Last week, I was at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I was part of a team studying innovation. That experience prompted me to begin a series on innovation. I don’t know if I’ll do three posts or ten – I suppose I could do hundreds of them; innovation is a deep well.

Today, I thought I’d start with a bit of logic, as counterintuitive as that may seem – a series on innovation that begins with a measure of logic – strange? Not really, I want to make a quick case for why leaders should care at all about the topic of innovation or creativity or design thinking or any of the related disciplines.

The rationale for a series about innovation on a website dedicated to leadership is actually simple…

Without imagination, it is impossible to lead well.

Leadership is fundamentally about taking people and organizations to a future that doesn’t exist. If it doesn’t exist, how do we know it can exist? How do we know we can go there? How do we know it will be worth the effort? Leaders convince us. How do they know the answers to these questions? They’ve already been there – in their imagination.

Leaders have the ability to…

Imagine a preferred future in spite of today’s realities.

Imagine the path to take to get to that future – it’s called strategy.

Imagine many of the barriers that will have to be overcome – it’s called contingency planning. 

Imagine the benefits of the future they have envisioned.

Imagine the consequences if they don’t take the journey.

Imagine the pain, struggles and sacrifices that will be required and yet proceed.

So, when I have a chance to sharpen my imagination and strengthen my innovation muscles, I jump at it.  I realize what I’m really doing is growing my ability to lead.

Yes, leadership is more than imagination, but imagination is the source of our leadership. Vision casting, problem solving, team building, conflict resolution, resource allocation, and all the rest are daily demands of the leader’s role. If we fail to master these disciplines, we’ll not lead for long. However, they are not the highest value we bring… it is our imagination. We must be able to see it before we can create it.

Leadership always begins with a picture of the future!

I like the way Albert Einstein said it: “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

That’s why I can get excited about a series of posts on innovation. Leaders set the agenda for coming attractions. Then, and only then, can we begin the tedious process of turning what we’ve imagined into reality… it all begins with imagination!

I hope you’ll enjoy this series as much as I will enjoy writing it. Look for coming installments each Monday morning for the next few weeks.[GLS_Shield]

The image of Einstein is courtesy of Derek Russell; thanks for sharing your amazing work!

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.