Advocating for Imagination

Greene020A note to my fellow advocates of imagination: The good news is that some of the sectors we are reaching out to—business, government; the shakers and makers, you might say—have come to full alert and perceive imagination as a primary asset of leadership. They actively seek those who are capable of bringing imagination, creativity, and innovative viewpoints to the table.

Unfortunately, in the minds of many, we’re promoting something that they still view as nebulous, indefinable, even mystical. Among the naysayers, sadly, are numerous institutions of education, a field that is perhaps closest to our hearts.

The man in the street cannot be blamed. We’re in the midst of the severest international financial crisis in decades, a period when people just want to get back on their feet before they even begin to think about abstractions, such as the arts or the imagination—which they do not think of as the tool that might help them improve their affairs. It simply isn’t a part of our cultural traditions. The catchphrase has always been “hard work,” not “imagination,” and, ironically, no one has taught us just how much one depends on the other.

So we’ve got our work cut out for us if we want to convince our communities that the imagination is important and must be cultivated. “But how,” you ask, “do I begin?” Continue reading

Seeing What No One Else Sees

Reading an Eye Chart by MousyBoyWithGlasses 1462*

Reading an Eye Chart by MousyBoyWithGlasses 1462*

An imaginative career can be variously exhilarating, rewarding, and arduous, but you don’t have to tell that to Dr. Stephen Kurtin, the subject of an August 3, 2009, New York Times profile by John Markoff. “As a promising Caltech graduate student in applied physics,” the article begins, “Stephen Kurtin could have taken a job offer from Intel at the dawn of the microelectronics era 40 years ago.” Instead, Kurtin took the path of most resistance, that of the solo inventor. His imagination—his capacity to conceive of what is not—has been essential to his shining success (he holds more than 30 patents in areas as diverse as word processing and surround sound), but it has also driven him to toil for the last 20 years on a question most others haven’t dared to touch: how can we do better than bifocals, trifocals, and progressive lenses in treating presbyopia? (Presbyopia diminishes the ability to focus on close objects and affects a third of the world’s population, mainly people over 40.)

Kurtin’s odyssey of trial and error reminds us that in science and commerce, imagination is only the beginning of a lengthy process. But if you’re confident about your initial conception, you hang in there. Kurtin figured out at long last how to construct commercially viable glasses with a mechanically adjustable focus. TruFocals, as they’re called, go on sale in the U.S. this month. Read the article for technical details. Kurtin’s story is instructive because it offers us a panoramic view of imagination—the boldness it requires (adjustable focus has been an unattainable goal for 140 years) and the hardship it sometimes brings (Kurtin has invested millions of his own dollars in the product), as well as its potential to lead to the improvement of countless human lives.

*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

The Playful Imagination

Back Flip by JB London*

Back Flip by JB London*

“The mind revels in conjecture. Where information is lacking, it will gladly fill in the gaps.” ~James Geary (The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism [2005], 29)

I recently encountered this quotation and I began thinking about thinking. I love Geary’s concept of the “revelry” of the mind, the joyous commotion of an activated imagination. But how is such play precipitated? What in the nature of these gaps in knowledge invites the imagination? And what kinds of wonderful mischief take place there? What is it about a Picasso painting, for instance, that calls out to me and draws me into engagement with its play of meanings? I am tempted right away to consider the space of these gaps as analogous to a playground, and I realize that one essential quality of what I have experienced in my own encounters with works of art is playfulness. Continue reading

Dear Reader

Children coloringDear Reader,

We welcome you to the first posting of the Imagination Now blog. The blog comes into existence as a result of two factors: one, we have much to discuss and comment on cultivating imagination—at work, play, school, and home; and two, today’s technology allows us to share this conversation with more readers than we could have dreamed of back in that obscure twentieth century.

As Imagination Now featured bloggers, we bring to this work our experience as authors, public speakers, and administrators of successful, vital non-profit educational and public service organizations. Above all, however, we bring our passionate advocacy for educational excellence. (Please see our biographies for more specifics.) We are joined in this endeavor by a team of researchers, writers, and editors from Lincoln Center Institute, and, from time to time, articles written by eminent guest bloggers will be featured.

In this space, we will keep up to date with important events related to the imagination, review and link to imagination-related resources that might be useful to you, explore concepts related to imaginative teaching and learning, keep you posted on the Institute’s 50 Imagination Conversations, and the progress of our new book, Imagination First.

Whether you are an entrepreneur, an artist, a present or future educator, a parent, or simply a curious reader, we hope you’ll think of this space as your source for information—and perhaps even just a place to come to for a fresh perspective on the arts and education around the world. We hope, above all, to provide a space for dialogue about great educational practice. Readers’ comments are the lifeblood of any blog, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Here’s to imagination!

Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon