Imagination……it’s what makes us different than anything else on this planet. It allows us to envision what kind of house we want to live in, where we want to go on vacation, what we are going to say at the job interview, what we are going to have for dinner tonight…..and what kind of business we want to have. It’s what gives us the motivation to get up each and every day with excitement for what our life will be like in the future.
I can remember when I was about 5 years old, we lived in the middle of nowhere in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. Nothing but sage brush, creosote bushes, and lizards. I had built a pirate ship, complete with a galley, masts, a kitchen, a holding tank for my prisoners, and of course a steering wheel. In reality it was only a few pieces of junk lumber that my Dad had given me, and a few of my toys from my bedroom.
But my pirate ship didn’t move because it didn’t have any sail material that would allow the wind to take me to unchartered islands. I remember my Mom coming out to see how things were coming along. When I told her that I was dry-docked and unable to go anywhere, she looked at me with a smile, gently removed the scarf that was around her head, and tied it to the top of my mast.
Suddenly, my ship was able to travel to faraway lands because I had a sail. My mother looked at me and said, “Pirates can’t get to where they want to go without a good sail”. It took me several years to realize the importance of what she did for me that day. It would have been simple for her to dismiss my dream as “a kid at play”, but she didn’t. She not only acknowledged my dream, she helped stoke my imagination with her encouragement.
That simple gesture of giving me a scarf had such huge ramifications in my life. To top it all off, I found out that the scarf was her favorite one, but she thought it was more important to encourage my imagination and stoke the fire.
Do you have a vision of how you want your business and your life to be? Is that dream embedded in your brain in a way that is so compelling that it drives you to where you need to be?
We’ve been taught to believe that our dreams are not meant to come true and that dreaming takes us away from tasks at hand. People accused of being daydreamers are thought to be lazy, foolish, or not plugged into reality.
And yet, how would things have ever gotten done if we didn’t imagine the results beforehand? If Thomas Edison had not tried, failed, and retried over 6,000 times, we would not have the benefit of electric light bulbs today.
Daydreaming is key to sharpening your focus on what you really want. Every invention and every great new idea were birthed at one time by people who daydreamed. I’ve been accused of being a daydreamer for much of my life, but I can honestly say that many of my “aha!” bright ideas have been the result of my mind being allowed to wander off into the great unknown.
The world goes around because of people who daydreamed, imagined, and strongly believed they could make the world a better place for themselves and others.
Let’s take a short journey to the past……in the 50’s and 60’s the lifespan of an S&P 500 company was about 40 years. In 1983- 25 years, and today it’s about 15 years. The reason is very simple. It’s because many companies are NOT continuously reinventing themselves and coming up with new and different innovative ideas. Many tend to rest on their laurels and don’t change as fast as the rest of the world that is around them. Hey, the competition is more intense, technology is coming faster than ever, and change is happening at a pace we’ve never seen before.
Most businesses plan like this….they sit down with their leaders and say…..”Ok, here’s what our business looks like today, where do we want to be this time next year, in 5 years, in 10 years. The problem with that approach is that it limits the imagination of those involved.
Instead of being a present-to-future thinker, we need to be a future-back thinker. You can’t let today’s orthodoxy get in the way of envisioning your future.
You must first imagine that you are starting out with a completely white space, nothing at all on the chalk board and no restrictive systems in place. If you could develop the perfect enterprise not being constrained by your current systems, what would that look like? This is a great exercise for you, a good cup of coffee, and a chair on your back deck!
There was an article in the Scientific American that proposed to measure the efficiency of locomotion for lots of species on the planet to see which species were the most efficient at getting from point A to point B, and they measured the kilocalories that each one expended.
They ranked them all, and the Condor won! It was the most efficient. Humankind came in a rather unimpressive showing about 1/3 the way down the list. But someone there had the imagination to test the efficiency of a human on a bicycle- blew the Condor away!
Humans are tool-builders, and we have learned how to fashion tools that amplify these inherent abilities that we have to spectacular magnitudes.
Think about the explosion of these technologies-
– The personal computer
– Desktop publishing
– Electrification of cars
– Your phone as your MAIN computer
– Interactive video games
All these innovations came about because people were allowed to think in the “white space” on the respective chalk boards.
Companies like Tesla, Airbnb, and Uber have completely disrupted entire industries, when companies like Toys R Us, Sears, and Blockbuster have fallen by the wayside. In fact, 9 out of 10 businesses that start today, will NOT be around in 10 years…and I venture to say it will be because they will get stuck in doing business the same old way that they have always done business. They have the present-future approach instead of the future-back philosophy.
Innovation has the power to reshape our future and transform entire industries. Allowing yourself the freedom to think out of the box when it comes to where you want your business to be down the road is vital to your ultimate success.
If I gave you a chalkboard that had nothing on it but lots of nothingness, lots of white space….and I asked you to envision where your business will be in 10 years, without any limitations of your current systems or operational constraints, what would you write down?
What trend-setting ideas have been swirling around in your brain for all this time, but you thought that they weren’t feasible because of X, Y, Z? What about innovations that nobody has latched onto yet that would revolutionize the way your business model works?
Don’t let anything inhibit your thinking! Don’t let structure get in the way of strategy!
Once you have “seen the future”, let’s say in 10 years, you then will want to work backwards to figure out where you will need to be at each juncture- where do you need to be at year 8, at year 5, at year 2, and then of course today- what do you need to start doing NOW in order to be where you want to be down the road?
I’m thinking that this exercise might be a 2-cups of coffee activity for your back deck!
Written by Mitche Graf.
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