Imagination Goes Global

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*Image by Germán Meyer

Much of my work on imagination—Lincoln Center Institute’s Imagination Conversations and the book Imagination First, for instance—focuses on the United States. As I’ve said many times before, I want to see an imaginative shift in American education, one that will foster a national workforce of creative problem solvers and bold thinkers. But we advocates in the U.S. need to be aware of initiatives taking place in the rest of the world, too; after all, imagination is a human capacity, not merely an American one. So it’s with great interest and pleasure that I bring to your attention some recent developments in Malaysia.

In the Malaysian newspaper The Star, Priya Kulasagaran reports that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has launched “Malaysia Innovative 2010,” calling 2010 “the Year of Creativity and Innovation.” Najib, like me, believes that this new emphasis is necessary if a country is to be economically competitive. But Kulasagaran also quotes an educator who, while agreeing that developed right brains are essential for success in the 21st-century marketplace, points out that “[c]reativity should not be seen as … a commodity, but a lifelong process of trial and error.” Eric Liu and I make the same argument in our book, Imagination First: far more important than innovative products and services is the development of a community of imaginative thinkers, an “ecosystem of possibility” (174). The article soon transitions into a discussion of the classroom.

Echoing what Eric and I say about “failing well” (186-191), Malaysian teacher Marion Lee bemoans the pressure placed on students to be right all the time (particularly in “the traditional Asian classroom”), and notes that one can’t expect to innovate without being willing to sound silly or impractical at times. Perhaps one of the most perceptive voices featured in the piece is that of a student, 17 year-old Vikram Chanda, who touches on the strained relationship between the sciences and the arts within education: “There will be more room for creativity if students are exposed to fields in both the arts and sciences.” Indeed! Visual artist and lecturer Tan Hui Koon backs up Chanda’s claim: “Artistic disciplines … help students think laterally and imaginatively, as well as make them more confident at expressing themselves.” We at LCI couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Kulasagaran’s article doesn’t reach any definitive conclusions, but it’s quite valuable as an overview of a conversation that is clearly picking up major steam in Malaysia. (Imagine President Obama declaring 2011 or 2012 “the Year of Imagination”!) And it reminds us that, as much as we want and need the U.S. to be an imagination powerhouse, we mustn’t forget that a robustly imaginative world is an equally exciting prospect.

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

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