Notes from an Imagination Advocate, Part Two


Image by Jane Hoffer

It’s always pleasing for an author who has written about an idea to see that idea reappear spontaneously in public discussions. I’ve experienced this pleasure with the “ICI Continuum,” a concept that Eric Liu and I include in Imagination First and that refers to this relationship: “Imagination -> Creativity (imagination applied) -> Innovation (novel creativity)” (20). In other words, imagination is conceiving of what is not, creativity is doing something with that conception, and innovation is advancing the form in question. Seems commonsensical, right? People are starting to think so, happily, but there hasn’t always been robust agreement on these issues.

One obstacle to educational and economic progress that I’ve observed in recent years is the tendency of advocates to cluster around their particular cause, often excluding other, equally legitimate ones in the process. Creativity folks have sometimes clung to creativity, innovation folks to innovation, and—yes—we on the imagination end of things aren’t guilt-free either. Of course, this defense mechanism, if you will, is very understandable; when a group is working to have its agenda taken seriously, it’s natural for it to look out for number one. But in the end, we do ourselves harm by remaining so provincial. This is one factor that led Eric and I to adopt the ICI Continuum, a product of the thinking of Lincoln Center Institute’s Philosopher-in-Residence Maxine Greene and of our past work here at the Institute. This concept embraces all three of the constituent elements, showing how they interconnect. Imagination comes first, but without the next two steps, it cannot result in anything concrete.

I don’t want to speak prematurely, but it’s quite likely that I’ll be discussing the link between imagination and creativity when I present at the UNESCO World Conference on Arts Education in Seoul, Korea, in May, and the 2010 Creativity World Forum, to be held in Oklahoma City, OK, in November. (Coincidentally, Oklahoma City was the site of an excellent Imagination Conversation last September.) My presence as an imagination advocate at an event centered on creativity is a clear illustration of the ongoing unification of these formerly disjointed movements. It’s my sincere hope that this synthesis will continue. The temptation to tuck ourselves away in our narrow niches may be strong, but we must remember that our real goals—a better educated student population, a more competitive workforce, a cognitively richer citizenry—will only come about if we open our arms to our conceptual neighbors.


2 Responses

  1. Great article. It probably human for most people to think that they are the hub of everything. And all else are spokes on the wheel. That, without them, everything else will stop working.
    Fortunately, imagination is about openness to every possibility. Creativity is about considering every possible connection and Innovation is about providing better value to everything.
    Yes, they all need each other. But the greatest imagination, creativity and innovation happens when new relationships between ideas and people are encouraged to form.

  2. Steve, thank you for your comment. I agree that it’s only “human for most people to think that they are the hub of everything.” But those of us who really want to see changes in American education and working life need to realize that a united constituency is stronger than a group of divided factions. Eric and I hope that the concept of the ICI Continuum will help bring about this unity.

    You’re also right when you say that “the greatest imagination, creativity, and innovation happens when new relationships between ideas and people are encouraged to form.” The forming of new relationships is one of the goals of Lincoln Center Institute’s Imagination Conversations (, in which we bring together leaders from diverse fields to exchange thoughts and experiences, and consider ways to make American students and workers more imaginative. The intellectual energy at these events is always a wonder to behold.

    Scott Noppe-Brandon
    Lincoln Center Institute

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