Imagination is also one of the hardest things to keep alive under pressure.
Companies that are able to do so can reap significant value.

Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller

Managing Director & Senior Partner, Chairman of the BCG Henderson Institute (Martin) and Founder and CEO of Casati Health, BCG Alumnus New York (Jack)

Originally authored by

KEY TAKEAWAYS

1) Carve out time for reflection;

2) Ask active, open questions;

3) Allow yourself to be playful;

4) Set up a system for sharing ideas;

5) Seek out the anomalous and unexpected;

6) Encourage experimentation; and

7) Stay hopeful.

This article originally appeared on Harvard Business Review

Pandemics, wars, and other social crises often create new attitudes, needs, and behaviors, which we need to anticipate.
Imagination — the capacity to create, evolve and exploit mental models of things or situations that don’t yet exist — is the crucial factor in seizing and creating new opportunities, and finding new paths to growth.While imagination may seem like a frivolous luxury in a crisis, it is actually a necessity for building future success.

The idea of “crisis management” requires no explanation right now.
Something unexpected and significant happens, and our first instincts are to defend against — and later to understand and manage — the disturbance to the status quo.
The crisis is an unpredictable enemy to be tamed for the purpose of restoring normality.

But we may not be able to return to our familiar pre-crisis reality.
Pandemics, wars, and other social crises often create new attitudes, needs, and behaviors, which need to be managed.
We believe imagination — the capacity to create, evolve, and exploit mental models of things or situations that don’t yet exist — is the crucial factor in seizing and creating new opportunities, and finding new paths to growth.

Imagination is also one of the hardest things to keep alive under pressure.
Companies that are able to do so can reap significant value.
In recessions and downturns, 14% of companies outperform both historically and competitively, because they invest in new growth areas.
For example, Apple released its first iPod in 2001 — the same year the U.S.economy experienced a recession that contributed to a 33% drop in the company’s total revenue.
Still, Apple saw the iPod’s ability to transform its product portfolio: It increased R&D spending by double digits.
The launch of the iTunes Store (2003) and new iPod models (2004) sparked an era of high growth.

With imagination, we can do better than merely adapting to a new environment — we can thrive by shaping it.
To do this, we need to strategize across multiple timescales, each requiring a different style of thinking.

But how can companies avoid having imagination become the first casualty of the crisis?

How to Develop Your Organization’s Capacity for Imagination

Based on our research for a new book on the imaginative corporation we share seven imperatives:

Crises place heavy demands on leaders and managers, and it is easy to lose the already slim time we might have for reflection.
But we won’t see the big picture, let alone a shapeable picture of the future, unless we stand back and reflect.

Most of the time in business we operate with our instinctual “fight-or-flight” nervous system that evolved to help us in high-pressure situations, like running from a predator.
This system narrows our focus.
But less emphasized is the parasympathetic, or “rest-and-digest” system, which evolved to manage mental and bodily operations when we are relaxed.
We can imagine in hunter-gatherer days, the mental intensity of the hunt, followed by time back at home, reflecting on the day’s stories, perhaps imagining how to hunt better.

We need to create the equivalent rhythm of action and reflection in business as we navigate this crisis.
Ways to switch off the fight-or-flight mode and support reflection include:

  • Taking a few deep in-breaths and longer out-breaths.
  • Taking time over a meal to rest, digest, and reflect.
  • Listening to or playing music.
  • Going for a walk without your phone.

In a crisis, we likely won’t have immediate answers, and we therefore need to employ good questions.
The most natural questions in a crisis tend to be passive, for example, “What will happen to us?” However, the possibility of shaping events to our advantage only arises if we ask active questions, such as “How can we create new options?”

Creativity involves reaching beyond precedents and known alternatives to ask questions that prompt the exploration of fresh ideas and approaches.
Some good questions to ask in the Covid-19 crisis might include, for example:

  • Which needs or products are taking center stage?
  • What customer needs exist for which there is no current solution?
  • What are we not doing for our customers?
  • If we were starting over now, what company and offering would we build?
  • Why are today’s loyal customers still doing business with us?

Crises require a goal-driven and serious response.
However, in times of stress, we tend to overlook the important human capacity of play to temporarily forget about goals and improvise.
Biologically, play can be characterized as de-risked, accelerated learning.
For example, juvenile animals’ mock fighting is highly effective preparation for real combat.

In unprecedented, rapidly changing situations, play is a critical capability.
As well as providing some much-needed stress relief — how many of us are currently working from dawn to dusk.
— play can end up being, counterintuitively, very productive.
We can make interesting, new connections between ideas when we allow ourselves to loosen up from our regular, goal-driven, laser-focused, instrumental approach.

“Creativity is the rearrangement of existing knowledge into new, useful combinations,” Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, chairman of the LEGO Brand Group, told us.
“Just like playing with LEGO Bricks, this can lead you to valuable innovations — like the Google search engine or the Airbnb business model.”

Sometimes nothing immediately useful will come of play, but playing at least allows us to practice imagining, improvising, and being open to inspiration — all important skills when navigating the unknown.

Someone, somewhere in your organization is likely being forced by circumstances to experiment with new ways of doing things.
The imaginative corporation picks up, codifies, and scales these innovations.

Imagination doesn’t just happen on an individual level.
Ideas evolve and spread by being able to skip between minds.
Companies need to facilitate collective imagination.
The key to this is allowing new ideas to be shared while they are still in development: creating forums for people to communicate in a casual way, without hierarchy, reports, permissions, or financial justifications.

Conversely, the way to kill imagination and the spread of ideas is to construct non-communicating functional silos and to induce fear of not meeting the bar for “sensible” suggestions.
In the name of “practicality” or “common sense” many ideas are rejected without being explored.
But it is hard to distinguish ideas with no eventual merit from those which are merely unfamiliar, undeveloped, counterintuitive, or countercultural.
In a situation where there are no easy solutions, we need to open up rather than constrict the funnel for new ideas.

Every corporation had entrepreneurial beginnings. But successful corporations that have honed a stable, profitable, business recipe forget the messy, imaginative origins of the ideas upon which they were founded.
Now is not the time for only executing a practiced recipe. We are facing a historic discontinuity, requiring entrepreneurialism and creativity.

Imagination is triggered by surprising inputs.
Our pattern-seeking minds adapt our mental models when we see something that does not fit.
And when we adapt our mental models, we entertain different strategies and courses of action.

To solve tough new problems, look externally.
Examine accidents, anomalies, and particulars, and ask: “What doesn’t fit here?” Digging into what we find will prompt reframing, rethinking, and the discovery of new possibilities.

  • In the current situation, we might ask, for example, why have some countries like Japan, China, and South Korea been able to break away from an exponential infection pattern.
  • Or why are some cities suffering more than others.
  • Or why apparently similar strategies gave different results in different places.
  • Or what stopped us from being prepared for this crisis in spite of MERS, SARS, Ebola, and other ominous precedents?

Although a crisis stretches our resources, it is important to encourage experiments — even if only on a shoestring budget.
Natural systems are most resilient when they are diverse, and that diversity comes from trying new ways of doing new things.
Our ideas only become useful if they are tested in the real world, often generating unexpected outcomes and stimulating further thinking and new ideas.

For example, Ole Kirk Christiansen, the founder of the LEGO Brand, originally made homes and household products, such as wooden ladders and ironing boards, until the Great Depression of the 1930s forced him to experiment, and he tried building toys.
This turned out to be a successful move at a time when consumers were holding back from building homes.
After examining the international toy market, which was dominated by products made from wood, Christiansen was driven to experiment again by introducing toys made of a new disruptive material — plastics.
Despite the scarcity of the immediate post-WWII years, he re-invested a full year’s profits into new machinery and tools, at first making traditional toys, then creating building blocks.
By 1958, these evolved into today’s well known “binding” LEGO Bricks.
Soon after, the company abandoned all wooden and other toys to double down on the LEGO Brick Toy Building System (“LEGO System in Play”).

Imagination feeds off the aspirations and aggravations that propel us to seek a better reality.
When we lose hope and adopt a passive mindset, we cease to believe that we can meet our ideals or fix our problems.
In statistics, Bayesian learning involves taking a belief about a statistical distribution (a “prior”) and updating it in the light of each new piece of information obtained.
The outcome of the entire process can be determined by the initial belief.
Pessimism can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

As a leader, ask yourself whether you are giving people grounds for hope, imagination, and innovation, or whether you are using pessimistic or fatalistic language, which could create a downward spiral in organizational creativity.
Dealing with real risks involves taking imaginative risks, which requires hope.

“Never in our lifetimes has the power of imagination been more important in defining our immediate future,” Jim Loree, CEO of Stanley Black & Decker, told us.
“Leaders need to seize the opportunity to inspire and harness the imagination of their organizations during this challenging time.”

All crises contain the seeds of opportunity.
Many businesses, struggling now, will likely find a second life during and after the crisis, if they can keep alive and harness their imaginations.
Imagination may seem like a frivolous luxury in a crisis, but it is actually a necessity for building future success.

OTHER ARTICLES BY REBOOTER GROUP

Three Ways You Can Hone Your Leadership Skills With Improv

The Improv idea of "yes" is probably one of the most mainstream principles that really does amazing things in communication when put into practice.Originally authored by1. Find Comfort In Uncomfortable Situations 2. Learn To Communicate And Listen 3. Start To Take...

Can Improv Improve Marketing?

After participating in the Forbes CMO Excursion with the Wharton Future of Advertising Program, it was easy to see that improv is much more than just tickling a funny bone.Originally authored byListening: Improvisers must actively listen, focus, observe and be able to...

Cracking the Code of Sustained Collaboration

Leaders who are frustrated by a lack of collaboration can start by asking themselves a simple question: What have they done to encourage it today.It is only by regularly owning their own mistakes, listening actively and supportively to people’s ideas, and being...

Improvisation Takes Practice

Managers and employees who are capable improvisers will steer their companies through crises and paradigm shifts, from technological breakthroughs and changing trade regulations to environmental disasters and the myriad challenges associated with the Covid-19...

Using Improv to Unite Your Teams

… Teams often don’t improve employee engagement or productivity. Leaders tend to dominate the conversation; they don’t listen and shut down others’ ideas. Consequently, team members are often too afraid, or simply too bored and disengaged, to contribute their own...

We Need Imagination Now More Than Ever

Imagination is also one of the hardest things to keep alive under pressure.Companies that are able to do so can reap significant value.Originally authored by1) Carve out time for reflection; 2) Ask active, open questions; 3) Allow yourself to be playful; 4) Set up a...

Retaining Customers and Enhancing CX through Service Improvisation

In this article, we cover white agility is – as definitions are essential – what the workplace can look like, when it lives in agility, and watch challenges, you will face in bringing this into the workforce. Originally authored by1. Agility, defined as the ability to...

6 Ways Employees Can Navigate Organisational Change

Avoiding a survival instinct in your staff during periods of change will help your organisation thrive under any new changes the organisation needs to make. This is often ignored, and is the focus of this article.Originally authored by1. Embrace a positive mindset 2....

Why Improv Training Is Great Business Training

“When you’re meeting things habitually with ‘"Yes, And",’ with an energy of agreement, you transform the way people perceive you.” Originally authored by They must be present in the moment, listening carefully, and contributing freely. “You need to be comfortable not...

How Improv Methods from Comedy Can Lift Business Performance

“When you’re meeting things habitually with ‘"Yes, And",’ with an energy of agreement, you transform the way people perceive you.” Originally authored by1. “yes” on its own is a definitive end. “And,” is the bridge to what you do with this information. 2. It should be...

How Empowering Your Staff Can Prevent Million-Dollar Losses

In this article, we cover white agility is – as definitions are essential – what the workplace can look like, when it lives in agility, and watch challenges, you will face in bringing this into the workforce. Originally authored by1. Agility, defined as the ability to...

Expecting a ‘Black Swan’ event before it happens

When you actively and deeply listen, you can expect and counter Black Swan events quicker and easier, thus saving your organisation a lot of potential grief and open up to a lot of potential opportunity.Originally authored by1. Have a more adaptable mindset, embrace...

Addressing the Intangibles: Overcoming Internal Blocks to Profitability

Being in the present (and not the past or future in your head) can be difficult, particularly in uncertain times. However, it has power and potency in all areas of decision-making and leadership.Originally authored by1. When you slow down, you become more efficient...

The Importance of Human Skills in Decision Making: “Thinking Slow to Move Fast”

Being in the present (and not the past or future in your head) can be difficult, particularly in uncertain times. However, it has power and potency in all areas of decision-making and leadership.Originally authored by1. When you slow down, you become more efficient...

How Improv is Helping Banks Navigate the Challenges of the 2020s

With numerous challenges affecting the banking sector in 2024, banks need to get more creative to invest in new capabilities and regulators to ensure financial stability, competition, innovation, operational resilience, governance, and public confidence. Through...

Enhancing Mediation Practice Through the Art of Improvisation

When the stakes are high, the preparation from applied improvisation methodology training allows the brain to manage emotions more effectively and stay focused on building upon what the others are saying. In it's place at the right time, practice in AIM during...

A New Era for Construction: Prioritising Worker Wellbeing

This article argues for, and goes into detail about, a growing need to incorporate human factors into cost estimates for construction project bids, especially given state governments' emphasis on promoting mental health and work-life balance for construction...

5 Keys To Embedding an Agility Mindset Across Your Orgnaisation

In this article, we cover what agility is – as definitions are essential – and what the workplace can look like, when it lives in agility, and watch challenges, you will face in bringing this into the workforce. Originally authored by1. Agility, defined as the ability...
Loading...
Verified by MonsterInsights