Imagination versus intelligence! Which is more important? Is this a chicken or the egg argument where no one wins? OK, let’s look into this.

I recently read that Albert Einstein is credited with the statement: “Imagination is more important than intelligence.” Given Mr. Einstein is likely the most intelligent man in history, I have to give the statement some merit. So I looked for other similar statements.

  • “If you can first dream it, you can achieve it.” —Jim Valvano
  • “I have a dream.” —Dr. Martin Luther King

Three powerful statements by three accomplished people! So what comes from imagination? Vision! Vision paints a picture that people can see and follow. Vision leads to action. For example:

  • Dr. King’s Dream
  • The Women’s March
  • Landing on the Moon
  • #METOO

Why is this important? What do imagination and vision have in common?

  • They have no race,
  • They have no gender,
  • They have no ethnicity,
  • They have no religion,
  • They have no life style,
  • They have no political party, and
  • They have no job title.

Imagination and vision are available to everyone. Neither is limited to the rich or famous or national leaders. Given the sad state of the federal government, it is certainly not the purview of either political party. So does this mean if your imagination can create a vision and you have a genuine belief in your vision your life will improve? Not necessarily.

To take advantage of your imagination and vision requires choices such as:

  • Where are you now?
  • Where to you want to be?
  • What is stopping you from getting there?
  • What resources/skills do you need to get there?
  • Are you willing to do what it takes—no excuses?

I worked with a company that enrolls students into a major university’s online school. This company runs a call center. (Call centers are today’s version of the old assembly lines: Long, boring, tedious, and repetitive.) The division Vice President asked me to look into reasons why the enrollment group was consistently below industry average and why they were having such high turnover. I asked to meet with the department manager, a shift supervisor and one of their top individual performers. I asked them the same question. What is the purpose of your job?

The manager’s response was, “To enroll as many students as possible.” This response clearly does not paint a picture. The supervisor’s answer was, “It is a numbers game. The more people we talk to about the enrollment process, the more students we enroll.” Does this answer motivate you to take action? I don’t think so! The worker, a 24-year-old millennial woman said, “I help people take the first step to realizing their hopes and dreams by guiding them through the enrollment process at one the greatest universities in the world.” Now who has vision? Among my recommendations to the company was to start training this young woman to become the manager ASAP. Unfortunately this company did not heed the advice. This young woman and several other top performers have all joined other companies.

Organizations with imagination and vision are always changing. They are not locked into established “Best Practice.” Best practices is a term than drives me crazy. Best practices are a point in time. They are not forever. They are not the gospel. I talk to so many people who say “I am following the best practice for my industry, but I am still floundering.” My response is, “If it doesn’t work for you then it isn’t a best practice is it? Maybe you should be looking for the NEXT PRACTICE.”

The world is changing faster than our ability to comprehend and make adjustments. History is lettered with companies that religiously followed their best practice all the way to extinction. For example, during the days when the telephone industry was regulated, the only place you could get a phone was from Western Electric. You couldn’t buy the phone, you rented it FOREVER. Now Western Electric gave you some options. The color option was black and the style options were you hung it on the wall or put it on your desk. When the industry deregulated, people could choose their own carrier and actually buy a phone. People didn’t want the one size fits all Western Electric phone. They wanted red phones, and princess phones and Mickey Mouse phones. Western Electric, however followed their best practice of limited options for manufacturing efficiency. They are now gone.

A&P, the first of the great grocery store chain, followed their best practice of the same products in every store in the same aisle and on the same shelf. A&P didn’t adjust to the demographics of the local population or changes in customer taste. They no longer exist.

The survivors are the disruptive organizations. The ones who challenged the best practice and asked “What If?” Companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Netflix—you can name others yourself. These companies decided the established best practice wasn’t the best for them and changed the world.

“What If” ideas don’t always come from senior management. When Starbucks first started it was located across the street from the Pike’s Market in Seattle (you know the place where they throw the fish). The original Starbucks was in the middle of the block. On either side on the same block was Tulley’s Coffee and Seattle’s Best Coffee. All followed the best practice. Only coffee related drinks. Coffee, Expresso, Cappuccino, Latte, flavored coffee, etc. NO blenders. Blenders were not part of the best practice. Blenders were an unwanted expense. Blender break down, slow the line and for “God’s Sake” back in the 1980s, who would have thought anyone would ever pay five dollars for a coffee drink.

A young Starbucks employee brought her own blender from home and started to make blended drinks, Frappuccinos, and others. She put them out as samples. The customers loved them. Starbucks to its credit, saw the trend and changed their best practice. In 2018, Starbucks generated 24.7 billion dollars in revenue. Depending on what reports you believe, 50 percent to 60 percent of that revenue comes from blended drinks. That is between twelve to fourteen billion dollars because someone asked “What If?” and challenged the established best practice.

So in the end, is imagination more important than intelligence? I still don’t know, but I believe imagination/vision coupled with determination are far more important than intelligence. I know many very intelligent people driving buses or tending bar. The question is what kind of business do you want? Call me let’s talk.


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