How to Imagine


Hugh MacLeod is famous for his 30 rules for How to Be Creative. In a recent post I contrasted creativity with imagination creativity (the domain of artists) is an ability to model things concretely in the real world, while imagination (the domain of dreamers) is an ability to conceptualize something not limited to the real world.

Here are my favourite 10 of Hugh’s rules for creativity, followed by my 10 rules for imagination.

  • Ignore everybody.: The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you. When [Hugh] first started with the cartoon-on-back-of-bizcard format, people thought [he] was nuts. Why wasn’t [he] trying to do something more easy for markets to digest i.e. cutey-pie greeting cards or whatever? (1)
  • You are responsible for your own experience.: Nobody can tell you if what you’re doing is good, meaningful or worthwhile. The more compelling the path, the more lonely it is. (5)
  • Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.: Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with books on algebra etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the creative bug is just a wee voice telling you, “Iíd like my crayons back, please.” (6)
  • Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.: Your plan for getting your work out there has to be as original as the actual work, perhaps even more so. The work has to create a totally new market. There’s no point trying to do the same thing as 250,000 other young hopefuls, waiting for a miracle. All existing business models are wrong. Find a new one. (11)
  • If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you.: The pain of making the necessary sacrifices always hurts more than you think it’s going to. It sucks. That being said, doing something seriously creative is one of the most amazing experiences one can have, in this or any other lifetime. If you can pull it off, it’s worth it. Even if you don’t end up pulling it off, you’ll learn many incredible, magical, valuable things. It’s NOT doing it when you know you full well you HAD the opportunity- that hurts FAR more than any failure. (12)
  • Merit can be bought. Passion can’t.: The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does. (17)
  • Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.: Everybody is too busy with their own lives to give a damn about your book, painting, screenplay etc, especially if you haven’t sold it yet. And the ones that aren’t, you don’t want in your life anyway. (22)
  • Donít worry about finding inspiration.: It comes eventually. Inspiration precedes the desire to create, not the other way around. (24)
  • Write from the heart.: There is no silver bullet. There is only the love God gave you. (26)
  • The best way to get approval is not to need it. This is equally true in art and business. And love. And sex. And just about everything else worth having. (27)

Pollard’s 10 rules for being more imaginative:

  1. Pay attention: Stand still and look until you really see. The more you see, the richer the palette you have for your imagination to draw on. If you want to imagine a monster, look at an insect up real close. If you want to imagine a perfect world, watch the life emerging after a thunderstorm, the droplets of rain on leaves in the sun.
  2. Spend time with children: If they’re young enough, the imagination has not yet been pounded out of them by television and games with stupid rules and teachers telling them to stop daydreaming. Listen and play with them and your imagination will come back to you, creaking through the rust.
  3. Remember your dreams: Keep pencil and paper beside your bed, and write down what comes to you just as you fall asleep and wake up, or those rare vivid dreams that awaken you in the middle of the night. These imaginary thoughts are more real than real life. They change you. Don’t lose them.
  4. Change your point of view: Lie down and look up. Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot
  5. Collaborate: Work with other people, ideally those who have imagination, and who think very differently from you. Have fun with it. Open your mind to other possibilities. Strive to produce something greater than any of you could have come up with alone.
  6. Transport yourself: Go somewhere different, physically or intellectually. Read lots of fiction and poetry. Visit places you’d never have thought of going. Stay with the locals. Volunteer. See how the other half lives. 
  7. Improvise: Explore your mental images. Go with them. Make something out of nothing. Imagine what you’d do if you needed to do something and didn’t have the tools. Look inside the windows of your mind. Briefly, slough off your protective arrogance and be open, submissive, vulnerable. 
  8. Break the rules. Or at least change them. Whatever the game, or the business process, or the routine, change it. Don’t always play Texas Hold ’em. Play Countdown instead. Combine stuff. Make stuff up
  9. Believe, and make believe: Pessimism kills imagination. See past what is to what is possible. Create a new world, fantastically different from the real one. 
  10. Get away from the media: Formulaic television and radio and newspapers and magazines get you thinking that that’s the only way to do these things. Video games are tyrannical, leaving no room at all for imagination. Shun all things linear. Like top 10 lists.

Drawing above is by Canadian artist Pierre Surtes, from a print in my personal collection.

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7 Responses to How to Imagine

  1. kerry says:

    Wonderful stuff, Dave, but I’m not convinced that it will reach critical mass in time. Considering the state of denial of world leadership, and since I have neither the resources nor knowledge, I can only hope that those that do are busy collecting dna samples of every living thing on earth and constructing a space ship that can go on a long, long journey in the infintisimal offchance that it finds fertile ground within a close enough range. The question then becomes whether to include human dna in that spaceship or not!

  2. kerry says:

    Leonardo da Vinci was not a genius because of his imagination. His genius lay in his ability to OBSERVE nature and THEN create. It was this humility that was the doorway into his inventions. He did not invent anything that hadn’t already been created in nature. He simply looked more closely at how nature did things and then tried to do the best he could with human tools to copy it. This power of observation came through his initial interest in painting and sculpting, which taught him, more than anything else, to observe.Why does the human species today believe that they no longer have anything to learn from nature and that the human imagination can somehow go beyond nature? We have but scratched the tip of the iceberg in our observations. Reality is far more complex than anything we could possibly imagine. Human arrogance has grown to such an extent that we believe we are no longer operating within the laws of nature! Of course disaster will result from that assumption.

  3. G-Man says:

    Wow..that is a great that will surely get printed out and handed out to friends…I am a creative person, but we all run into walls and dry spells…Life gets in the way…This is great!Thanks! This is my first visit to your site..I plan on coming back!

  4. Hi Dave.Nice to know that so many smart bloggers out there are named DaveThanks for the article inspiration tonight. I need to get a track back feature, so I can easily let others know that I’m writing about them.This comment will have to suffice for now.Dave

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks everyone. I’m sure this is just one more volley in the long debate on creativity vs. imagination.

  6. Diane says:

    Bonjour Dave,Thank you for this great post on the 30 rules by Hugh MacLeod. I cannot agree more with everything stated here. It is very uplifting.Emerging, above, has an excellent point when referring to Leonatdo Da vinci. Observing, contemplating, questioning, postioning and doing it all over again and again. The joy and progress are in the process. There is even a passaage in the Qu’ran that says something along those lines: look, question and question again.If you don’t mind indulging me for a sec, I would like to share my humble experience.I am a French Canadian artist, not a separatist one, and I am doing something most of my peers, family and friends reject bitterly and often with some cynicism.I take a stand on human rights, freedom, peace and democracy regardless of the fashionable collective hatred for the US and so on. The Right cringes at my positions on pro-choice, rights for gays and family planning: freedom for all. The Left also question my positions on freedom for all, with military intervention when nothing else works. Therefor, I am alone but I love what I do anyway, because I feel it is important. Thank God, I don’t need any money out of my work, I’d go in bankruptcy and I suppose could not do what I love the most while raising my beautiful child.As for kids, Hugh MacLeod is so right again! We need to spend time with them and they need us as well, so… Children remind us of what is great in human nature; the thirst to learn and to grow up. Merci.

  7. Diane says:

    corr. *Repositioning one self* not postioning.

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