Imagination is a fantastic tool. Possibly the true tool that allowed for humans to cover the world in the first place and lets us communicate across great expanses in an instant.

As with all tools though if they’re not well maintained they rust, break down, become dangerous even. Imagination is the same.

There is a popular analogy of rider – elephant – path [concept by Jonathan Haidt best I can tell and then expanded by Chip and Dan Heath (a quick sign up at their page gets you tons of great decision making and management resources if you’re interested)] All is good when they are going the same direction…but if the elephant wants to go rampaging off the chosen trail the rider is kind of SOL. (in all fairness the rider might get to see some pretty amazing things on the way, but they may end up going over a cliff or stuck in a swamp)

The Elephant and the Rider *

Imagination and emotion are basically twin elephants. They operate on the same principles – if I want to go here then there is little you can do about it. Again, the scenery might be fantastic – terrifying – awesome.

Imagination running amok is often called by another name. Can you guess? Wrong answers will end up with you failing as a human by the way – no pressure though.

Yep – imagination on a rampage is anxiety – fear – panic. Now one solution – and a damn useful one – is to make a path where it doesn’t matter who is in control. Make a path that no matter what the elephant or rider directs, life and imagination are allowed to be fully expressed in helpful and considerate ways.

The creating of this path can be difficult (machetes and heavy equipment might be necessary – oh and a whole lot of persistence) but it is simple enough. For me this has come down to values – what is important to me. This is tenable but open for change with better information.

One of the greatest values for me is that each person has a story to tell. Some need help to tell it and others just need a safe place to let it loose. I use fiction to live out the untold stories of my imagination.

Fabling allows a venue for the darkest of imaginings to come out and play. (the fears – anxiety – the things and events that send my calm scurrying for the corners like roaches interrupted by the flip of a switch)imagination

In the everyday, when that wad of nervousness creeps into my throat and my heart treats my ribs like a xylophone, I do my best to suspend whatever belief is fueling it. I have gotten better at this practice. The typical ones are unfounded ideas of embarrassment or being seen as stupid – inadequate – a fake. In the end it discredits myself and that may be the greatest frustration – the lack of confidence. But like I said I am better. I remember not many years ago being frozen in class discussions – keeping my jewel like ideas from everyone else so the flaws wouldn’t be found (but it also kept them from becoming polished so the brilliance could really shine).

Now it is more often just a catch before I ramble on. I’ve found it better to get them out and let colleagues and others help with the act of refining. I ask that of you with this adventure I’m on – be the stone to sharpen my thoughts and intentions.

I leave you with this challenge – what’s the path you’re creating to keep the elephant and rider on the same course? What’s your story? How can I (or who in your environment can) help you clarify your vision?

Thanks as always.

With civility ~ Brian

*pic from flicker CC2.0 Xavier Vergés