The power of imagination

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September 13, 2010 // UPDATED 9:34 am - September 13, 2010
By: Tom Hoch
Tom Hoch

A colleague recently passed along a piece called “Reclaiming the Imagination” written by Timothy Williamson, the Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford University, which explored how important the imagination is not only in expanding learning, but in guiding knowledge and even survival itself. “By enabling you to imagine all sorts of scenarios,” he writes, “it alerts you to dangers and opportunities.”

In other words, imagination doesn’t only need apply to daydreaming about “What if I was on the beach right now?” Imagination combined with knowledge can take us beyond what we currently know to discover ordered possibilities with a basis in reality.

In science, for example, the ability to imagine different outcomes helps to produce new ideas and breakthrough results. Imagination opens the door to the discoveries that produce change. Inventors know how to generate new ideas through their imagination and, if successful, capture the knowledge they have gained to create something new, better, different or even groundbreaking.

I realized as I read this article just how little time I take to seriously and actively imagine alternate possibilities for the things I encounter daily. This led me to wonder about how much “imagining” we really perform as a community and what might be the outcome if we did more of it.

Actually, I can imagine endless possibilities from nearly endless people “imagining.” I would like to congratulate the Downtown Journal/Skyway News on its 40th anniversary and wonder if we could have imagined a Downtown in 1970 that looks like the one we have today? Could we have envisioned three historic theatres that host top tier Broadway touring productions? What about our light-rail transit?  

Looking into the future, I can imagine a retail-rich Nicollet Mall with no vehicles and restaurants spilling out onto a tree-lined pedestrian promenade, connecting Peavey Plaza to a new park on the north end of Nicollet Mall.

I see performers and visual artists engaging visitors along the avenue, enriching and enlivening the outdoor experience. And I can imagine ice skating on the Mall during our winter months with dramatic outdoor fire features.  

What about Hennepin Avenue from the Walker Art Center and Sculpture Garden to the Mississippi River as a high energy, walk-able arts avenue lined with performance spaces, art galleries, mixed housing and trees? What if we treated these areas as a series of rooms that we were consciously decorating? 

What do you imagine for your children? Your home? Your neighborhood? Your city?

Developing your imagination is like working a muscle: use it or lose it! A great way to stimulate your imagination is by attending a live theatre performance and immersing yourself in the imaginary world waiting for you. Imagine yourself as that character on stage, in that time and in that place. What would that experience be like?

Imagine if those on-stage characters made different choices. Or if they said something surprising that connected with you deeply. Imagine if you could take those things you liked about the performance and then figure out how to make them part of your everyday life. The opportunities are limited only by your “imagination.”           

So, ask yourself “What am I going to imagine today?”

Tom Hoch is President and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages Theatres, a nonprofit organization devoted to enriching the vibrant cultural atmosphere of the Twin Cities. Please visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org for more information.