better we come to an ‘edge’ we will be able to ‘push past’ a few days or weeks later. Our imagination, once stretched, can never go back to its original size.
Have students transform a plain notebook into their own: Imagination Tracking Idea Collector Journal (middle school and up) to capture insights, ideas, wonderings and imaginings. Students can also use this journal to ‘draw their imagination’ or sketch what they like to imagine.
How do you use your imagination? Check all that apply. (Self-assessment)
_____ I use my imagination to invent things.
_____ I use my imagination when I practice different forms of self-expression.
_____ I use my imagination to think of ways to make our world and the future brighter.
_____ I often imagine scary or sad things I am afraid might happen.
_____ I often imagine things I wish would come true.
_____ I use my imagination to help solve problems or come up with new ideas.
When it comes to making a positive difference in the world, the cause I care about most is: ___________________________________________________________________________
STRETCH YOUR BRAIN & IMAGINATION HANDOUT
This handout introduces Dr. Jane McGonigal’s imagination and brain-stretching activity prompts. They were designed to stimulate counterfactual memory and counterfactual foresight, as well as expressive activities that grow three parts of our brain. These are activities that offer skill-building practices for educators, adult learners, and middle and high school students. Viewing futurist Jane McGonigal’s YouTube video titled: The Future of Imagination presented at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2016 is highly recommended.
As we move forward into 2021 and beyond, imagination will play an ever-increasing role in all facets of human life. Teaching for conformity and standardized learning no longer serves humanity. Our call to action, right now, is to make nurturing imagination, creativity, and future-focused thinking a priority at every level of education and specialization across the lifespan.