Friday, March 7, 2014

Knowledge vs. Imagination

 "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, and imagination encircles the world. “ -- Albert Einstein

Perhaps it is another chicken and the egg debate: Knowledge vs. Imagination, which one is more important? There is no imagination without knowledge, and there is no knowledge without imagination. Putting information in a human memory is not similar to data storage, as you have to sort through,  transform it into the knowledge, and abstract the insight or recreate the new knowledge at the advanced level.

Creativity is part imagination and part knowledge: Though creative imagination is more intuitive than intellectual-it has capacities of intelligent and imaginative associations and applications of ideas and information bits with diverse functionality and approaches. In fact, during creative moments, one may need to have the capacity to freeroll based on unconscious and rather unbridled mind activity; while knowledge brings back so often to rationalism and concrete thinking and reasoning.

Imagination is the seed to grow innovation. Imagination leads to discovery. Discovery is both an event and a process. Knowledge is fundamental. But without the imagination to "believe in the possible," innovation may not happen. Sometimes it is not possible to "see" the facts because they exist in different planes. And until you deal with facts from different sources that relate essentially to the same matter, the patterns are not apparent. To put the other way, innovation starts with an idea. Imagination can be seen as helping one expand the initial idea and building a set of hypothesis about how the product of the idea will look like, and how the customers will react to the product. But will things actually happen as we have imagined? Not certainly... We need knowledge of the various engineering domain related to our product, and knowledge of our customers' actual needs and behavior in order to validate the hypothesis about the outcome of our innovation. 

Knowledge is path-dependent. This means that to discover an opportunity, you should have previous knowledge in the field to be able to get recognized. Imagination is also needed to be able to apply this previous knowledge to a different context. Knowledge doesn't necessarily mean to be an expert in a field, but to have some experience on this. It is also true that if you have too much knowledge on a topic, you will be bounded by this knowledge, hampering being more imaginative about other things. While imagination helps us expand our idea, knowledge helps us refine our idea to what is economically feasible. An entrepreneur may not have all the domain knowledge that required transforming an idea into a product, but he or she needs to be able to coordinate the resources from the different knowledge domain required to transform the idea into a product and market.

Is imagination the key that transforms knowledge from folly to wisdom? As with so many human behaviors, there is a gradient at which there is a threshold or tipping point where thought materializes into action. When our imagination is slightly engaged, our impulse to act is low. The higher the level at which we are engaged and stimulated to imagine, the more likely we are to take action. At the highest level of imagination engagement, we become driven to leverage our imagination into creative or innovative results. 

Both imagination and knowledge are key ingredients in innovation, imagination has wings and knowledge flows; imagination leapfrogs mankind; knowledge empowers people to make progress.


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