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