Michelangelo, Italian painter, wrote: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Ah, the beauty and joy that imagination brings. Einstein said that it is everything, even more important than knowledge. And Henry David Thoreau, author and philosopher, wrote “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” It is the great leaders’ imagination that inspires dreams and visions of what can be – new ways of seeing the world opening our eyes to new and exciting possibilities.
Tina Seelig, the Executive Director for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, speaking about imagination at the 2013 99U Conference, suggests that even imagination needs to be refreshed and stimulated. The manner in which we ask questions, for example: what is 5 + 5 = ? becomes constraining. She says: “There is only one right answer. Really creative people don’t look at the world like this. They look at problems through different lenses and they reframe the problem.” Creative people prefer to ask the question in a manner which invites alternative solutions: ? + ? = 10.
Seelig’s words and simple examples are gentle reminders that extraordinary performance excellence requires constant vigilance to every facet of the great leaders’ words, actions and behaviors. There are no shortcuts, not easy roads to greatness. As Vince Lombardi, legendary American football coach, said: “Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.” And for imagination, that is one of the great leaders’ most beautiful gifts and talents as we remember the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer: “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” Find your angels in the marble and cathedrals in the rocks. They are there. You have only to look through different eyes to find them.