Leadership and the power of the imagination

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Nov 11 2016 by Michael Jones Print This Article

At the core of our existence is a pool of energy that has very little to do with personal identity. From this common pool of energy, the music plays itself and the painting paints itself. This is the world of the imagination, a world in which we play only a small part in the whole marvellous act of creation.

The global challenge now is to cultivate the conditions where life is free to generate and create new life. In a regenerative world, creation creates itself. This involves turning from a linear, closely-controlled environment to a more integrative and holistic world view.

Several principles can help guide our advance towards this more resilient and imaginative world:

1. Nurturing the Sharing of Gifts

Unlike our skills and abilities, which are acquired, our gifts are bestowed. Our gifts connect us to a deep well of intuitive wisdom, which is at the root of the life force itself. And as the gift is passed along, it acquires new layers of meaning and significance. To thrive, the gift needs to stay in circulation. It represents the currency of abundance. As such it is through the process of gift-sharing that we create the conditions for a culture of possibility where the gift is called out and life can thrive.

2. Encouraging Unbridled Optimism

Nurturing unbridled optimism stands in contrast to our prevailing attitudes, which often arise as a consequence of heightening our focus on problems, needs and deficiencies. In their place, we need to shift our focus to stories of hope, aspiration and possibility.

3. Embracing the Soul of Carnival

Carnival is the expression of the human spirit that clears away the old in order to create a space for the imaginative force of life to flow through. It raises our spirits, awakens our senses and helps us see and act in new ways. Where in one moment there was nothing, now there is something. There are many ways we celebrate the wholeness of Carnival through art, laughter, story, movement, play and festival. Together they set the stage for the life of the imagination to unfold.

4. Crafting a Language of Life

Words create worlds, and the limits of our language are the limits of our world. Language helps us see. When we speak of beauty and aliveness, we see and experience more beauty and aliveness. They are invisible until we speak their names. Creating a culture of possibility includes creating a language with which to describe and experience it. A language of life therefore is also a language of relationship, a living language that is deeply rooted in those places most full of life, including the work of craft, of nature and living systems, of community and our common life together.

5. Creating Place in a Beautiful Way

To be fully imaginative is to walk in beauty and to fill a place in a beautiful way. The word beauty itself is closely related to both calling and compassion. As such, beauty lies at the root of what it means to be truly compassionate and truly alive. It is our call to life.

6. Celebrating Art as Invitation

Art will be central in growing a regenerative culture and brings our humanity into the room - particularly art that is offered not as a performance or entertainment but as the expression of hospitality, inclusiveness, diversity and generosity. Art invites empathy and shared understanding. It invites memorable stories and powerful metaphors. As such, art points us to places in our experience where words cannot go..

7. Welcoming the Stranger

Art can also be disruptive. The artist is often the outsider, the powerful stranger who poses the unanswerable questions. Welcoming the stranger into our midst is the most direct way of acknowledging and respecting our own - and each otherís - vulnerability in the great mystery of what is to come.

8. Telling Our Stories

To be good storytellers also requires us to be good story listeners. Storytelling is not a performance but an act of intimate reciprocity. In this reciprocity, we create a bond with another. Stories introduce emotion into our conversations. Stories also encourage an open and curious mind and nurture a spirit of joy and delight.

9. Curating a Culture of Public Discourse

Large global movements signal the mostly unmet appetite among many to bring their voice to local and global governance. These gatherings represent the wave of the future. Every voice matters, and these voices can be heard most clearly when we advocate for environments that foster trust and integrity, interdependence across diverse disciplines, civic engagement, transparency and openness.

10. Igniting Many Points of Light

We need to retrain the eye to see the world not in silos but as networks and living systems that are seamless, organic and collaborative. Cultures of possibility are not hierarchical but horizontal. They are represented by broad-based and diverse networks of connection - many points of light - that create dynamic and fluid social fields for learning and co-generation.

11. Re-imagining Our Mythic Life Together

We need renewed myths, symbols and metaphors to express what cannot be spoken of literally. A myth does not present black-and-white answers but, rather, alternative perspectives from which we may choose those that feel most alive and intriguing to us.

Imaginal Cells: An Evolutionary Leap Forward

When we practice these principles we also stimulate the growth of new cellular structures which could be described as imaginal cells. These are the temporary cells that cause a caterpillar to metamorphosis inside its chrysalis and become a butterfly. In humans, they change our physiology in the same way that art and craft and dialogue practice do - they activate a part of our nervous system and open us to the possibility of metamorphosis and change.

The potential of these imaginal cells lies dormant in the caterpillar most of the time. It may also lie dormant within us and within communities in the same way. What may trigger them is the same kind of stimulus that signals their development in the caterpillar: that with the anticipation of a transformational change there is a corresponding shift toward a greater transparency and softening of our boundaries, a blending of our surfaces that enables new, more resilient, collaborative, resonant heart-centred forms to take shape.

In this context there is a moment of turning and in the turning, transformation happens. New liberating structures evolve out of the old. Each is enabled to do its work through the presence of the other and then, in the turning, a butterfly is born!

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About The Author

Michael Jones
Michael Jones

Michael Jones is a leadership educator, author and Juno-nominated pianist/composer. His most recent book, The Soul of Place: Re-imagining Leadership Through Nature, Art and Community, is the third in a series asking how leaders can re- imagine places as living systems inspired by nature, art, community and our deepening humanity.