Why imagination is key to transforming society

We all know that things need to change. From the climate crisis to social issues, there’s lots of work to be done to make the world a better place. It requires organisation, money and hard work. But there’s one thing that comes before all of that: imagination.

Imagining a better world

It’s all too easy to identify the problems we face. And there’s something to be said for that, especially for purpose-led businesses. Seeing the problems gives us a chance to offer an alternative.

But the pivot point is imagining something better. A spark. An idea that inspires us and gives us something to work towards. And these ideas can be powerful.

According to research into brain function and imagining the future, by Donna Rose Addis and Daniel L. Schacter:

Analyses reveal the ways that individual cognition and emotion mixes with power and the dynamics of social structures to shape what can even possibly be imagined in the first place.

Through these results, we observe that imagination can make causal contributions to transformative processes and their trajectories. 

In a nutshell: any one person has the power to change things with a great idea. That’s why we need to make sure we create the right conditions for our imaginations to flourish – both within and outside of the workplace.

The conditions for creativity

Addis’ research has also shown that it’s difficult for us to flex our imaginations when we’re feeling stressed or burnt out. Our hippocampus – the part of the brain which drives our imagination, amongst other things – has impaired functionality under these conditions.

In an interview with Rob Hopkins, author of From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want, Addis talks about how the constant stream of bad news and social media could be restricting our imaginations:

In modern society, we’re constantly bombarded with information and we can consider that as being in a perpetually noisy environment, if you like […] If you’re constantly bombarded with information, and having to filter and deal with this relentless stream of information, then this creates an ongoing level of stress.

So there’s something to be said for unplugging – not only for our own mental health but also for our collective ability to imagine a better future and transform society.

Imagination for impact

What does this mean for impact-driven businesses? If imagination is a valuable resource for driving change, solving problems and making our ventures transformative, then we need to nurture and protect our reserves of imagination.

The first step is to look after ourselves and our teams. Go for walks, take breaks, switch off your phone, make sure the office has natural light and greenery. Organise and delegate to avoid burnout. Beyond that, we need to actively encourage and feed our imaginations. Whether it’s through running regular creative and brainstorming sessions with your team or simply nourishing your own mind with books, nature and culture, it might just help you save the world.

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