I recently heard an Einstein quote that imagination is more important than knowledge, and I cannot get it out of my mind. It is a thought that has touched my soul, one that gives me permission to create and feels like freedom. My mind feels heard and seen.
See, once I become an expert on something and acquire too much knowledge and experience about it, I become closed. Closed is the opposite of how I wish to be, which is open. For example, I consider myself an expert in the digital advertising industry, with certain meditation techniques and at cooking popcorn on a stove. Too much knowledge can become a liability though, not an asset. It makes it difficult, if not impossible, to see clearly what I might have not yet discovered or uncovered.
I am now starting to better understand the Buddhist teaching that encourages us to approach everything in life with a beginner’s mind. The expert’s mind is closed, where the beginner’s mind is open.
This thought, that imagination is more important than knowledge, can feel uncomfortable and quite foreign. Our conditioning and programming is such that we have learned for our entire lives that knowledge is power. I believe that it is, however I suspect that imagination may be even more powerful, and useful.
We have built systems like schools, manuals and traditions, all designed to teach and share knowledge. Our systems and structures to teach imagination feel quite lacking in comparison.
As a child, the more knowledge that you can prove that you have memorized in school, the more recognition and rewards you will receive. As an adult, the more knowledge that you can demonstrate in the workplace, the more opportunities that you will receive. For example, in my own business when I interview candidates, I am evaluating them primarily about their knowledge of specific areas but not really about their capacity and capability to imagine.
In this moment of Year Zero, where we have been given the space and opportunity to reimagine the future of humanity, we absolutely need to encourage more imagination.
Knowledge describes what we have known, where imagination invites a possibility that is deeply inspiring for me.
I believe that our minds are designed to imagine, first and foremost. This is what our minds are doing all day and night, awake and especially while asleep. It is quite effortless for my mind to imagine, where it is quite effortful for my mind to understand and remember knowledge.
Now imagination, like awareness, does not discriminate. I can imagine a beautiful idea, a desirable future state, a goal to achieve or even people who are special to me. These are all pleasant and can be quite joyful for my mind to imagine.
I can also imagine what it is that I am most scared of. Maybe it is societal, like the impacts of the pandemic and the many what ifs. Maybe it is about loved ones. Maybe it is about work. There is an endless list of horrible ideas that my mind is also capable of imagining.
What I do admire about knowledge though is that it is connected to the truth, where imagination is not yet and may never be. The truth is a grounding force that helps me stay rooted in what is real. This is a useful function of knowledge.
Every moment, my mind is imagining something. It may be a past experience, conversation or moment. It may be a possible future, one that I fear or one that I desire. Whatever it is, with this understanding of the power of my mind to imagine, I can do three things.
The first is to make more space for imagination. Nothing that is around me would have been possible if someone did not first imagine it. A lot that is great in my life started with my imagination. Meditation, journaling and walking in nature alone all help me make more space for imagination.
The next is to not avoid the knowledge trap. If I rely too much on what I have known to be true, or what others have known to be true, then I deprive my mind of the opportunity to do what it does best, which is to imagine.
And finally, to inspire my imagination in a direction that is wholesome, positive and aspirational. My mind has the capacity to imagine horrible ideas and beautiful ones. Let me choose to nudge my mind in a direction that inspires me versus in a direction that scares me. To imagine is to dream. Which means that I am always dreaming, awake or asleep. So I might as well make it a sweet dream versus a nightmare.
Imagine a world where we place as much, or possibly more, value on imagination than we do on knowledge. That is a world that sounds inspiring to me.