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Jose Antonio Tijerino Headshot

Imagine That...

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During a meeting last month with our elementary school to discuss my six-year-old daughter's progress, I chimed in about the great amount of detail in a drawing that accompanied a story she wrote about our family's weekend activities. None of the other kids illustrated their accounting of the weekend, which was the assignment. My comment was brushed aside like an irksome mosquito whizzing by an unwelcoming ear. The counselor moved on to my daughter's math evaluation.

"I know we've been discussing her progress in reading and math but how is creativity being measured," was the question I wedged into the conversation.

"It's not," was the counselor's precise response, which came with the backdrop of creative scores elementary school children consistently dropping in the US since 1990. "All we care about is reading and math."

Well, I actually care about creativity. I care a lot. Especially as to how it relates to math. And to science. And to technology. And education. And social change. And as to how it relates to every vehicle leading to innovation which will be critical to moving America forward. And I'm very worried ...

Last summer a Newsweek story entitled The Creativity Crisis said, for the first time, research shows that American creativity overall is in decline. The results of a creative cavity in the future can be disastrous which the article supported by stating: The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. Yet it's not just about sustaining our nation's economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions.

According to the Adobe State of Create global benchmark study, 80 percent of people feel that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth and nearly two-thirds of respondents felt creativity is valuable to society. Yet only 25 percent of those surveyed believed they are living up to their own creative potential. Juxtapose those figures with a 2010 IBM study of top CEOs from around the world who identified creativity as the most important leadership competency.

I am a strong believer in the strong link between imagination, creativity and innovation. Innovation is an ubiquitous buzzword being used by opinion-leaders from the White House to Silicon Valley. According to the Lincoln Center, imagination is the capacity to visualize new possibilities; creativity is the engagement of the imagination to conceive, express, or produce something highly original; and innovation is the engagement of imagination and creativity to produce an advance in a field of activity.

To support my argument, I call as a witness a game-changing, iconic, innovative American scientist named Albert Einstein who said: Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination is endless.

There you have it. It starts with imagination and creativity, and lead to innovation. It also can end with a precocious, wide-eyed six-year-old in the first grade whose creativity isn't appreciated or developed.

"As parents, we need to care about this issue because a creative, imaginative child is a happy child which in itself has value," said Bonnie Fogel, the visionary founder of Imagination Stage based in Bethesda, MD, who is focused on filling the glaring gap left by our school systems to use creativity as a tool to educate children directly as well as working with parents and educators. "But also, that creative, imaginative happy child will grow to be a happy, fulfilled adult - and one that is imbued with natural leadership talents."

Yes, innovative leaders are what will once again put our country at the top of the global economic food chain. Steve Jobs famously said, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." As Americans, we're not good at being followers. We are much better at being leaders.
It is critical to our future that, as leaders, we nurture the potential genius of that six-year-old child.