The Imagination Factor

I came across a list of Famously Wrong Predictions the other day.  Read and smile:

  • “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” –Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
  • “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”
    — A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
  • “$100 million dollars is way too much to pay for Microsoft.”
    — IBM, 1982
  • “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”
    — Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
  • “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face not Gary Cooper.”
    — Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.”
  • “But what … is it good for?”
    — Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968,commenting on the microchip.
  • “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
    — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

You may have read many of these previously.  Each of these predictions, laughable now, share a fatal flaw:  the speaker evidenced a complete lack of imagination.  There was no lack of intelligence (in fact many of these folks were some of the smartest people on the planet).  There was no lack of passion.  There was no lack of energy to implement.  There was a fundamental lack of imagination.  Read the quotes again and think about the imagination needed to  create the product or concept versus the lack of imagination displayed by the speaker of the quote.

I’m convinced that when our organizations fail to reach their “Far Edge of Promise,” they do so, more often than not, because of a failure of imagination.  This failure comes in a variety of forms and at all levels of the organization, including the Board, the top management team, and the staff.

There is an easy, but at times a seemingly provocative way to encourage more imagination:  pose well-framed questions.  Especially the simplest of all questions, “why?”  “Why?” causes us to stop and think about something from a different perspective.  It causes us to use our imagination.  “Why are we doing it that way?  What about this way – it just might be better?”

So, here’s the real question:  As a leader of your organization, do you encourage, even incentivize, those around you to simply ask “why?”


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