It’s always pleasing for an author who has written about an idea to see that idea reappear spontaneously in public discussions. I’ve experienced this pleasure with the “ICI Continuum,” a concept that Eric Liu and I include in Imagination First and that refers to this relationship: “Imagination -> Creativity (imagination applied) -> Innovation (novel creativity)” (20). In other words, imagination is conceiving of what is not, creativity is doing something with that conception, and innovation is advancing the form in question. Seems commonsensical, right? People are starting to think so, happily, but there hasn’t always been robust agreement on these issues.
One obstacle to educational and economic progress that I’ve observed in recent years is the tendency of advocates to cluster around their particular cause, often excluding other, equally legitimate ones in the process. Creativity folks have sometimes clung to creativity, innovation folks to innovation, and—yes—we on the imagination end of things aren’t guilt-free either. Of course, this defense mechanism, if you will, is very understandable; when a group is working to have its agenda taken seriously, it’s natural for it to look out for number one. But in the end, we do ourselves harm by remaining so provincial. This is one factor that led Eric and I to adopt the ICI Continuum, a product of the thinking of Lincoln Center Institute’s Philosopher-in-Residence Maxine Greene and of our past work here at the Institute. This concept embraces all three of the constituent elements, showing how they interconnect. Imagination comes first, but without the next two steps, it cannot result in anything concrete.
I don’t want to speak prematurely, but it’s quite likely that I’ll be discussing the link between imagination and creativity when I present at the UNESCO World Conference on Arts Education in Seoul, Korea, in May, and the 2010 Creativity World Forum, to be held in Oklahoma City, OK, in November. (Coincidentally, Oklahoma City was the site of an excellent Imagination Conversation last September.) My presence as an imagination advocate at an event centered on creativity is a clear illustration of the ongoing unification of these formerly disjointed movements. It’s my sincere hope that this synthesis will continue. The temptation to tuck ourselves away in our narrow niches may be strong, but we must remember that our real goals—a better educated student population, a more competitive workforce, a cognitively richer citizenry—will only come about if we open our arms to our conceptual neighbors.
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