Sir Ken Robinson on the Relationship Between Imagination, Creativity, and Innovation

Calvin hobbes dance

“Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

– Albert Einstein

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at least you create what you will.”

– George Bernard Shaw

Sir Ken Robinson's body of work is one deserving of attention. Robinson is best known for the self deprecating sense of humor with which he delivers a very important message: “Imagination is the source of all human achievement.”

A leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources, working with governments and the world’s leading cultural organizations, he was knighted in 2003 for his contribution to education and the arts.

In 1998, his report after leading a UK commission on creativity, education, and the economy became very influential. “This report raises some of the most important issues facing business in the 21st century. It should have every CEO and human resources director thumping the table and demanding action,” said The Times.

The premise of his book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative is that our world is the product of the ideas, beliefs and values of human imagination and culture that have shaped it over centuries. It has been created out of our minds as much as from the natural environment. The human mind is profoundly and uniquely creative, but too many people have no sense of their true talents.

His mission is “to transform the culture of education and organizations with a richer conception of human creativity and intelligence.”

Imagination is the source of our creativity, but imagination and creativity are not the same. Imagination is the ability to bring to mind things that are not present to our senses. We can imagine things that exist or things that do not exist at all. If I ask you to think of an elephant, your old school, or your best friend, you can bring to mind mental images that are drawn from real experience.

We wouldn't normally think of mental images of real experiences as imaginative. More accurately, they are imaginal. If I ask you to think of a green polar bear wearing a dress, you can imagine that too. But now you are bringing to mind something that you haven't experienced. […] These sorts of images are of possibilities composed in the mind rather than recalled to the mind. They are imaginative.

Sometimes we mistake imaginative experiences for real ones. These sorts of experiences are imaginary.

Imaginary friends inhabit our world in the formative years of childhood. Bill Watterson's adventures of Calvin and Hobbes, and the imaginative journeys of Maurice Sendak's classic picture book Where the Wild Things Are are good examples of how art expresses ideas and values.

Sir Ken Robinson says:

Imagination is the primary gift of human consciousness. In imagination, we can step out of the here and now. We can revisit and review the past. We can take a different view of the present by putting ourselves in the minds of others: we can try to see with their eyes and feel with their hearts. And in imagination we can anticipate many possible futures.

We may not be able to predict the future but by acting on the ideas produced in our imagination, we can help to create it. The imagination liberates us from our immediate circumstances and holds the constant possibility of transforming the present.

At this point, Robinson introduces creativity, which in his view is a step further from imagination. In his definition, “creativity is a process of having original ideas that have value.” It's a process, and not an event, and it can be taught.

Imagination can be an entirely private process of internal consciousness. […] Private imaginings may have no outcomes n the world at all. Creativity does. Being creative involves doing something.

[…] To call someone creative suggests they are actively producing something in a deliberate way. People are not creative in the abstract; they are creative in something: in mathematics, in engineering, in writing, in music, in business, in whatever.

Creativity involves putting your imagination to work. In a sense, creativity is applied imagination.

It is Robinson's belief that one of the roles of education is to awaken and develop the powers of creativity.

As children, we start the first grade with our hand up, eager to participate and get involved, and end up hiding in the back row near graduation — diversity, creativity, and curiosity beaten out of us. Because those who succeed, generally are labeled as misfits. Yet, it is creativity that enables a culture of innovation.

Innovation is the process of putting new ideas into practice. Innovation is applied creativity. By definition, innovation is always about introducing something new, or improved, or both and it is usually assumed to be a positive thing.

All of our existing ideas have creative possibilities. Insights happen when we make new or unexpected connections — divergent thinking is an essential capacity for creativity — or we ask powerful questions about issues.

Creative thinking involves pushing the envelope, looking beyond the boundaries of current frames of reference, and often drawing from different areas of intelligence simultaneously.

The creative process can operate in the many diverse fields of human intelligence, is about making dynamic connections between things, and involves many different mental functions, combinations of skills, and personal attributes.

Howard Gardner, professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, identified 8 total intelligences, or eight different ways to solve problems:

  1. linguistic (reading and writing)
  2. logical-mathematical (mathematics)
  3. spatial intelligence (used by architects, and designers,)
  4. musical (musicians)
  5. bodily-kinesthetic (athletes, surgeons, carpenters)
  6. naturalist (veterinarians, farmers, campers), and
  7. interpersonal ( knowing and understanding others – think of people who are really good at “working a room” or mediating problems between coworkers)
  8. intrapersonal (knowing and understanding yourself, which can help with stress and anger management)

This is known as the theory of multiple intelligences for which he has won multiple awards. Going beyond theory, Gardner and colleagues developed toolkits for use in educational and professional circles.

We find our creative power thought thinking and feeling — it is through both that we connect with each other and create the complex, shifting worlds of human culture, says Robinson.

Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative is  an important step toward understanding the relationship between  imagination, creativity, and innovation and linking science with art into new applications.


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