Brain Need Reinvention? Try Imagination.

by Robert S. Tipton

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

— Einstein

It seems we’re bombarded continually with messages telling us that we need to be more innovative and creative, to get over our limiting beliefs and status quo biases (oh wait, I send those messages myself!), and to be “out of the box” in our thinking whenever possible.

OFF RAMP: Have you ever wondered about the origins of the phrase “thinking outside the box?” According to Wikipedia:

The origins are obscure; but it was popularized in part because of a nine-dot puzzle, which John Adair claims to have introduced in 1969. Management consultant Mike Vance has claimed that the use of the nine-dot puzzle in consultancy circles stems from the corporate culture of the Walt Disney Company, where the puzzle was used in-house.

The puzzle proposed an intellectual challenge—to connect the dots by drawing four straight, continuous lines that pass through each of the nine dots, and never lifting the pencil from the paper. The conundrum is easily resolved, but only if you draw the lines outside the confines of the square area defined by the nine dots themselves. The phrase “thinking outside the box” is a restatement of the solution strategy. The puzzle only seems difficult because we imagine a boundary around the edge of the dot array. The heart of the matter is the unspecified barrier which is typically perceived.
(Source: Wikipedia)

ON RAMP: Yes — I can agree that thinking outside the box is important — however, rarely are we given the “how” to go along with the admonition to just “do it.”

So — here’s the how about getting outside the lines… We become different by being different — by reinventing ourselves, our thoughts, our actions, etc. Now, in order to actually “be” different, we have to first “imagine” ourselves as something different. Something beyond. Something new. Something “imaginary” to begin with.

An example? A high school student “imagines” him- or herself as a doctor, and begins the process of applying to pre-med programs at their favorite universities. In this case, the imagination is clearly a preview of a coming attraction!

Thus, with all the pressure to reinvent ourselves, the word “imagination” has become very popular over the past few years. Many people use it in the context which Einstein used it above (life’s coming attractions). However, many people also seem to use the word imagination as a term of derision. After all, “If you have to use your imagination, you’re living in a dream world — come back to reality!” (they would say)

Oh my.

Now, this “come back to reality” statement begs the question — “just what IS real?”

Memory Synapses (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)

If we can all agree that we’ll answer that question using our brain — instead of, say, a Ouigi Board or a Magic 8-Ball, do our brains really know what is real versus what we might have imagined to be real?

Clearly, I’m not a brain scientist — but my “lay-person” understanding of just how memory works tells me that it’s a highly subjective, prone-to-interpretation, imprecise thing. In fact, the more I study about this whole topic the more nervous I become related to things like relying upon the testimony of “an eye witness.” Why? Read on…

To support my concerns, a study reported in Smithsonian Magazine, done by Karim Nader, said this:

“Nader, now a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, says his memory of the World Trade Center attack has played a few tricks on him. He recalled seeing television footage on September 11 of the first plane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center. But he was surprised to learn that such footage aired for the first time the following day. Apparently he wasn’t alone: a 2003 study of 569 college students found that 73 percent shared this misperception.” (source: Smithsonian Magazine)

In other words, he remembered incorrectly. As did 73% of the 569 college students. Scary. How are you feeling about that “eye-witness-account” now?

Further, research done in 2011 is now telling us that there’s a “tiny fold” in the brain that is used to distinguish between reality and fantasy — and not everyone has that fold in their brains! Is that an error, a mutation, a naturally-occuring thing? Scientists are still debating the issue.

Scans of a brain with a distinctive paracingulate sulcus (left, marked by arrow) and without one (right)

Read this from Discover Magazine: One of memory’s big jobs is to keep straight what actually happened versus what we imagined: whether we said something out loud or to ourselves, whether we locked the door behind us or just thought about locking the door. That ability, a new study found, is linked to the presence of a small fold in the front of the brain, which some people have and others don’t—a finding that could help researchers better understand not only healthy memory, but disorders like schizophrenia in which the line between the real and the imagined is blurred.

What? Some of us don’t have “the fold?” Who’s in charge of this “reality” question — those with the fold, or those without? (cue Dr. Seuss and his Sneetches YouTube video!)

If Our Past is Uncertain, What About the Future?/

Certainly, if our memories can be influenced by a fold in our brains, or by repeating messages incorrectly over and over (to be redundant), can’t we use these same things to reshape our future? Don’t elite athletes spend HOURS creating mental images of success? Isn’t visualization a process we use to “attract” things of importance to us? Isn’t that ALL about imagination?

In other words, rather than being CERTAIN that a particular future will take shape based upon our memories of the past, why not imagine a different future? A future where the rules of the past don’t apply?

Why not?

Why not indeed.

The Benefits of Imagination

And, the benefits of a strong imagination are no more important than with our kids. Here are some examples of recent research as shared by Sherri Mandel in her article in “Whole Family” magazine:

Whole Family, Sherri Mandell, Nurturing Imagination
A child with an active imagination benefits because he has a way to deal with intense emotions. New Jersey school psychologist, Beth Falk, PhD, explains: “Kids can become overwhelmed by their emotions but by using their imaginations, they can master their feelings. If a child is afraid of a monster, he can make up a story about hunting down the monster and scaring it and turning it into something else. He’s found a way to transform it.”

A recent study by Professor Sandra Russ at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University found that first and second graders who show high levels and quality of fantasy and imagination in their play scored higher on a test measuring their ability to accommodate to stressful situations. More imaginative kids were better able to deal with forgetting their lunch or being picked on by a bully.

“Because children come up with different ideas in fantasy play, taking on different roles and voices, it’s practice for divergent thinking and problem solving,” says Russ in an interview with the American Psychological Association’s “Monitor Online.” Divergent thinking means that imaginative children can generate different ideas about a topic. The ability to generate alternatives allows children to become better problem solvers.

Imagination is an INCREDIBLY powerful tool, when used positively, that has the power to truly turn our thoughts into things. Bob sled drivers, ski racers, horse jumpers, stock traders, competitive skaters, artists, writers — you name it — are using their imaginations to turn their thoughts into things. Yes, yes they are.

Kids — with healthy imaginations — are more able to deal with stress, and are better problem solvers. And based upon my interpretation of some brain research, what’s “real” and what’s “imagined” are clearly hard to separate…

So — do you want a different, better approach to things? Think outside of “your” box, get beyond your limitations, and dream a little.

Imagine that.



Destination ImagiNation


Finally, anybody who really knows me or my family will tell you that “ImagiNation” (as in, Destination ImagiNation) is a HUGE part of our lives. We eat, sleep, breathe and LIVE imagination around here.

The subject is SO important to me, I incorporated it into my book. I used Jack Miller and his son, Jason, in JUMP! – Get Unstuck to introduce Destination ImagiNation (DI) to the readers as part of the Falcon Foundation story. I’ve been involved in one way or another with DI (and other creative solution-finding programs) since 1985. As Jack’s character said, DI is the best after-school program. Period. Why?

Combine the public pressure being placed on academic performance in today’s education (yes, we need to know the basics; I’m not arguing that), along with the tighter and tighter restrictions on budgets today, and often the more esoteric skills like leadership, communication, planning, and innovation tend to be put at a lower priority. I’m not criticizing public education—far from it. It’s just that school districts have to make choices, and sometimes these choices leave gaps.

We’re preparing our kids for a future where they’ll be doing jobs we’ve never heard of, using technologies that haven’t yet been invented, and in a world where borders are being erased and competition is increasing. Augmenting their “classic” education involving reading, writing, arithmetic, science, etc., DI prepares kids to see the world’s challenges as a series of steps to understand, solve, and move through. They’re undaunted. They’re confident. They’re successful in life.

There are some 1.3 million DI alumni worldwide, and about 35,000 volunteers support DI’s activities annually. Here’s more information from DI’s international organization website:

Building Tomorrow’s Leaders: One Challenge at a Time

Destination ImagiNation, Inc. is an extraordinary non-profit organization that provides educational programs for students to learn and experience creativity, teamwork and problem solving. Every year, we reach 100,000 students across the U.S. and in more than 30 countries. Destination ImagiNation, our core program, is an exhilarating after-school activity in which students work in teams to solve mind-bending Challenges and present their solutions at Tournaments. Teams are tested to think on their feet, work together, and devise original solutions that satisfy the requirements of the Challenges. Participants gain more than just basic knowledge and skills—they learn to unleash their imaginations and take unique approaches to problem solving. (Source: Destination ImagiNation)

I’m donating a portion of the profits from JUMP! to DI so that more kids, both here in the US and in the developed and developing world, have the chance to participate in DI. I believe it’s one of the best ways to help our kids become prepared for the complex challenges they’ll encounter later in life. Like, next week.

For more information about DI, please check out their website. Better still, become involved.

It’s a great way to touch the future — and to see previews of life’s coming attractions.

Imagination. It’s pretty cool stuff.

Would You Like Robert Tipton to Speak At Your Event? Click on the Image Below For More Information.”
Robert S. Tipton, Speaking Montage 2012

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