04/01/2014 07:08 am ET Updated Jun 01, 2014


What is the difference between you and your cat or dog? Obviously many things, but the one I'd like you to think about for five minutes is that you have imagination, and however wonderful your pets are, they don't. Imagination is arguably the most important source of wealth today. Imagination has given us scientific discoveries, new technologies, and new products -- nuclear power, life-saving drugs, the personal computer, the internet, the iPod, computer games, Harry Potter, and every new form of entertainment.

Not only that. I believe that every new business and every entrepreneur relies primarily on imagination. What entrepreneurs do is to dream up a new product or service, and the quality of their imagination, and that of their team, is the starting point for any successful venture. Entrepreneurs also need imagination to surmount all the roadblocks that inevitably plague a new business. Information and experience are fine, but as my friend Perry Marshall says, imagination always requires you to step outside of known rules and envision the outworkings of assumptions that you must make. Imagination is closely related to faith, faith in what you have imagined and want to make come to pass. Business is ultimately a creative process, and the greatest value is added by imagination.

It's also true that every human being possesses imagination. Very few of us use our imagination to more than a tiny fraction of its potential. Imagination is a mental muscle, one that needs to be used to develop it, one that can be trained and expanded, both in quality and quantity. Certain cultures and educational systems encourage imagination, and others limit and repress it. The same is true of social groups and organizations of all kinds. I think it is not accidental that a disproportionate number of Americans win Nobel Prizes, and that most dramatic discoveries and new products are imagined by people who have grown up in an educational system that encourages free thought and debate, rather than following rules and social customs. Rebels imagine. Conformists don't.

Then isn't it curious that imagination is not more highly valued?

I hear some of you disputing this -- which is good, because it means you're thinking and imagining. But consider the following:

• When you go to a job interview, or conduct one yourself, is imagination one of the things that you are tested on, or test in the candidates? When people draw up job descriptions, do they put imagination at the top of the list? For the most important jobs, they should.

• When you hit a problem or difficulty, what is your natural reaction? Annoyance? Frustration? Acceptance? How often do you calmly and quietly say to yourself, there is a solution to this quandary, and I am going to imagine what it might be?

• Do you train your imagination? Do you exercise your "imagination muscle"? How much time each day do you spend consciously trying to imagine new things?

• Imagination needs feeding. Do you talk to a wide variety of people, including the most imaginative people you know? Read diverse things totally unrelated to your job? Go to art galleries, travel to odd places, watch movies and go to the theatre, or find other ways of stimulating your thinking? Do you get plenty of sleep? Do you set your imagination to work by identifying a knotty issue and letting your subconscious sort it out? Do you allow free time for meditation or exercise, so that the subconscious can bubble away and intrude on your conscious mind?

Koch's 7 Tips For Imagination Expansion

1. Every week, devote an hour to two separate "imagination" sessions, one relating to your work, and one to your career and the rest of your life. Schedule both the sessions for the same time each week and write them in your diary/calendar. Treat them as inviolable times, medical emergencies only excepted. Choose a peaceful place to hold the sessions and stick to that place. Do not allow interruptions -- if necessary, remove the door handle, as Ernest Hemingway did when he wrote.

2. Tell your partner and one or two close friends that you are doing this, and report back to them on ideas you've had, and the follow-up you plan.

3. Before each session, identify a hard problem, issue, or "foggy opportunity" (one you feel is there, but don't know how or where exactly). Set your imagination to work.

4. Have at least one "imagination replenishment" diversion of at least 2 hours every weekend -- some leisure activity that will stimulate your imagination. Plan this too so it happens.

5. Each month, identify a creative person you know, and ask how they feed their imagination. Imitate them where appropriate, or devise your own variant of what they do.

6. Each time you change jobs, make sure the new one has more scope for you to exercise your imagination. Make imagination one of the top 3 criteria you use for selecting a new place to work.

7. Persuade trusted friends to join the imagination bandwagon. There is nothing that will make you more imaginative than persuading friends to join you in the quest for greater imagination -- if you evangelize for imagination, you'll need to set a good example!

The 7 Tips are not hard. Try them! And please let me know how they work out -- and good luck! The world can never have too much constructive imagination.