Imagination may be more important than
The eight types of imagination we use.
University Malaysia Perlis
is the ability to form mental images, phonological passages, analogies, or
narratives of something that is not perceived through our senses. Imagination is
a manifestation of our memory and enables us to scrutinize our past and
construct hypothetical future scenarios that do not yet, but could exist.
Imagination also gives us the ability to see things from other points of view
and empathize with others.
Imagination extends our experience and thoughts, enabling a personal
construction of a world view that lowers our sense of uncertainty.
In this way our imagination fills in the gaps within our knowledge enabling us
to create mental maps that make meaning out of the ambiguities of situations we
face where information is lacking,
which is an important function of our memory management. This partly explains
why people react differently to what they see due to the unique interpretations
they make based on different prior knowledge and experience. Imagination enables
us to create new meanings from cognitive cues or stimuli within the environment,
which on occasions can lead to new insights.
Our knowledge and personal goals are embedded within our imagination which is at
the heart of our existence, a cognitive quality that we would not be human
Imagination is the means novelists use to create their stories.
The Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk imagined a world he retreated into as a
child where he was someone else, somewhere else in creating the narrative and
story of his novel “ Istanbul”.
Imagination is needed in marketing to create new value sets to consumers that
separate new products from others. This requires originality to create
Imagination is the essence of marketing opportunity
 that conjures up
images and entices fantasy to consumers, allowing them to feel what it would be
like to live at Sanctuary Cove in Northern Queensland, Australia, receiving a
Citibank loan, driving a Mercedes 500 SLK around town, or holidaying in Bali.
Imagination aids our practical reasoning
 and opens up new
avenues of thinking, reflection, organizing the world, or doing things
differently. Imagination decomposes what already is, replacing it with what
could be, and is the source of hope fear, enlightenment, and aspirations.
Imagination is not a totally conscious process. New knowledge may incubate
subconsciously when a person has surplus attention to focus on recombining
memory and external stimuli into new meanings. Most people tend to spend a great
deal of time while they are awake “daydreaming”,
where attention shifts away from
the present mental tasks to an unfolding sequence of private responses.
This may be enough to activate our
default network, a web of
autobiographical mental imagery, which may provide new connections and
perspectives about a problem we have been concerned with. Recent research has
shown that the brain periodically shifts phase locking during a person’s
where neural networks activate and these brief periods may be enough to allow
the dominant left hemisphere give way to the right hemisphere, enabling a person
to see the environment, problem or issue from a new perspective.
This has been corroborated with research that found where people engage in
mildly demanding intellectually challenging tasks during breaks from work that
they are doing, there is a higher probability of finding solutions to problems
that they have been engaged within their primary activity.
These processes originate from the
prefrontal cortex where we imagine
ourselves and the feelings of others, the
posterior cingulate cortex
connecting our personal memories throughout the brain, and the
connecting the hippocampus
which is reported to store episodic
Unguided imagination (or what was
once termed “free association”)
through dreaming and “daydreaming”
enables the gathering of information from different parts of our memory, which
may not be easy to access consciously. This information may come from a within a
narrow domain or a much wider field. The more imagination takes account of the
wider field, experience, and prior knowledge, the more likely these ideas
created through imagination will have some originality – through complex
knowledge restructuring. Allen McConnell writing about Steve Jobs in
postulated that the large array of fonts designed for the Macintosh computer
were inspired from Job’s interest and knowledge about typography he learned
while doing a calligraphy class at Reed.
It was Job’s imagination of seeing an array of fonts in the Macintosh that made
it reality. There are very few serendipitous occurrences in creative insight.
Most are the result of triggers and slow incubation periods that lead to a
Marsh and Bower called the above types of insights
Most cases of insight were inspired
by something in the past; although though imagery these new concepts may have
been given new types of manifestations. It is through the imagery of analogies
that many breakthroughs in science have been achieved.
Einstein developed his insight for the theory of relativity through imagining
what would happen if he travelled at the speed of light, Faraday claimed to have
visualized force lines from electric and magnetic fields from a wood fire giving
insight into the theory of electromagnetic fields and kekulé reported that he
gained insight into the shape of the benzene molecule after he imagined a snake
coiled up in a circle.
Imagination is a multidimensional concept and encompasses a number of different
modes which can be described as follows;
1. Effectuative imagination combines information together to synergize
new concepts and ideas. However these are often incomplete and need to be
enhanced, modified, and/or elaborated upon as more information from the
environment comes to attention and is reflected upon. Effectuative imagination
can be either guided or triggered by random thoughts, usually stimulated by what
a person experiences within the framework of their past experience. Effectuative
imagination may also incubate from pondering over a specific problem within the
occasional attention of a person. Effectuative imagination is extremely flexible
and allows for continuous change. This is an important ingredient in
entrepreneurial planning, strategy crafting, particularly in opportunity
construction, development, and assembling all the necessary resources required
to exploit any opportunity.
Effectuative imagination also leads to other forms of imagination that assists
in the construction of concepts, ideas, and action scenarios. Effectuative
imagination enables flexibility in our thinking.
2. Intellectual (or constructive) imagination is utilized when
considering and developing hypotheses from different pieces of information or
pondering over various issues of meaning say in the areas of philosophy,
management, or politics, etc. Intellectual imagination originates from a
definite idea or plan and thus is guided imagination as it has a distinct
purpose which in the end must be articulated after a period of painstaking and
sometimes meticulous endeavor. This can be very well illustrated with Charles
Darwin’s work which resulted in the development of his hypothesis explained in
his book The Origin of Species which took almost two decades to gestate
and complete. Darwin collected information, analyzed it, evaluated and
criticized the findings, and then reorganized all the information into new
knowledge in the form of a hypothesis.
This can be a long drawn out process, sometime decades long, with intermittent
periods of high intensity and other periods where very little thought is given
to the problem. Intellectual imagination is a very conscious process, although
it may slip into other forms of imagination that enable new insights.
3. Imaginative fantasy creates and develops stories, pictures, poems,
stage-plays, and the building of the esoteric, etc. This form of imagination may
be based upon the inspiration of some fact or semi-autobiographical experiences
(James Bond), extrapolated or analogized into new persona and events
(Star Trek) that conform to or stretch the realms of
reality into magic, supernatural mythology and folklore (The kane Chronicles,
King Arthur). Imaginative fantasy may be structural with mythical people in
real world settings (The Planet of the Apes), past, present, or future,
with real people in mythical settings (Lost in Space). Fantasy may
totally disregard the rules of society (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz),
science and nature (The Time Machine, Back to the Future), or extrapolate
them into the future with science fiction (2001: A Space Odyssey).
Fantasy can also be based upon human emotions (Romeo and Juliet),
distorted historical facts (The Patriot), historical times and political
issues (Dr. Strangelove), take a theme and fantasize it (1984, Animal
Farm), encapsulate dark fantasy (Wag the Dog), or evoke urban legend
(The Stepford Wives, Dusk to Dawn). Imaginative fantasy can be a mixture
of guided and unguided imagination and is important to artists, writers,
dancers, and musicians, etc.
4. Empathy is a capacity we have to connect to others and feel what they
are feeling. Empathy helps a person know emotionally what others are
experiencing from their frame and reference.
Empathy allows our mind ‘to detach itself from one’s self’ and see the
world from someone else’s feelings, emotions, pain, and reasoning.
Empathy can assist us in seeing other realities, alternative meanings of
situations, which may consist of many layers. Empathy shows us that there are no
absolutes, just alternative meanings to situations.
Empathy links us to the larger community and thus important to human survival in
enabling us to understand what is required to socially coexist with others.
Empathy shows that realities sometimes conflict. Seeing conflicting realities is
a sign that we are starting to know. Howard Gardner postulates that the concept
of empathy should also include our empathy with nature and our place within it.
High ego-centricity leads to reduced empathy and the inability to see other
viewpoints. However recent studies on narcissistic individuals has shown that
there are two types of empathy, affective empathy discussed above and cognitive
empathy which involves the ability of people to see person’s emotional state
without being able to feel what they are feeling.
Lack of empathy can also be compensated by strategizing and spontaneous
mentalizing to manipulate others to their advantage. These Machiavellian
personalities don’t necessarily feel the same emotions as those with empathy
receive, so don’t feel guilty when manipulating others.
This type of behavior can be seen in short-term mating strategies by males.
Besides being extremely important in interpersonal relationships, empathy is an
important tool for competitive strategy as it enables one to think about how our
competitors would react to our moves and what they would do. Branding can also
be considered a result of empathy as branding is designed to try and capture
connections with potential customers by appealing to their emotions, self
identity and aspirations.
5. Strategic imagination is concerned about vision of ‘what could be’,
the ability to recognize and evaluate opportunities by turning them into mental
scenarios, seeing the benefits, identifying the types and quantities of
resources required for taking particular actions, and the ability to weigh up
all the issues in a strategic manner. A vision helps a person focus upon the
types of opportunities suited to their disposition. This sense of vision is
guided by a person’s assumptions, beliefs and values within the psych. Vision
has varying strengths in different people depending upon their ego
characteristics and motivations. The ability to spot and evaluate opportunities
is closely linked with a person’s imagination, creative thinking, propensity to
action, and perceptions of their talents and available skills. According to
Bolton and Thompson entrepreneurs spot particular opportunities and extrapolate
potential achievable scenarios within the limits of their skills and ability to
gather resources to exploit the opportunity.
These extrapolations from opportunity to strategy require both visual/spatial
and calculative thinking skills at a strategic rather than detailed level.
Adequate concentration is required in order to have a strategic outlook upon
things. This requires focus in strategic thinking, creativity, a sense of
vision, and empathy. Strategic (and also intellectual) imagination can be
utilized through thought experiments, the process of thinking through a scenario
for the purpose of thinking through the consequences. Too little focus will
result in random jumping from potential opportunity to opportunity without
undertaking any diligent mental evaluations. Too much focus may result in narrow
mindedness and even obsessive thinking which would result in either blindness to
potential opportunities or at the other end of the scale taking action without
truly “objective” evaluation. Strategic imagination in some cases is a form of
6. Emotional imagination is concerned with manifesting emotional
dispositions and extending them into emotional scenarios. Without any
imagination, emotion would not be able to emerge from our psych and manifest as
feelings, moods, and dispositions. Fear requires the imagination of what is
fearful, hate requires imagination about what is repulsive, and worry requires
the imaginative generation of scenarios that make one anxious. Through emotional
imagination, beliefs are developed through giving weight to imaginative
scenarios that generate further sets of higher order emotions. Emotional
imagination operates at the unconscious and semi-unconscious level. People who
show excessive emotional imagination would most probably be defined as
exhibiting psychotic tendencies. Emotional imagination is one of the most
powerful types of our imagination and can easily dominate our thinking
7. Dreams are an unconscious form of imagination made up of images,
ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur during certain stages of sleep.
Dreams show that every concept in our mind has its own psychic associations and
that ideas we deal with in everyday life are by no means as precise as we think.
Our experiences become sublimed into our memory passing into the unconscious
where the factual characteristics can change, and can be reacquired at any time.
According to Jung, dreams are the invisible roots of our consciousness,
and connect us to our unconscious. However the meaning of dreams is can only be
based on our speculative interpretation. Some dreams are very straight forward,
while others surreal, magical, melancholic, adventurous, and sexual where we are
most of the time not in control.
8. Memory reconstruction is the process of retrieving our memory of
people, objects, and events. Our memory is made up of prior knowledge consisting
of a mix of truth and belief, influenced by emotion. Recurring memory therefore
carries attitudes, values, and identity as most of our memory is within the “I”
or “me” paradigm. Memory is also reconstructed to fit into our
current view of the world, so is very selective. The process of memory
reconstruction occurs within our subconscious emerging into our consciousness
without us being really being aware of the source elements, i.e., what is
fact and what is belief. Memory reconstruction is assimilative and can
construct new knowledge out of random facts, beliefs and experiences which may
lead to insight.
Each form of imagination outlined above certainly overlaps and may operate in
tandem. Imaginative thinking provides the ability to move towards objectives,
and travel along selected paths. Imaginative much more divergent than logical
thought, as imagination can move freely across fields and disciplines, while
logical thinking is orientated along a narrowly focused path. From this
perspective imagination is probably more important than knowledge as knowledge
without application is useless. Imagination enables us to apply knowledge.
However imagination can also be dysfunctional. Personality disorders and the
emerging emotion can dominate our imagination with fear, anxiety, paranoia,
and/or narcissistic tendencies, etc..
This may prevent a person from imagining new alternatives to their current goals
and behavior, thus allowing their past fears and anxieties to dominate their
Imagination can consciously or unconsciously dissociate a person from the
reality of their everyday life where they may fall into the life of fantasy.
Abstract imagination can very quickly take a person away from reality where
current problems are ignored in favor of fantasy.
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