I came across this quote the other day in the book Disrupt by Luke Williams (from frog design) and it hit me in it’s simplicity:

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
-Albert Einstein

Perhaps given the source I shouldn’t be surprised by the simplicity, but it’s such an obvious concept to me it got me to thinking about why every business leader doesn’t have a six foot version of this posted in their lobby, their primary boardroom, and in their office.  Some may question the importance I am placing on this in the same way as we debate whether the strategy or the execution is most important, but let me walk you through my thinking and see if we can’t come to an agreement on this one.

Knowledge is the foundation of your business as it exists today.  After all we live in the “knowledge economy” and “knowledge workers” are our most important asset right?

Let me propose an alternate view:

Knowledge is the foundation of your business as it exists today interwoven with the history and path that you have taken to arrive at this point. Knowledge is the key to executing on your current and short term goals because they are based on your current capabilities and markets. You absolutely need “knowledge workers”.

Imagination is one of those fuzzy creative concepts that most of us lost our true connection with sometime in grade school when we realized that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy were really our parents. Our educational systems taught us the importance of the sciences and of structured thought… of knowledge.

To me, imagination is the ability to envision things not as they are, but as they could be.  It is the ability to step back from constraints, challenge institutional assumptions, and reframe questions in ways that radically shift the playing field of a discussion.  How your organization exists today, the products and services you offer, the existing market, and your organizational history don’t matter in the imagination.

So why did Einstein (and do I) believe that imagination is more important than knowledge?  It’s simple:

Knowledge = Where you are and how you got there
Imagination = Where you are going and how you’re going to get there

The next time you’re looking to fill a seat on your team have a look around and assess your existing team.  If you primarily have a team of “knowledge workers” perhaps it’s time to mix things up and find yourself an “imagination worker”.  Life will never be the same.

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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