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Imagination & Innovation

QWERTY keyboard, on 2007 Sony Vaio laptop comp...

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While soaking in the tub, I thought about Verizon and Motorola’s unveiling of Droid Bionic at CES.  I debated the value of Droid 2‘s Qwerty keyboard vs. Bionic’s 4g access and concluded that incremental speed is useless if I am unable to type quickly and accurately.  The humor of this moment is not lost on me – I spend a lot of time thinking about gadgets, technology and advances in communication, while others simply take a bath.  

I obsessed with innovation, but why?  I am not an inventor, cannot code, lack a computer science degree or technical training of any sort, and I have always enjoyed history and literature far more than algebra or chemistry.  I do have unlimited curiosity and imagination.   Does this explain why I am charmed by innovation?   Yes, according to J.K. Rowling in her 2008 Harvard Commencement Speech, The Fringe Benefits Of Failure,  Imagination is the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation.  

Imagination may be uniquely human, but that does not mean all humans realize or appreciate our species’ ability to imagine.   Would life be easier without imagining that which does not exist and accepting what’s already on the menu?  What about the unimaginative folks who punch in and punch out mentally and literally, whose lives seem neater, cleaner and far more predictable? Are those peoples’ lives easier?  Do we even have a choice? 

JK Rowling answers in the same speech, I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do.  Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors.  I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What do you think?  Do we really “choose” to imagine or not?  Is lack of imagination truly correlated to fear?   Even if Rowling is just using metaphors to make a point, her words make me sleep better at night.


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