JC Spender and Ben Strong assert that businesses aren’t making optimal use of employees’ imaginations in “Missing Out,” a short and straight-to-the-point article for The Wall Street Journal. One of the goals of the book I wrote with Eric Liu, Imagination First, is to suggest ways that organizations may cultivate more imaginative work environments, so I read this piece with great interest. Spender and Strong see three main reasons for many companies’ failure to benefit from workers’ imaginations. First, senior managers in need of fresh ideas habitually turn to outside resources like consultants rather than look within their own organization’s ranks; they forget about all the valuable minds right in front of their noses. Second, since businesses are not designed to facilitate free interaction between upper- and lower-level employees, each group is not privy to the other’s problems; so an unnecessarily small number of potential solutions get imagined, and those that do are not communicated. Third, when managers do solicit imaginings from the people who work for them, they set up suggestion boxes or offer to financially reward the best thinkers; but these practices don’t “generate the conversation required for innovation.” Spender and Strong have apparently based their conclusions on research. Their observations remind us of how important it is, in all fields, to keep channels of communication open and to let people know that their imaginations are valued as the precious assets that they are.
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