Imagination – The Key To Unlocking Our Future Leaders Success And Happiness

4 min read
20 June 2017

We now live in the ‘Imagination Age’. In response to this, our leaders must evolve. They must become ‘neuroleaders’. These are people who complement conventional leadership capabilities by leading also with the brain in mind.

For many organisations and individuals, the awareness of this shift is low. Consequently, the journey from their status quo to where they need to get to is considerable. Time is running out.

The Imagination Age Is Here!

As NASA scientist, Dr. Rita King, noted:

The Imagination Age is the theoretical period beyond the Information Age, where creativity and imagination will become the primary creators of economic value.

This view may seem like a big claim, but we can already see it coming to pass. So how will leadership need to adapt to keep up with these changes? 

At the heart of the thinking that created the About my Brain Institute, is founder, Silvia Damiano, who's leadership model - the i4 Neuroleader - was created to address the challenges leaders will experience in the 21st century of work. Below is a framework the evolution of leadership over the past decades and into the future.

Imagination Makes Money

When we think of the smart business stories making the headlines; Tesla’s new cars and home-batteries, Uber and Airbnb, they are clearly exploiting this new paradigm.
At the same time, the majority of businesses struggle to adapt. They cry ‘foul’ as they see old markets, built over decades, destroyed in months by the guys who are already ‘Imagination Age-ready’ and have built the right people skills and cultures to thrive amongst the chaos.

A significant blockage is in the way we think about imagination – as a rare talent with magical qualities bestowed upon a gifted few. I think this is misleading, and perhaps also used as a convenient excuse by the many leaders who find the shift difficult and even threatening.

We now know that imagination is innate in all of us. ‘All’ we have to do is to create the mindset and conditions to allow it to emerge so that we can, in-turn, add it to our leadership toolbox.

How Imagination Fits In Our Leadership Model

Imagination is one of the 16 pillars of the i4 Neuroleader Model. It sits within the competency of Innovation. As I unpack in the ‘Innovation’ post, the 4 pillars are:

The 3 Elements Of Imagination

Imagination is the faculty of mentally forming new concepts, ideas or patterns without involving the senses.


Daydreaming occurs when our minds drift away from the present moment and the focus is no longer on the external environment. For the most part, we’ve been taught that a wandering mind is inefficient and a ‘waste of time’. New research shows that that our minds are often wandering 20-50% of the time. Moreover this time actually enables our brains to do different and valuable things. 

When we daydream, our brains are able to imagine future possibilities, remember the past and to link disparate concepts, emotions, feelings and perspectives. We are able to free range, as our ‘default network’ is triggered – activating and de-activating different parts of our brain.

As leaders, we need all the tools we can get. Pure logic and concentration can be supplemented by our day-dreaming. This can produce different solutions – often from new directions of approach – enabled by this free-ranging faculty.

We must learn too to encourage this in our reports. Creating the time and space to allow for this (perhaps by re-thinking formal ‘meeting’ conventions) is worth testing. New solutions can emerge and staff engagement increase.

Ideas Generation

In the Imagination Age, creativity supersedes information as a source of business advantage. Study after study today tells us that businesses require creative, agile, problem-solving leaders. Ideas generation is at the heart of creativity.

Crucially, this faculty exists in all of us. The idea that we are ‘creative’ or not is often socially imposed on us from an early age. Sadly, we often believe what we have been told. Rather than ‘lightbulb moments’ of genius, ideas generation is a process – available to all of us. It’s often about giving ourself permission to muse.

For example, the mental game of thinking of 100 uses for an object, once we get warmed up, is both easy and fun. We can surprise ourselves with what we come up with. Through neuroscience, we now know that we can be more creative when we access a slower form of brain waves through relaxation (having a shower, travelling by train or air) and also when we are in a good mood.

This has encouraged some leaders to place a higher value on promoting a culture of creativity and growth, rather than command and constraint. So companies like Google, Dropbox and Atlassian (whilst still very commercially astute), also place an emphasis on play, physical and mental wellbeing and genuine collaboration.

Pattern Recognition

Most of us don’t realise that our brains are like pattern-recognition machines! They are continuously trying to predict the near future. The information we receive from our external environment through our senses is processed in different regions and networks in the brain, with the purpose of finding ‘meaning’ in our experience. The new data is compared with previous memories and, in combination with our intuition and judgment, we recognise patterns and, in turn, make decisions.

As leaders, we can make more of this innate capability. Too often, we get stuck in detail, tasks and short-term outputs. By stepping back and taking a broader perspective, we can see what is really going on.

By scanning the environment for new ideas recognising patterns and being open to discussing what could be possible, we can often enhance our strategic capability. This is the inner process that – when acknowledged and enabled – creates ‘outside the box’ solutions.

Harnessing Our Imagination Then Is Both Interesting And Business-savvy

With the advances in neuroscience and a disrupted business world, incorporating this aspect of our brain is now a personal and commercial imperative.

We’ve known this for a long time. As Albert Einstein observed:

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.

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