Monthly Archives: November 2010

Brennan’s Hierarchy of Imagination

This is the result of a conversation I had with Patti Brennan about the nature of creativity and imagination that was inspired by Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs. I was impressed how Patti had a clear mental model of why “teaching creativity doesn’t work but expanding their imaginations might work better” in the context of some of her work in patient healthcare. Her basic thought was that in order to get patients to take control of their health, they need to imagine what it looks like to be more healthy.

At the base of the pyramid is human reflex — i.e. response to a stimuli. One level above it is problem solving which in her mind doesn’t require creativity and just a set of processes that can be activated. Above that is creativity — an elevated form of problem solving that involves invention and improvisation. And at the very top is imagination, which Patti insisted is “boundless creativity.” You can mix the different levels at the interfaces and see a different kind of creativity/action happening. I sincerely enjoyed how this model felt in my mind. -JM

On Being Gifted the License to Fail

I have a friend whose spouse just lost their job. It reminded me of a story I recently heard from one of the great luminaries in design. He had lost his wife of over thirty years a few years ago, and is only just now recovering from his loss. When the topic of “failure” in the context of creativity came up in our conversation, he became happy suddenly, and shared the following story with me:

I used to work for the railroad company as a staff writer. And got a pink slip. We were expecting our second child. I felt like an absolute failure. Finally got the courage to go home. Walked into the house. My wife asked how the day went — she was ironing something intently with her abdomen protruding prominently with our 2nd child. I told her I lost my job, expecting a negative reaction. She kept ironing, and a few second later she said to me, “Oh, well I’m sure something will work out.” And kept on ironing as if nothing happened. I felt that at that moment she gave me the license to fail. And I loved her all the more for that clear, nonjudgemental moment where she gave me the license to believe I could succeed once again for all of us again.

Of course it’s from a different era of husband-wife economics, but it shares a wonderful thought about the nature of a truly supportive relationship. -JM