iMagination as the source of innovation

iMagination as the source of innovation

Xavier Pavie 18/12/2017 14

Over the last 20 years, the teaching of innovation has undergone drastic changes, and it has now become a discipline that is as thorough as it is relevant for organizations seeking to secure their growth.

Teaching Innovation has come of Age


Thanks to an abundance of theories, innovation processes with their conceptual titles – ranging from the blue ocean strategy to open innovation and business model canvas or design thinking – have succeeded in characterizing not only the necessary structuring phases for converting ideas into innovation, but also how these should evolve to reach a certain level of sophistication that limits the risk of failure (without ruling it out completely). This renewed interest in innovation has helped define more mature processes, and has also helped shape the creative phases that nurture these mechanisms, which have adopted methods and tools that have become stronger and more solid.

Traditional benchmarks and business intelligence have been complemented with now commonplace techniques, such as brainstormingmindmapping, or scamper, to name a few. However, no matter how varied and plentiful these methods are, they cannot replace the behavior of the innovator – the basic attitude innovators must adopt if they are to offer new value propositions to their organizations. In other words, how we teach innovation today cannot limit itself to simply passing on a set of techniques. We must convey and instil a particular way of being, a mindset.

Imagination Begins with Amazement

For Aristotle, one of the essential qualities of a true philosopher is an ability to wonder, to be amazed, because this is what will ultimately lead the philosopher to knowledge. This requires opening oneself to the world, to be in awe of what it has to offer, to take a new look at the world, abandoning the lens, steeped in former certainties and habits, through which we see the world. This ability to be amazed is not dissimilar to the stance innovators must take to imagine new offers. Their ability to observe the world differently, to face new situations and to be surprised by their environment is precisely what enables them to draw up novel proposals.

Biomimetics is one of many examples of how a field of study can transform observation of nature in perpetual evolution into possible innovations. The renowned Dr. Devi Shetty based the business model of his hospital on that implemented by the production of Xerox photocopiers. This is a prime example of serendipitous innovation, the unexpected imagining of an invention, very often in an unrelated field of research. 

Teaching Imagination

Imagination is something we must teach. It is true that methodological mechanisms are critical for the successful transformation of an invention into an innovation. However, these processes would not be possible without the imagination which led to the idea in the first place. Instead of simply training innovation technicians, we must train individuals who embody and promote the values of wonder and curiosity, of a thirst for knowledge and eagerness. In other words, we must promote the value of imagination and advocate imagination as a value.

Imagination is not an innate quality; we are not fixed at birth with a greater or lesser ability to imagine. Imagination must be cultivated, educated; it is something that is taught and passed on. As mentioned earlier, imagination is the ability to be amazed, and so, our sense of awe is something we need to cultivate. Transdisciplinarity is a valuable example of this, and we will not be able to train imaginative innovators if we limit ourselves to traditional normative frameworks, trapped in the confines of a classroom.

An initiative that ESSEC Business School has been offering for several years under the name of iMagination Week falls within this perspective. It is a week-long festival that invites students to imagine the world of the future, whereby students will draw up concrete proposals to depict the future world, the way they see it. By meeting a wide variety of experts – ranging from paleontologists and astrophysicists, to punk rock singers and specialist chocolate and jam makers – students are given a taste of imagination to experiment with through group projects. By hearing biomimicry advocates, squatters, and astronauts, students rediscover their sense of wonder, but also their own ability to imagine. On another level, inviting artists-in-residence on such occasions offers students first-hand witness of imagination in action.

Diversity and transdisciplinarity are values promoted by all. However, we are still somewhat overcautious when it comes to tearing down the normative structures of our traditional education. Of course, it is true that some fields can and should still be taught within the established framework. But the teaching of innovation must be challenged in every way possible, in order to help the builders of future worlds bring their imagination to fruition.

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  • Larry Victor

    Ideas are meaningless unless you put them into action

  • David Dalmazzo

    I think that the stage between incubation and illumination is the one that involves the most use of imagination. We should also place a higher premium on imagination than on knowledge allowing students to unlock their untaped potential and hidden ideas that could be explored for the benefit of the society.

  • Lauren Robertson

    Very nice and good educational post, thank you sir for sharing your insight on this topic.

  • Henry Rodgers

    Arriving at unusual solutions to solve problems requires a lot of imagination by imagining the broader ecosystems in which new products and services could potentially become transformative

  • George Bowman

    Unfortunately and this is very sad, the majority of university students think of science as being about memorising complex formulas and solving problems that make little sense in the real world and business as being about learning how to negotiate a deal or selling products to customers. Both "business" and "science" are intertwined, the combination of both leads to a better understanding of our ecosystem and Inculcates an even better spirit of innovation.

  • James Clark

    This is a bright idea that makes possible the connection between what they’re learning in class and the real world.

  • Dominik Dziurzyński

    Calling out creative ideas on a notice board in the class could also be a great idea. These little measures can often go a long way in helping students recognise innovation for what it is and understand its impact on our modern society.

  • José Aguilar

    We should give every student a chance to experiment different ways of learning things by creating an environment where they take responsibility for their education and own it to challenge their mindset and limits.

  • Adam

    Something different happens when we encounter things completely outside of our usual experience. The element of newness helps our brain form a strong memory to create innovative things.

  • Max Vacha

    To discover new ideas we shouldn't be tempted to look everything up immediately, instead we should take some time to retrieve what your own brain has stored about the topic first, even if it doesn’t relate directly to what we’re studying.

  • Jack G

    The act of retrieving knowledge has been shown to be very beneficial to learning, strengthening both the stored and the newly learned knowledge.

  • Kyle Mitchell

    Amazing Read

  • Isaac S

    Time itself will help you learn. Building structured ideas takes a while – it requires effort and a lot of experiments over several days, weeks, even months.

  • Nate O'Brien

    Learning new things should never end, we should always seek new methods to tease our brain. Without imagination, we cannot innovate!

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Xavier Pavie

Higher Education Expert

Xavier Pavie is a Professor at ESSEC Business School, he is Director of the iMagination Center, Associate Academic Director Grande Ecole (MiM) - Singapore - and Research Associate at the IREPH (Research Institute in Philosophy). After spending nearly fifteen years in various organizations (Nestlé, Unilever, Club Méditerranée) in marketing and innovation roles, he joined ESSEC in 2008 as Director of the Institute for Strategic Innovation & Services.  In 2014, he founded the iMagination Center whose activities are centered on imagination, innovation and transdisciplinarity. In 2015, iMagination Week received the Prize for Pedagogical Excellence. In 2017 iMagination week is recognized as one of the most innovative pedagogical method accross disciplines by AASCB and The Wharton - QS Stars Reimagine Education Awards.  Xavier has published numerous books and articles in management and philosophy both academically and for a wider audience. He also regularly contributes to the Harvard Business Review, Les Echos and La Tribune. Xavier holds a Master in Management, a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Université Paris Ouest. He also holds a further teaching qualification -International Teachers Programme of HEC Paris.

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