Sunday, July 24, 2011

America’s Imagination Summit, New York City, July 21-22

Presented by the Lincoln Center Institute, this summit gathered over 150 invited participants to advance embedding the study and implementation of ‘imaginative learning’ throughout our communities. The Lincoln Center Institute (LCI) is committed to the ICI continuum – Imagination (capacity to conceive what is not), Creativity (imagination applied), and Innovation (unique or novel creativity). An excellent reference for this work is the book Imagination First.

This summit was the culmination of 50 ‘imagination conversations’ around the USA during the course of the LCI’s 50th anniversary. People in the room (which was the very first venue Wynton Marsalis performed in as a professional in New York) included those who participated in these conversations and others who are working in the field of imagination and creativity. The introductory panel included Sir Ken Robinson (see his excellent TED talk); Deepak Chopra; Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering . Thoughts I took away from this include: 1) if we associate creativity with just the arts we will be missing a lot, 2) imagination is more about the soul than the mind because it takes us beyond the internal dialogue/noise, 3) the field of creativity is really the field of potential, 4) the impact and import of storytelling cannot be overstated, 4) people want to be ‘embedded’ in their own imaginative life, and people need to be given the freedom to tell their own story.

The next panel – Imagination, Creativity and Innovation Across Fields: How it Works, Why It’s Needed – included Matthew Bishop, US Business Editor The Economist; Sandra Chapman, Founder of Center for Brain Health; John Deasy, Superintendent Los Angeles Unified School District; Bill Moggridge, Director Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum and founder of IDEO; Deborah Wince-Smith, CEO Council on Competitiveness. This was a lively discussion – particularly between the ‘good for business’ approach of Deborah's and John’s commitment to diversity, equity and access for all kids in LA – which led to dialogue on how we connect the disparate elements of imagination and creativity. As one of the panelists said – “we have to turn the prizm until it catches light”. We were encouraged not to separate imagination from creativity and I loved the observation that the future of work will be ‘managed serendipity’. There was much discussion on how ‘design thinking’ was linked to imagination, creativity and innovation – that in the important aspect of being consumer-centered it was a through-thread.

There was observation that we have enough data about the value and role of imagination and creativity, but we need to concentrate on the ‘how’ of embedding imaginative learning and building creative capital in our communities. Bill Moggridge was really inspiring and provocative, and said  you need to ‘fail frequently in order to succeed sooner’. He was one of the several presenters who talked about needing to take more risks.

Another wonderful observation from this panel was that we need to find the ways to ‘ turn the inspirational moments into institutional opportunities’.

Three Innovators at Work: Narratives were awe-inspiring. Real people from across the globe with innovations making a difference to our humanity. Check out what Kiran Bir Sethi is doing at Riverside School in India  and with their Design for Change Challenge. This program is changing how children can be participate in providing design solutions for our world, and it is spreading around the world – it is about to be introduced to all of the schools in Mexico. It is incredibly awesome!

Tony DeRose from Pixar Animation Studios, has started a nationwide connection to ‘maker fairs’ and created a Young Maker Club,  – bringing kids into the opportunity of making things. Their focus is imagine/make/grow/repeat. Cameron Sinclair is changing the world through Architecture for Humanity . This guy and this work is unbelieveably amazing. They are working around the globe to build a more sustainable future through the power of professional design. There are many chapters throughout the world.

There were other discussions and breakouts, and lots of opportunity for networking with a very wide range of folks. For me, this event was provocative, stimulating and inspirational. What are my takeaways?

-          There are lots of really smart, dedicated people working around the globe to foster imagination, build our community’s creative capital, and inspire innovation. That gives me both confidence and a sense of belonging.
-          I like digging into the core essence of ‘imagination’ because it is foundational to our process as human beings and it has no ‘charge’ like the words ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ have begun to have.
-          We just HAVE to keep working as hard as we can to change how we teach, how we learn and what we value in order to foster lifelong imaginative beings and a fully creative community.

Thank you, Lincoln Center Institute for the tremendous work you are doing to foster our imaginative learning and ‘creating’ our communities.

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