Scott Noppe-Brandon and I believe fundamentally that imagination can be developed and stimulated. It’s not a “you-got-it-or-you-don’t” thing. And the evidence of this is all around us. Just the other day, for instance, Netflix announced the winners of a $1,000,000 prize for the team that could develop the most effective predictive modeling software (“if you liked Benjamin Button, you’ll also like…”). You can read about it here. By putting forth a bold goal with a big prize, Netflix sparked the imagination of countless programmers and customers around the world. In our book, Imagination First, Practice #25 is called “Challenge Your Challenges,” and it proceeds from just the same instinct that the Netflix folks followed.
One of the best ways to open people’s minds to wider fields of possibility is to examine the big challenges (if any) that currently define the scope of your field—and then to bust those challenges apart for even bigger ones. The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge and the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for powerful social change ideas are examples of great well-known challenges that prompt a scaled response of “What if?” But our point in the book is that everyone, in every workplace or social setting, can similarly set and define such challenges. Once the big goal is defined, and a comparably big reward is attached to it, it’s then a matter of trusting the ecosystem to generate new ideas and new ways of doing things. Not all the things that get imagined will be practicable; not all the things that are practicable will be genuinely innovative. But it all starts with expanding the pool of what’s possible. And challenging you challenges is a great way to start.