In these times of abundance for many, is there anything we're in short supply of? Maybe, it's imagination?
The recent UN climate negotiations struggled to reach a consensus after spilling over two more days than expected. Tied up in knots over carbon trading schemes, UN secretary general António Guterres expressed disappointment; we "lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis.” The same might be said for other key moments in 2019.
Let's look ahead.
2020, labelled a 'super year', has many international agreements due to be made on biodiversity, climate change and oceans. It is also expected to be the hottest year on record.
When so much is at stake can we imagine a better future for ourselves?
Let's explore imagination a little further.
Imagination: a dying art?
A now famous study of 1500 4-5 year olds were asked how many different uses are there for the humble paperclip? The researchers found that we all have a capacity to imagine 'divergently' at this age, with 98% scoring 'genius' on the scale - but it deteriorates as we get older. Only 10% were at the same level at age 15.
Where did our divergent thinking go and can we get it back again?
Here's the science bit:
Lack of imagination + negative media = ?
A study carried out this year involving 1000 people across 17 countries found that we have a bias to negative news stories and media. We pay more attention to bad news rather than good news, across cultures.
And with the onslaught of negative media, from politics to climate change - it's a doomsday read.
😳 INSERT SHOCKING HEADLINE HERE.
😱 PARALYSE PEOPLE WITH FEAR THERE.
What does decades of this negative storytelling do to modernity?
Fear what we don't know? Cripple our sense of agency to do anything about it? Less likely to challenge the status quo?
🤯 Are we in an imagination crisis?
Can we only think as consumers?
Can we only think within a hard capitalist model?
How many uses of paperclips can you come up with?
Rob Hopkins published his book earlier this year, 'From What Is to What If’: unleashing the power of imagination to create the future we want’. He argues, "we are living in a time of increasing imaginative poverty, a time in which our ability to be imaginative seems to be under unprecedented pressure. We spend, on average, 65% of our waking hours in front of screens. [In the UK] Austerity has led to the closure of 478 libraries and has decimated community arts initiatives...and teaching arts in schools.
One-third of adults, surveys show, feel as though they don’t use their imagination for work."
That sounds like an imagination drought alright.
We've been co-opted into thinking about the outcome of creativity and what other people think, that we have forgotten the value in the process of being creative. And as we grew up, our imagination muscle for many of us became flabby and lazy.
How can we re-strengthen our imagination muscle? And inspire others to do the same. When we can imagine a better future for ourselves it can strengthen our resolve.
Let's not wait for world leaders - let's start today 💪🏼
🏋🏽♀️ Time to get into imagination shape
Here are some tips to re-spark your imagination off in the new decade
- Embrace your inner child - being imaginative can feel childish, so rather than fight it, why not embrace it? Get out all the old colouring pencils, dust down the blank sketchpads, the old stories you used to read, speak in silly voices.
- Engage all the senses - we learn with all our senses, so let's imagine with all our senses too. Take some time to work out if you imagine in images, words, shapes, colours, smells, sounds or beats, or maybe through movement.
- Go for a walk - resist the urge to put headphones in, take yourself into nature, notice each footstep you take, look at what's around you, how many shades of green can you spot? What noises can you distinguish? What shapes do you see? Stay mindful, what feelings are you experiencing?
- Do something novel - switching up your routine can bring about new ideas and new thoughts. Say yes to something when you usually say no.
- Act on your gut instinct - our rational left brains can often override our more instinctual selves, so much so that we're less able to notice it kicking in. Decluttering from our usual internal monologue can help engage our inner wisdom, creativity and imagination.
- Avoid the smartphone and stay bored - it's all too easy to check our smartphones at the moment of boredom. Resist the urge. Let your mind wander. Stay present, ruminate in the most positive sense.
- Play - no matter your age, play is good for all of us. You could try an improv group, or have a go at taking on a character Dungeons and Dragons, or try Storycubes with friends.
We hope there's some food for thought for you here.
Practise exercising your imagination because we cannot be what we cannot imagine.
The powerhouse that is Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez has a go in this powerful short video set in the future. We hope it sets your imagination on fire.