The Spark

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Image by Manoj Vasanth*

One of the major points in three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman’s March 21 New York Times op-ed column echoes an argument that Eric Liu and I make in Imagination First. Writing enthusiastically about the recent Washington, D.C., awards dinner honoring finalists in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search—a competition that asks high school students to solve scientific problems—the journalist trains the spotlight on imagination.

Friedman: “In today’s wired world,” one where information networks make it easy for all of us to get products made and distributed at little cost, “[t]he most important economic competition is actually between you and your own imagination…. [J]ust about everything is becoming a commodity, except imagination … the ability to spark new ideas.” Indeed, until cognitively advanced robots come along, we are safe in thinking of imagination as the key human faculty whose power no amount of knowledge, money, or technology can diminish. Paralleling Friedman’s line of thought, Eric and I write in our book that there is “only one potential competitive advantage left for Americans: our imagination,” which “cannot be outsourced” (26). And this is why it’s so economically crucial that we use our schools to make American students more imaginative.

Congratulations to the 40 Intel Science Talent Search finalists and to winner Erika Alden DeBenedictis of New Mexico, and thanks to Thomas Friedman for his words of wisdom. “The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea,” he notes. Let’s cultivate the spark.

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