“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge has limits.” ~ Albert Einstein
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that society puts so much emphasis on knowledge. We worship our knowledge not too unlike our ancestors worshipped the sun and the moon.
We value expertise. We pay a premium for those who have specialised knowledge and skills, like lawyers, doctors, business consultants, financial advisers, engineers, rocket scientists, and the like.
But Einstein didn’t. He valued imagination far more than knowledge. He valued the human brain’s capacity to think far more than the brain’s capacity to store and retrieve knowledge.
Not that knowledge isn’t important. Of course it is. The quest for knowledge and truth is noble and essential for the growth and evolution of humankind.
Knowledge, they say, is power. Yet, as Einstein observed, knowledge is limited. Imagination has no limits, which makes it infinitely more powerful.
If knowledge is a train progressing along the tracks and picking up passengers along the way, imagination is the Starship Enterprise, free to boldly go where no-one has gone before.
Because of imagination, we can reach the stars.
As an author, I’m often asked to attend school assemblies and ceremonies as a guest speaker, more often than not to speak about writing and to donate books to the kids. On one such occasion, I was asked to be the guest of honour at a book giving ceremony and to give a short speech at a primary school in an under-developed part of the city.
Seated on the stage, I waited for the children to enter the hall and sit on the floor in front of me. The first thing that struck me was the vast range of diversity of children: kids seemingly from all over the world; Africa, Asia, Indigenous, Sub-continent, Middle-East, Europe. There were also, it seemed, a higher than normal percentage of physically and intellectually disabled children.
Looking at this diverse bunch of underprivileged, yet eager and smiling kids, I folded my prepared speech and shoved it in my pocket, deciding instead to give another entirely different presentation. Although it had been fermenting in my mind for some while, this would be the first time I’d given this particular speech. I figured these kids would be the best critics to test the waters, and if it went down well with them, I was certain I’d be able to deliver it to any crowd.
Without giving the entire speech verbatim, I first reminded them that each and every one of them had a superpower. Because they were unique, because they were human beings, because they were the only human being in the entire history of humankind to exist just as them, they had a superpower they could use at any time of day or night. They had a superpower they could count on to use whenever they needed it. A superpower that was on-demand and limitless.
It was their imagination.
This superpower called imagination could be used in any way they wanted. It could be used to invent new things to help them, their families, their community, the human race. Edison used his imagination to invent the electric light bulb. Somebody, somewhere in the distant past, invented the wheel. Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web.
What could they invent?
Imagination could be used to create and build things that had never been seen before. J.K. Rowling created the world of Harry Potter. Da Vinci created the Mona Lisa. Jørn Utzon designed and created the Sydney Opera House.
What could they create?
Imagination could be used to improve on things, things that are good now but can be even better. Enzo Ferrari saw what mechanics had done so far with the motor car in the 1950s and took his flashing red machine to the next level. Steve Jobs saw the lumpy, heavy computers of the 70s and early 80s and imagined a world in which you could buy a computer in a gift box, naming his improved idea after his favourite type of apple, a macintosh.
What could they improve upon?
Imagination opens the eyes to the opportunities that surround us. It gives the eye focus, the mind clarity.
This why Einstein valued imagination so much, and why he also said:
“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
Imagination also inspires us. When we use our imagination, we are transported to another world of possibilities, another universe of what can be. We can then take that vision of what we’ve seen and bring it into the world in which we live, energised with the belief that it can be done, that we can help make this world a better place for ourselves, our children, and future generations.
Consider what our world could be if we all used our imagination to our greatest capacity.
Yet it’s been estimated by psychologists and neuroscientists that human beings, on average, use less than 10% of their brain’s capacity. Some say even less, barely 5-6%.
How, then, can we maximize our superpower? How can we make the most of our unique human brain and fire up our imagination?
It’s a question I don’t even need to ask kids. They use their imagination all the time. They’re masters at it.
But something happens during our school years to snuff it out, and by the time we’ve entered adult life, our superpowers have been forgotten and our imagination barely used at all.
Thankfully, your superpower can be awakened from its dormancy. Your imagination can be resuscitated and revived from its deathly slumber. All you need to do is this:
- Acknowledge you have a superpower called imagination—you can only use what you believe you have.
- Spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day (1 hour is better) dedicated to using your imagination superpower—like a muscle, you need to use it to build strength and prevent it from atrophying.
- Don’t judge, fear or doubt your ideas—imagination thrives on being limitless and free; judgement, scorn, ridicule, doubt, and fear are like kryptonite to your imagination superpower. Treat each idea that you are working on as something that needs only to be accepted and nurtured to grow into its full potential. Then see where it takes you.
- Test and persist—the best ideas are tested in the school of life; a sure way for an idea to die is to leave it to fade away in your mind. Also persist with it; an idea will probably not be the finished article and may not work the first time, but with polishing and persistence it will shine.
- Have fun—the joy of using your imagination superpower is eternal. Use it to release the fun, excitement, and enthusiasm of life that may also be dormant in your adult body but was ever-present when you were a child.
Children know that everybody has a superpower. Do you use yours?
Dr. Scott Zarcinas (aka DoctorZed) is a doctor, author, and transformologist. He helps pro-active people to be more decisive, confident, and effective by developing a growth mindset so that they can maximize their full potential and become the person they are capable of being. DoctorZed gives regular workshops, seminars, presentations, and courses to support those who want to make a positive difference through positive action and live the life they want, the way they want, how they want.