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Why Some Say Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge

We love to play games. It’s natural when we’re children but that impulse dulls as we navigate a traditional school system that emphasizes rules and memorization, rather than creativity and innovation.

John Taylor Gatto, New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991, had this advice for remedying the problem. We can read his words as applicable to adult education as well as how we teach our children.

“School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach yours to think critically and independently. Well–schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; urge your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored. Our schools really are laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Their real purpose is to turn children into servants by extending their childhood. Genius is as common as dirt. We suppress genius because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women.”

“Leaders and adventurers…” doesn’t that sound appealing? That’s the gaming spirit and the approach we use with our clients -- “thriving” -- is all about living that way, turning our work and our personal lives into one learning adventure after another. Which brings up a fascinating question: when do we stop learning?

Obviously, never. How many opportunities present themselves every day where we can learn something? If we welcome it, there’s something to learn in every moment. This is the fundamental attitude of thriving and what we are building into the full immersion online game we are developing based on our recent book. We describe upgrading the software of our minds by installing a new personal operating system and suggest that the core processor for that new system is imagination.

Einstein believed that imagination is more important than knowledge and we agree because it takes imagination to apply knowledge. So, you could say that the thriving upgrade is from “knowledge first to imagination first.” The result? More learning, more creativity, more fun… more success.

Success is traditionally defined as “the accomplishment of a goal or a purpose.” But we know it’s much more than that. It’s not just about the outcome but also the process of getting there. As we say in our course – articulating another way to understand the essential differences between thriving and surviving – the means determine the end. That’s a 180-degree reversal of that old adage: the end justifies the means.

We are all chefs of life. Obviously, the ingredients a chef uses affects taste. Salt or sugar… it makes a difference. So too with our lives, because we’re always “cooking up something,” as the saying goes. Our attitudes, our words and behaviors, everything we express influences the outcome we get.

A way to map this change in how we do business is to consider how the assembly line process, pioneered by Henry Ford, has shifted from the original model back in 1913 to The Toyota Way. The lean system, first innovated by Kiichiro Toyoda, Taiichi Ohno, and others in the 1930’s, has grown into what James P. Womack, Daniel Roos, and Daniel T. Jones describe In Lean Thinking (1996), focused on these five lean principles:

  • Specify the value desired by the customer

  • Identify the value stream for each product providing that value, and challenge all of the wasted steps (generally nine out of ten) currently necessary to provide it

  • Make the product flow continuously through the remaining value-added steps

  • Introduce pull between all steps where continuous flow is possible

  • Manage toward perfection so that the number of steps and the amount of time and information needed to serve the customer continually falls

This certainly describes the thriving way as detailed in our book Thriving in Business and LIfe: learning (manage towards perfection), adapting (challenge all of the wasted steps), and delivering (serve the customer), all focused in developing the best result through the best process along the way.

Here’s your thriving challenge for the week:

Choose one aspect of your life that has become routine or boring. Use your imagination to invent different ways of handling this situation; treat it as a game and be eager about learning. See how much you can increase your enjoyment and your success by choosing to thrive.

Christopher Harding and Will Wilkinson

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