Imagination, the Precursor of Creative Thinking

03/09/2015 05:18 pm ET | Updated May 09, 2015

Who would have imagined that one day, knowing how to tap into people's ideas would not only be valuable for the economy but also important in the development of leaders?

Knowledge has been the "master" for the past few decades and will undoubtedly continue to be part of our lives, however, the individual and collective power of imagination as a precursor of creative thinking is now taking central stage, and in my opinion, it is here to stay.

During my last trip to Madrid, I was fortunate to interview the Head of Talent at Manpower Group in Europe, Juan Carlos Cubeiro. This top management guru with 25 years in the field of leadership is a great example of imagination being unleashed. The proof: 42 books, two new releases coming up soon and a daily blog since 2006.

We spoke about leadership, the VUCA world and how important it is for today's leaders to develop not only their imagination but other key competencies such as integration, inspiration and intuition. Below you can view Juan Carlos interview with English subtitles.

Of course, I took the opportunity to ask him how he could be so imaginative and produce this incredible body of work in addition to his day job. He simply replied:

"I work at it. I read many books, speak to many people, let my mind wander and every night I sit down to write."

His comments reminded me of the latest discoveries about imagination and how it occurs in the brain. It seems that up to 11 different areas throughout the brain are quite engaged and"active" when we imagine.

[This is some of the research.

In the end, it turns out that imagining and day dreaming are not a waste of time -- as some people still tend to think.

When we imagine, the brain is not necessarily resting but accessing what scientists call the default mode network (also known as the imagination network). So, basically our brains are quite busy creating new pictures, symbols and other mental constructs.

Being able to access this network also gives the brain a break from the busyness or routine of the day, allowing it to reboot. In my experience, this process lets us step into another world.

If creativity is the new currency and imagination is the foundation stone, what can we do to nurture this great mental faculty?

Here are 19 strategies that I consider useful to advance our capacity to imagine:

  1. Close your eyes often and take a breath of fresh air
  2. Lay on the grass and find patterns in the clouds
  3. Draw, draw and draw (anything)
  4. Do something with your hands
  5. Read fantasy books
  6. Do absolutely nothing without feeling guilty about it
  7. Take a moment to stare at the computer screen
  8. Move your feet often, relax your back and take a walk
  9. Experience new environments and when travelling, mingle with locals
  10. Learn a musical instrument just for fun
  11. Dress up with your favourite costume
  12. Create a new dish
  13. Read futuristic blogs
  14. Organise a treasure hunt for your team or family
  15. Incorporate some metaphors when you explain something to others
  16. Read stories or learn story telling
  17. Attend an acting course
  18. Improvise instead of planning everything (if you are that type)
  19. Change the colours of the walls where you live or work

As children, we used to access our imagination to invent games, to do our first drawings and even to visualise how the day of our high school graduation would be. When we dream of renovating our house, where to go to on our next holiday or what it would mean to get that "ideal job", we are also using our imagination.

Despite all these life examples, if you ask most people if they believe they have a good imagination, they will probably answer:

I am not imaginative... at all...

If you do not believe me, just try it!!

Now we know that imagination can help us create and innovate, see things from a different perspective, solve problems better and refresh the brain. This can definitely make us more productive at work and content in life.

At some point in our lives, it seems (with the exception of a few people) that we stop paying attention to the fact that we do possess the ability to imagine and that we can access this mental faculty anytime we want.

Now, imagine how colourful your world would be, if you would let your imagination run free once again.