The new currency: Imagination – Why artists will rule the future

Common: Falling into a rut of uninspired thought.

UncommonSociety is looking at creative ideas with increased appreciation.  Ideas, in this new emerging marketplace (appropriately labeled the “creative economy”), are rapidly becoming viewed as extremely valuable commodities.  More than ever before, the world relies on human creativity to solve the many problems we have created, combat the threats of nature, refine elements of function and style, and simply make life more enjoyable.  For this reason, I thought it fitting to discuss the source of ideas… imagination.

Albert Einstein makes a perfect subject for this topic, as he’s considered one of the most influential individuals in the history of our world.  His impact on humanity has been made possible not by way of natural intelligence, but instead, his freedom of mind, his questioning, his enigmatic experiments, and his boundless creativity — all derivatives of, not surprisingly… imagination.

Like many people, I enjoy learning about his countless ideas birthed outside the confines of convention.  Recently, I read a quote of his that resonated with me:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.  For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Einstein’s words are not intended to disregard history or academics, but rather demonstrate that knowledge is actually the result of imagination If discovery precedes knowingness, then it’s often our curiosity and imagination that initiates the studies which reveal the very information and data we come to call “knowledge.” Consequently, imagination is the beginning of creation.

It’s also difficult to quantify the effects of imagination because it not only builds a greater bank of knowledge, it broadens its application.  We only need to look as far as the technology sector over the last decade to see how the imagination of software and hardware developers has built upon existing knowledge to create better, more effective, fun, and stylish products.

Without imagination we embark on a dangerous course of stagnation because knowledge in isolation only reproduces past results (a rut many “knowledge-workers” fall victim of).  Repetition is certainly useful to a degree, but action without innovation eventually becomes frivolous and unfulfilling.


Talent or curiosity?

At some point, most of us ask, “Isn’t imagination an inborn quality that some have and others don’t?”  But again, back to Einstein. He himself has admitted his creative work was not merely the result of god-given intellect:

“I have no special abilities; I am only passionately curious.”

His use of curiosity inspired his imagination to develop ideas that have pioneered unprecedented breakthroughs in the field of science, psychology, and beyond.

Einstein would likely agree that one of the greatest aspects about human imagination is that it enables us to see things not as they are now, but as they can be .  Put simply, imagination creates possibility.  It takes those who have questioned conventional dogma to go beyond what was “logical” or “rational” to accomplish remarkable feats… and that process begins with imagination—a new vision about what “can be.”

Any significant step forward has been made by an individual or group inspired by imagination because progress requires innovation.  New approaches, perspectives, questions, and beliefs about what is possible must precede any advancement or enhancement of our current reality.  Obviously, by doing the same things we cannot expect to get different or better results.  This is why thinking differently can make all the difference.

Creative rebirth:

Despite our views and opinions of ourselves, we are all born with the makings necessary to be creative and original.  Reflecting on his own life as one of the greatest Maverick artists in history, Pablo Picasso made a powerful observation:

“All children are born artists. The challenge is remaining one as we grow older.”

It’s only through a slow process of self-persuasion that we shelve our playfulness in the name of “maturity,” we disregard our more exorbitant thoughts in the name of being “practical,” and we ignore our core passions in the name of being “rational.”

What are we supposed to do?  It’s all part of, “growing up,” right?  Not so.  We use the phrase “grow up” in place of a more accurate term that’s harder to swallow: Settling.  We’re taught to settle for more rational ideas and objectives–to stick with the familiar and what we think is realistic and secure.  But through this process, we experience creative dystrophy.

Logic and reasoning can be used to analyze the results of imagination, but they cannot inspire it.

Creativity is like a muscle — it is strengthened with use.  Re-birthing our creativity is less a process of cultivation (as our conventional schooling system leads us to believe) and more a process of rebirth — a way of letting go of preconceived notions about ourselves, other people, and the world we live in.  Essentially, unlearning what we have come to believe as factual.  It’s a matter of reigniting our inner child and daring to express it.


Creative flow and letting go:

There is a reason we refer to imagination as “creative flow.”  Great ideas don’t arise from a deepset effort to expel our intelligence, but rather a process of “expressing” thoughts and energy without self-scrutiny.  Therefore, the greatest encumbrance we face is, not surprisingly, our own self-delusions and insecurities.

Many of the assumptions we have about ourselves and the world curtail our creative potential.  Notice when our creativity was flourishing as a pre-teen we also had the fewest number of assumptions about what can and cannot be/happen.  Often unknowingly, we begin to veer away from engaging our mind to pander to knowledge-based activities and professions where mental recall is displaces creative output.

Regrettably, we too easily assume that we are not creative and leave the inventiveness and innovation to those dissident “eccentrics” who wore opposing colored shoelaces while inventing new hairstyles in high school.  But, lack of imagination is an indication of negative mental baggage and weakened curiosity, not a lack of ability.

Don’t undersell and under-utilize your natural creative potential to label yourself more comfortably as a “knowledge worker.”  You are more than a informational regurgitator — and you need to be in order to increase your personal value in this new marketplace.  In the future (which is upon us), creativity will be disproportionately rewarded.  Even the well-known venture capital company, Y Combinator states the following on their home page:

“We care more about how smart you are than how old you are, and more about the quality of your ideas than whether you have a formal business plan.”

Remember, imagination is the new currency.  And this is why artists and creative-workers will rule the future.

If you must make an assumption, assume that what has been done and what is being done are not the only way things can be done. In truth, it is only imagination that can remove the limits of conventional thought.

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a serious lack of imagination.” – Oscar Wilde

Questions and Actions:


  • Make a conscious effort each day to notice the results of creativity, imagination, and innovation around you.  This may be in the form of advertising, architecture, products, etc.  Noticing these displays of creativity will engage your mind to form new creative habits.
  • Purchase a magazine or book on the topic of design/creativity and ask yourself, “If I were to design this product, ad, campaign, or ___ what would I do differently?”
  • Attend an art show or join an art class.  It does not matter if you have no interest in being a painter or a designer (but you should be aim to be an “artist” of some form–even if that means being an artful salesperson, receptionist, manager, etc.).  We are all makers of art, so make what you do meaningful and memorable.  Sometimes using the mind in a different way (painting, drawing, etc.) is enough to flip the creative switch to “on.”
  • Change your mental habits by asking different questions of yourself (see section below for suggestions).


  • If I could change one thing about the world, what would it be and how would I accomplish it? (The answer to this question–like most big, important questions–requires the use of imagination.  It also encourages us to take a participatory role in our surroundings–something artists do extremely well.  And remember, a challenging, irrational question will summon the most imagination)
  • How can I make my current line of work into an art form?
  • In the past, when was I most creative?  Why?  (Think hard about the environment, the circumstances, the company you were with, the activity taking place, etc.)
  • What resources am I currently squandering?  (Ask this question a few times for the truth to surface)  How can I better use the resources I have to accomplish what is most meaningful to me?
  • If I were a 10 year child, how would I approach this challenge?  (A great way to refresh your opinions and perspectives)
  • Make a habit of asking, “What assumptions must I believe to act (or not act) in this way?”   Then follow up with, “What assumptions would I have to adopt to achieve the outcome I want?”

Your thoughts?

What do you do to inspire your creativity?  How has using your creativity and imagination changed your life for the better?

Stay uncommon,

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