Flexibility and Imagination

Innovative approaches demand flexible thinking, an almost childlike attitude of wonderment exploring the limits of imagination. To free up our creativity, we need to believe that the world can be as we create it. Flexibility in thinking is the ability to move easily from one idea to the next, or the ability to move from one solution to another set of solutions. The inventor of Post Its™, a major product of the 3M corporation, was originally disappointed with a glue that would not stick. It took some flexibility to realize the enormous use of such a find.

The Mind Flexors that practice Flexibility include imagination warm ups, turning things around exercises, visualization work outs, “what if…” practice, and risk taking. Imagination includes the ability to toy with ideas, create outrageous hypothesis, play the “what if…?” game, express the ridiculous, and see similarities in widely disparate events. Flexible imagination is the ability to imagine a situation not yet experienced, to picture something not yet seen— literally, to make it up.

Part of the ability to be flexible is childlike wonderment. Poinçare, the French mathematician, defined scientific genius as the “capacity to be surprised.” Children are continually amazed, puzzled, and in wonder of the world. This is in part what makes them so creative. Almost all this is squeezed out of us by the time we reach puberty. Adults think they should know the answers to everything—or they feel ignorant. Once we lose our capacity to be surprised by the world, we begin to take it for granted and stop noticing it.

Flexible imagination also means seeing yourself—outside yourself. It includes the willingness to believe the impossible. The Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland managed quite nicely in contrast to the more reasonable Alice, who said that “one can’t believe impossible things.” The Red Queen practiced believing six impossible things before breakfast. The key word here is “practice.”