“What valuable company is nobody building?” asks Peter Thiel in his book ‘Zero to One’.
A correct answer to that question has two underpinnings. First, there are secrets left to be found in this world. Second, imagination can lead you to those secrets.
Talk about Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein, Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, imagination has led to more successes than knowledge or intelligence. The world abounds with a sea of ideas, ideas that fuel the minds of entrepreneurs, and eventually drive progress and innovation.
Imagination can provide answers to big problems
The Chinese example of Taobao villages - a cluster of rural e-tailers within an administrative village is a classic case of how imagination could be applied by entrepreneurs to transform an entire rural community by putting them onto the e-commerce bandwagon.
India's Walmart of Heart Surgery (Narayana Health) is another example of how imagination can be applied in creating a unique business model to provide high quality yet affordable cardiac health services. The price point of a heart surgery is a whopping 98% less than what it costs in the US. The model has not only been replicated globally but has also become a Harvard Business School case study.
Take some time out, and think about how you’d be able to tap into a sea of advantages, only by incorporating imagination in your regular lives. But this effort needs to be deliberate. That’s’ because like every other muscle in your body, the brain needs its own share of exercises as well. The more you train your ‘imaginative muscle’, the better would be the results.
Imagination is not difficult
Sample this: When Thomas A. Edison invented the light bulb, he merely brought together two well-known principles in physics that existed since the beginning of time. The only extra thing he brought to the table was imagination.
Mr. Edison knew that a light could be produced by heating a small wire with electricity, but the difficult problem was to do this without burning the wire down. In his study of physics, he had learned -- as all other students of this subject learn -- that there can be no combustion without the presence of oxygen. He placed the little wire of his electric light apparatus inside a glass globe, shut out all the oxygen, and the light bulb became a reality.
Almost every problem can be broken down into its parts; parts that are easier to manage relative to the problem in its entirety. It is your imagination that can help you disintegrate the problem into its components and then reassemble the whole thing in a favorable manner, in keeping with the end goal and what you had expected.
“Imagination leads to creativity, creativity leads to innovation, and innovation leads to entrepreneurship.”
Imagination is not far away
As an aspiring entrepreneur, we often look for big problems that other people have, rather than using our imagination to look for hundreds of thousands of smaller problems (aka opportunities) that are there around us. That reminds me of Ali Hafed’s story in the book ‘Acres of Diamond.’ There was once a wealthy man named Ali Hafed. “He was contented because he was wealthy, and wealthy because he was contented.” One day, a priest visited Ali Hafed and told him about diamonds in a far-off land. Ali Hafed felt discontented because he desperately wanted those diamonds.
Next day, Ali Hafed sold his farm, left his family, and travelled to Palestine and then to Europe searching for diamonds. He did not find them. His health and his wealth failed him. Dejected, he threw himself into the sea. One day, the man who had purchased Ali Hafed's farm found a curious sparkling stone in a stream that cut through his land. It was a diamond. Digging produced more diamonds — acres of diamonds!
You can’t find secrets without applying your imagination to look for them at the right place. Whether it is secrets of nature, or secrets about people, we have barely scratched the surface in solving the challenges that people deal with on a daily basis.
Imagination is often thinking outside the box
Sample this: A ton of pig-iron (or crude iron) is not worth much. But add to that pig-iron carbon, silicon, manganese, phosphorus and sulphur in the right proportions, and you have transformed it into a ton of steel – something that’s worth a lot more. Take a step further and add skilled labor, processes into the mix, and you have mainsprings to be used in watches. This is certainly taking the efficacy a step higher.
What is that extra ingredient that you’ve added in order to transform a ton of pig-iron to watch springs? That is nothing but your imagination (coupled with skilled competencies, of course). Albeit, imagination is how the developmental transformations started to take shape.
PS - India’s Mars Orbiter Mission to put a spacecraft in orbit around Mars on its first try with a tiny budget of $73 million was an excellent example of imagination.
Imagination can set you apart as a leader
The all-engulfing business life of a corporate executive is peppered with meetings, conference calls, e-mails and town halls. It is no wonder then that the modern day-executive barely exhibits the appetite to imagine. But the reality remains that unless you create success in your mind, it would be near impossible to do it in reality.
That’s because as a leader, your foremost duty, besides leading people into the future, of course, is to foresee challenges and solutions that no one talks about today. That is possible only through imagination.
Can the benefits of imagination be quantified?
While imagination is indeed your mental capacity to think outside the box for solutions, its advantages can certainly be quantified.
- For starters, when you deliberately start to imagine, you begin to iron cast your abilities and confidence.
- By the time this comes to fruition, you will have automatically entrenched in yourself the ability to look beyond your problem and arrive at possible alternatives to tackle the issue at hand. While you might find yourself thinking about the problem, you would not be belittled by it anymore.
- You begin to acknowledge past mistakes and take them in your stride. All in all, you stop fearing the ‘what if’s’ thrown at you.
- Imagination lends you the ability to look beyond one’s exterior and leverage his/her unique abilities. This is the real trick to getting things done.
- And finally, imagination whets your creativity, sparks confidence and propels you towards innovating a novel solution; a solution that will eventually address possible gaps in demand and supply.
No matter if you are a corporate executive or an entrepreneur, it is imperative that you have the end-result in mind while applying your imagination. While it might sound obvious, you’d be surprised at how most individuals are happy taking shots in the dark without clearly knowing what is it that they are aiming for.
Today, imagination in itself is a rare commodity – one that is often talked about, but seldom found. However, imagination is what can lead you to more expansive avenues and conquer unchallenged domains. No matter if you want to beat competition or just innovate in order to stay ahead of your competition, you must have imagination on your speed dial.
Hitesh Porwal, a certified Executive Coach, runs a 6-week coaching program - Entrepreneurship E-Lab - for executives aspiring to become entrepreneurs. You can find more about the program at https://www.wealthpal.in/entrepreneurship.aspx.