Imagination and its Role in Innovation, Agility & Wellbeing.

Aoife Raleigh a Circus Performer & Peter Connolly an Occupational Therapist walk into a board room with a box of tricks and no PowerPoint. Although none of the participants have been in a workshop like this before, 15 minutes later the atmosphere feels light, with laughter and a creative buzz in the air.

Both facilitators share over Twenty years’ experience in supporting people of all ages, use their imagination for creativity in work and for their wellbeing. Peter has developed well-being programs in mental health hospitals in Dublin & London.

Aoife’s background has been working in Community Circus and with Clowns Without Borders using Imagination & play with children and families in crisis, both in Ireland & internationally. Creativity & play using our imagination provides a way to process and express ourselves which is fundamental to mental wellbeing & resilience. Twenty five percent of the funds raised by these workshops will go to community projects.

What is imagination?

Imagination is the faculty of the mind that forms new ideas, associations, and see’s new possibilities. It is an under-appreciated yet critical element of creativity and innovation. Several areas of the brain are involved such as the visual & auditory cortex, hippocampus and executive functioning system. Imagination has incredible power and impact over our lives as our minds are always making associations, filling in gaps and playing the what if game. The shadow side of imagination can be one of distraction or anxiety if not managed, yet how many of us have ever been taught to use this superpower to its full potential?

Learning to innovate

Aoife recalls her own early creative experiences” I have a vivid memory of being in primary school and deciding that I was not creative. We were painting swans and mine was an ugly duckling, I looked at it and decided that art and creativity was not my thing”. Our imagination is not related to how good at Art we are or how funny or wacky our ideas are. Imagination starts with being an observer and thinker of possibilities, gaps and new ways of doing something. You could apply Imagination to any Occupation in life without ever lifting a paintbrush.

It was not until Aoife left college that she realised how much imagination and creativity there is in problem solving. “I had a job to design and test plans to aid the development of hardware and software, I basically had to break the product that was in development, root out the bugs and replicate how I had caused the system to crash, I loved it. I realized that I was creative”.

Sadly, our educational systems do not fully celebrate creative thinking or imagination. So, we abandon our Art or dreams of being an astronaut in favor of logic, rote learning and fall into the trap of judging. Einstein said Logic will take you from A to B, whilst Imagination will take you everywhere.

Covid & the Spirit of reinvention.

In Charles Bukowski’s poem No leaders please, the poet challenges people to “reinvent yourself because you must” this may sound harsh and exhausting if taken literally however I wonder if it was to warn us of getting stuck in rigid ways of thinking and being in the world that sets us up for difficulty.

Never was a truer word spoken during Covid 19, for many businesses they had to change the way they were thinking and operating. Their physical environments were adapted, and their occupations often changed e.g. a coffee shop became a grocer, Gin distillery started making hand sanitiser, Therapy sessions were on Microsoft teams. Invention starts with imagination.

So, what does an imagination workshop look like?

Just like in an exercise class, there is a warmup to prepare & mobiles the right muscles, we use several games to quieten our inner editor and stretch & flex our mind muscles. We experience how our minds can come up with ideas & associations &use tools like Rory’s stories cubes and oblique strategies. It is important to be sensitive to diversity in how we process and come up with ideas differently, however structure, movement, time restrictions and visual cues really help. We also cover tips for running creative meetings or sprints.

A key skill & overlap between mental health and coming up with creative ideas is developing psychological flexibility, which involves holding our thoughts & judgements lightly whilst moving towards our values. Aoife views “the lesson of our imagination is not to censor yourself, allow the ideas to spring forward, if we judge ourselves for bad ideas then we put our filter up and we lose the good ideas as well”. To feel comfortable doing this at work, we need to create & feel psychologically safe, a culture of sharing & celebrating the early rough ideas as a bridge to the hidden treasure.

If innovation, agility & creative leadership is the vehicle to get our country started again, then imagination will be its engine. Leaders need to demonstrate and lead by example, individuals & companies that embrace imagination & psychological safety will see their ability to innovate and find a way through Covid 19 greatly improve.

If you would like to find out more about our Imagination for creativity & innovation workshops please get in touch with peter@lifestyleawareness.ie