Thinking Outside the Box–Literally

Image by Paul Lim*

We’ve all heard the advice, “Think outside the box,” but now, thanks to a team of researchers, the cliché takes on a whole new, literal meaning. In a Times op-ed piece, three scholars of management and organizations—two from the University of Michigan, one from New York University (NYU)—reveal their compelling new findings about creativity. The writers indicate a direct correlation between people’s physical experiences and their ability to come up with fresh ideas and solutions.

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Nurturing the Next Steve Jobs

Image by Ben Stanfield*

Steve Jobs’s death on October 5 has sparked a public conversation about the personal qualities that enabled his astounding innovations and successes. Gene Pinder, writing for the North Carolina-based News and Observer, singles out one factor: Jobs “joined his love for the humanities and art with steely analytical thinking and discipline. Both served him well, and it should remind us all that one without the other fails to maximize the highest levels of human potential.” (For more on this point, see Walter Isaacson’s recent New York Times opinion piece.)

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Imagination: The Greatest Problem Solver

Image by IICD*

When hurricane Irene hit, we instinctively looked to the individuals and organizations whom we admire for their imaginative strength to do something practical, something that would instantly come to the aid of those in need, without speeches, without philosophical observations, without ideological investment in the future. Something practical—now.

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Nature and the Brain


Image by derekp*

I spent parts of my childhood summers at camp, where youngsters slept cricket-infused nights in canvas bungalows and swam and hiked through mosquito-blitzed days. As a teenager, I backpacked in the Adirondacks and the Rockies. I have idly gazed at sunsets on the west coasts of Michigan, of Florida, and of a small island in Ontario. I miss those days—it’s been a long time. Afterward you feel energized, refreshed. It’s common sense to see nature vacations as inherently restorative, right? True enough. But recently, as reported in the New York Times, five eminent researchers took to the environs of the San Juan River in southern Utah to see what they could discover about “getting away from it all” in nature, from the perspective of brain science. They seem to have come away from the experience with more questions than they went in with, and with some innovative ideas about ways to address them. Continue reading

You Can’t Teach an Old Brain … or Can You?


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In her New York Times article “How to Train the Aging Brain,” Barbara Strauch discusses ways in which people in middle age and beyond can keep their brains strong and nimble. Although there is no lack of evidence that certain brain functions, such as memory, tend to weaken in aging people, scientists now agree that brains not only continue to develop but actually become more capable of discovering big-picture patterns instrumental in problem solving. However, it is essential that aging people practice their brains’ functionality by maintaining and fostering connections between acquired knowledge and today’s changing perceptions of almost every subject. Continue reading

The Spark


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. 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.