It is in our faults and failings, not in our virtues, that we touch each other, and find sympathy. It is in our follies that we are one. — Jerome K Jerome
The Birth of A Flaw
“Young Man, You Have A Very Overactive Imagination!!” . In my early years as a student, I heard these words one time too many. According to people who uttered these words, having a hyper active imagination was wasting time on flights of fancy. They said the only place these flights could take off was in my mind. A very systematic narrative that discourages creativity based on long standing logic and empirical data tying the ability to earn with a technical background.
At the time, I was also talking to people about chlorofluorocarbons, the depleting ozone layer and solar homes. Tesla wasn’t around then. But again, all these ideas I had as a high school student were neatly organized as an overactive imagination and closeted for future consideration. A future that wasn’t going to come. Again, all of these could have seemed like minor problems which can be contained and solar housing an expensive impracticality. However, what was needed was constructive advice not dismissal. I am not jaded by those experiences. They taught me a language the world understands. Now, I can converse a little better.
However, imagine if countless young minds are taught that competition to achieve happiness is not a great endeavor. At present, they should be focused on being successful. That story then stretches throughout their lifetime until they forget how powerful imagination really is.
Instead, what if imagination is treasured more formally. What is over or under active is decided later. The only focus is on transforming a dream into a creation ie an outlet. It could be writing, painting, sculpting, graphic design or any other pursuit of conserving imagination throughout time. Then, an effort is made to seek any kind of logic even if remote to support outlandish creations. Ultimately, giving a child the feeling that the world is capable of transforming into a completely different version of itself. That there are no bounds to change. I wonder what, then, would we call “Fiction”
The Network Effect
We go through several rounds of swinging beliefs. Most of our immediate network may think imagination counts for naught. Repeated reminders about the futility of pursuing creative endeavors makes it a self fulfilling prophecy. Only if you listen to it.
Albert Einstein was labeled weird and eccentric when he kept staring at nature while children his age were playing seek. Walter Isaacson in his book “Steve Jobs” talks about Jobs’ inability to choose furniture because he couldn’t decide a particular one that would appease his apparent pursuit of perfection especially when he wanted to pay attention to symmetry and design inside and outside a machine.
Having said that, there is also enough evidence to suggest that art becomes palatable once the stomach forgets what hunger is. In other words, the way economies and the financial machine work is that certain talents are rewarded. It is also equally true that outliers exist and following them blindly would be foolhardy. Perhaps, the simple answer lies in keeping the fire alive long enough for it to be stoked again.
Finally, think about these words by Anais Nin:
“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”
Rome Was Built In A Mania
Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist who lost 95% of his net worth when the Internet bubble burst had this to say:
A friend of mine has a great line. He says ‘Nothing important has ever been built without irrational exuberance
A large amount of destruction gives birth to sustainable businesses. The survivors of the 1990’s dot com bubble ie Amazon, Google and eBay enjoy impressive valuations and even more impressive market share and revenue growth.
Creative destruction is part of a relentless cycle of rebirth. It can also be viewed as metal forged in a mine. Until irrational exuberance finances an excess, real gold is hard to discover and value. At least, in so far as technology goes. The recent Blockchain revolution is another example.
Publishing has been democratized with the advent of self publishing. That doesn’t mean more better content. It could mean a glut of mediocrity. But, without that excess, many new authors would have remained undiscovered.
If you ask value investors such as Warren Buffet, buy into businesses you understand and hold them for a long term which leads me to adopt a multigenerational perspective about creativity.
A Multigenerational Perspective
The art created by a generation may not be appreciated by the people of that generation. It may take one or many future generations to truly appreciate its value. How else can you explain science fiction of the past seamlessly flowing into mainstream reality today. Thinking logically, the only real hindrance to the imagination of authors past was the fact that the tools to enable the future could not be visualized completely during their lifetime. For instance, while HG Wells wrote about transplanting animal DNA into the human body in his epic “ Island of Dr Moreau”, he did not know about CRISPR CAS 9. The epic story of Osiris rising back from the dead and giving birth to Huron alludes to immortality. Again, cryogenics or attempts by billionaires to preserve their bodies for a second afterlife wasn’t known to mythologists. Yet, none of these stories are short of awe inspiring. Stifling an Overactive imagination without giving it a meaningful outlet is imprisoning a vision of the future. A vision that is the domain of the dreams of many. A vision that comes at no cost except society’s vilification based on a mythical opportunity cost.
Creators and their creations in any shape, size or form illuminate the flaws that make us human. Those very same flaws could be viewed as strengths in the future. More importantly, those creations could become the future. Just because our vision is limited, we have no right to stifle a young imagination.
It is absolutely reasonable to say my argument has no legs (empirical evidence) and therefore it cannot stand. I don’t need it to. I want for my imagination to fly before it walks. For in the domain of visions, the future comes before the present. Quite literally. Don’t believe me? Although I cannot offer you any guarantees, try a simple experiment:
1. Do as John Lennon says “Imagine”. Only this time imagine the world two years from now including some outlandish scenarios.
2. Compare your imagination to the real world two years hence and,
3. Identify the commonalities between the real world two years hence and what the world labels as your overactive imagination.
Perhaps, we may agree that the world of the future is an overactive imagination. If not, I hope you enjoy being a child again.