The collective human imagination has great power to transform the way we do business and treat our planet, explains holistic coach, occupational and psychological therapist and former University of East Anglia lecturer Dr Mick Collins.
The recent climate agreement in Paris was a monumental declaration by world leaders to tackle climate change and limit further ecological damage.Yet, beyond the political rhetoric, firm action still needs to be taken to ensure that global temperature rises do not exceed 1.5 Celsius. Humanity has a realistic opportunity to adapt creatively and live in greater harmony with the eco-systems to which we belong. I propose that the entrepreneurial imagination can be harnessed in business to assist in the co-creation of an improved future. I suggest that the human imagination can help humanity open up new frontiers for living sustainably.
Curiosity and imagination have been central to our species’ evolutionary development, which can be traced back to a dazzling array of innovations by our ancestors. For example, technologies used by hunter-gatherers included axes and arrowheads fashioned from flint. Then there was the development of specific tools used by humans around 10,000 years ago as they formed the first agricultural settlements. It was in the 1700s that the term ‘creative imagination’ was first used and it coincided with an explosion of technological innovations and the arrival of the machine age, which powered the industrial revolution.
Today, the information age has captured our imaginations to such an extent that daily life is becoming increasingly dominated by sophisticated micro- technologies and gadgetry. However, a shadow was cast when it was assumed that these innovations could probe and plunder the material world without any consequences.
Part of our current wake up call is to understand that for all the benefits of our technological nous, the current climate crisis was set in motion when the industrial revolution started to pump ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which has resulted in global temperature increases and a warming planet.
As far back as 1970 the rate and pace of technological innovations was already becoming alarming and it prompted Alvin Toffler to write his social commentary; Future Shock. The book states that humanity will need to draw on the imagination to tackle the eco-technological forces that continue to propel us into the future. 46 years after the publication of Toffler’s book, the Paris climate deal was brokered and president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim was moved to say that humanity would now be forced to rethink what we need to do to reduce carbon emissions. The climate deal was just the beginning, there is much work that needs to be done.
IMAGINATION AND THE GREATER GOOD
To future generations our reckless and destructive use of finite resources will appear unimaginable. It is shocking to reflect on how slow we have been to take climate change seriously and take action; for example, scientists in the USA first spoke about the potential threat of greenhouse gases as long ago as 1965. Today, we are witnessing increasing levels of eco-destruction, and we are fast arriving at a collision point in our collective imagination. By this I mean the global situation is calling for us to use our imaginations, to bring forth new visions and innovations as well as new possibilities and potentialities for how we live. A lack of imagination about how we can adapt and move forward may well be a prime obstacle to our future wellbeing, and even our survival. We need passionate, imaginative and innovative leadership. After the Paris climate talks, global business leaders wasted no time in laying down a challenge to politicians, urging them to take affirmative action to limit global temperature rises. This
welcome intervention by leading business representatives is a rallying call to the business community to re-imagine how we can make a serious contribution to collective and transformative action. Interestingly, at the turn of the millennium, Rolf Jensen (then director of the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies), said that businesses would need to shift from information to imagination. He called his book The Dream Society. It is an apt title, because entrepreneurs are natural innovators and are able to turn dreams and visions into creative actualities. In this way the entrepreneurial imagination is already primed to work for the greater good. The business community has enormous collective potential that could contribute to a more sustainable world, through the creation of commercial enterprises that lead to the betterment of people’s lives, other species, nature and the planet as a whole.
We already have ample evidence that human wellbeing is intimately linked to the health of other species, as well as flourishing, bio-diverse eco-systems. In this way, the entrepreneurial imagination must be aligned to a holistic vision, one that safeguards the future by looking after the planet today. It is here that a transpersonal perspective can assist in our understanding and engagement of the imagination as we seek to co-create an improved future. The transpersonal paradigm includes modes of experience that go beyond the boundaries of our everyday ego-consciousness. In short, these experiences can open us up to a wider ecological connection to life, revealing how we exist and participate in an interconnected world.
WORKING WITH THE ENTREPRENEURIAL IMAGINATION
In my book, The Unselfish Spirit: Human Evolution in a Time of Global Crisis, I explore the work of psychologist Carl Jung, who devised a method of inner work called active imagination, which can help bring forth our transpersonal potential. For example, the process of active imagination requires that we work with our dreams, visions, intuitions and creative connections to bring about greater awareness and even self-realisation.
There are many examples of how the imagination can suddenly break into our everyday consciousness, which can often provide breakthroughs to complex problems. A good illustration of such inspired promptings from the depths of the imagination is found in the story of inventor Elias Howe when he was working on the prototype of his new idea, the sewing machine. Howe could not solve the problem of where to situate the needle hole to accommodate the cotton thread. Then, one night he had a dream of an indigenous tribe who were all holding spears and in the tip of each spear was a hole. When he woke up, he knew immediately where he should position the hole for the thread. This is a magnificent example of how the imagination can come to the fore when we do not press too hard for a solution.
In a similar way, Albert Einstein would play the violin when he could no longer find a way to work with a complex mathematical equation. It would appear that if we give time and space for the imagination to work, it can pop up anytime, anywhere and anyhow. For this reason it is advisable to have some way of recording those inspired moments before they quickly fade from our minds (as they often do). However, the question remains, how can entrepreneurs
harness the imagination as a co-creative force for sustainable transformation? First, it is helpful if our intention is aligned to a sustainable business vision, where our human potentials, passions, purposes and products serve the greater good. Second, like Einstein’s music, we may benefit from incubating our creativity and dreams through non work-related activities that inspire us. Finally, we could use professional services to help us find ways of engaging and integrating the imagination in our work and in our collaborations. For example, John Whitmore and Etty Einzig have written about their transpersonal approach to coaching in organisations, which uses imagery (the imagination).
The entrepreneurial imagination is already an integral part of business culture, however, it could be used to greater effect to help tackle the ecological problems before us. When we work with the imagination, inclusive of a transpersonal perspective, we are already creating a closer alignment with our natural heritage – an interconnected world – which can inform our ecological awareness and actions. In this way, a fertile imagination is essential for tapping into humanity’s collective potential, which can help our efforts to co-create an improved future.
DR MICK COLLINS
Dr Mick Collins’ award-winning book, The Unselfish Spirit: Human Evolution in a Time of Global Crisis, explores humanity’s transformative potential. All royalties Mick receives are donated to Mary’s Meals, a charity that feeds starving children.