The Business of Imagination

As this blog has documented, in recent years, the business community has become increasingly aware of the importance of imagination, creativity, and innovation to its success. Now, a press release announces the Creativity in Business Conference, set to take place on October 23 at Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts, in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C.

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CEOs in the Market for Creativity


I’ve written on many occasions about the need for imagination, creativity, and innovation (ICI) in business, even going so far as to call the first item on that list America’s “greatest domestic renewable resource” (in the book, Imagination First, co-authored with Eric Liu, page 26). But don’t take my word for it: according to IBM’s fourth biennial Global CEO Study—for which IBM consultants interviewed over 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries—business leaders around the globe “believe that … successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity” more than anything else. (Read the press release here.) While 80% of those surveyed think their environment will soon become even more volatile and complex than it is today, only 49% are confident that their organizations are prepared to respond to such growth, the inevitable result of industry transformation and modern technology. This gap between present capabilities and future demands explains why, in the words of IBM Global Business Services Senior Vice President Frank Kern, “CEOs identify creativity as the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future.” I should also mention that one of the points made by the CEOs—“Creative leaders are comfortable with ambiguity”—mirrors one of Lincoln Center Institute’s ten Capacities for Imaginative Learning, “Living with Ambiguity.” Indeed, it’s crucial in all areas of life to understand that problems may have more than one solution and that finding solutions may take time. The similarity between the CEOs’ thinking and ours is a fresh reminder that the world of ICI is a small one!

Image provided by IBM.

Reframing Business


*Image by Olivia Vaughn

In a recent blog entry, I wrote about Malaysia, which has officially declared 2010 “the Year of Creativity and Innovation.” Evidence of the spread of the imagination movement has since turned up in another Asian country: India. The story, reported by Pradipta Mukherjee in the Business Standard, involves several high-powered CEOs and … acrylic paint? Indeed, Mukherjee describes an intriguing instance of the arts and business worlds coming into contact with each other and defying conventional expectations in the process. So how did 18”x24” canvasses find their way into the offices of 25 Indian corporate leaders? Continue reading

Imagination Means Business

Image by Mark Kobayashi-Hillary*

One aim of Lincoln Center Institute’s Imagination Conversations is to demonstrate to audiences that imagination is not only the province of artists but, rather, is central to the fields of education, science, government, and business. A recent New York Times article by Lane Wallace, “Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School?”, reveals that some thought leaders in the business world share our perspective. The piece focuses mainly on Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, whose guiding principle is that business students need to learn more than number-crunching if they are to succeed in the 21st century—they must also be able to think critically and creatively.

Martin’s idea, Wallace explains, is to weave skills traditionally associated with the liberal arts—for instance, the ability “to imaginatively frame questions and consider multiple perspectives”—into the business school curriculum. Other institutions besides Toronto that have expanded the scope of their M.B.A. programs in the last few years include Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and the Yale School of Management. Many of these programs are now offering “design thinking” classes that send students into the field to find problems, to which they then propose solutions. Martin and his like-minded peers are wisely responding to one of the lessons of the current financial crisis: businesspeople with basic knowhow aren’t enough to keep our economy thriving. The new era demands workers who can “think … nimbly across multiple frameworks, cultures and disciplines.”

Developing the minds of M.B.A. students holistically is an exciting step in the right—that is, the imaginative—direction.

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