Our innovation engine

At the core of our capacity for innovation works an engine that blends three different fuels.

The first is imagination, the human ability to ‘see’ things that do not (not yet, not any more, not at all) exist, conjuring up unbridled ideas neither bounded by reality nor subject to any checks.

The second is intent, which directs our creative musings towards specific targets. Together, imagination and intent define our creativity, that purposeful free-wheeling of the human mind.

The third is agency, the ability to influence and shape our environment in a desired way. This is what lets us turn ethereal ideas into tangible reality.

It’s easy to see how all three fuels are indispensable for the innovation engine to run. Imagination and intent without agency would churn out endless pipe dreams, but never enter into implementation mode. Intent and agency without imagination would have tremendous potential, but lack the promising ideas that are worth pursuing. Agency and imagination without intent would generate many ideas that could gain traction, but they’d miss the focus that directs all that energy towards a specific goal. It takes all three: ‘seeing’ an alternative to the present, wanting that different future, and making it happen.

This innovation engine drove the cultural evolution of Homo Sapiens for over 300,000 years, but it is not the only tool we employ to innovate.

This is the second in a series of short posts on the origins of innovation.

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