Any time a group of people do something together to build or improve an organization, plan a party, or go on a bike ride, a certain number of people within that group will have to come up with and promote a vision for what the future might look like for the group. In the digital age, the ability to do this begins to require some new skills, while some of the old skills remain the same. In our work with organizations, we refer to this ability as imagination fluency, and we define it as
The ability to look ahead at what a group might face or might do, and the ability to get that group to move toward that future.
As with all of the other fluencies, there are multiple skills involved. The first, envisioning, has to do with the ability to look ahead and around and think about possible futures for the group. The second, execution, has to do with the ability to get the group to buy into and move toward a future goal.
As with the rest of the fluencies we’ve been talking about in the recent series of blog posts, envisioning is not something new to the digital age. But many of the ways to do it well are new. As an example, consider a new product development group in a company. In the 1970′s, to do their job well, they would need to be quite fluent in their ability to watch television, observe people, run focus groups, etc. as a way of envisioning ideas for new product lines. While these skills are still necessary today, a good new product development group also needs to be fluent enough to know when and how to use digital crowdsourcing methods like Innocentive (which is used heavily by companies like Proctor and Gamble, Eli Lilly, etc), how to efficiently search the internet for new product ideas, and how to use the increasing amounts of freely-available digital data about consumer trends, lead user innovations, product defects and complaints, etc. that are available right now on websites like YouTube, blogs and Twitter.
The fluency involved in motivating others to accomplish a shared vision can also look different in the digital age. As the costs of prototyping, simulation and communication drop, the importance increases of fluency with digital tools that allow a person to more quickly and efficiently communicate a vision and get large-group buy-in through a quick blog post, a series of Twitter messages, a publicly-available visual prototype tools.
Indicators that You or the People In Your Organization Might Have Imagination Fluency:
- When you are thinking about opportunities for your group or for your organization, are you using simple digital tools like Google to search for ideas relevant to your direction? Are you building and connecting with a network of hundreds or even thousands of people to bounce your ideas off of them periodically in order to get feedback? Are you comfortable with digital prototyping tools like Google Docs Drawings and Spreadsheets, or digital simulation tools like ManyEyes, or crowdsourcing tools like Innocentive, all of which allow you to generate and co-create ideas with a broad group of people?
- When you are trying to get people enlisted in executing a vision, are you sharing the idea with the widest group of people possible? Are you sharing your vision consistently in little bites through blogs or Twitter or YouTube over time, instead of presenting it fully-formed, all at once, in a 100-page document?
If you answered yes to these questions for yourself or for your organization, then there is a good chance that you possess what we call imagination fluency. If you answered no, or are unsure, then please keep reading these blog posts, or better yet contact us with your question.