“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” ― Carl Sagan
Over fifty years ago, the first Shinkansen bullet train traveled from Tokyo to Osaka. It arrived there in record time, traveling 130mph along a dedicated, high-speed track, featuring the fewest possible curves, more than 3,000 bridges, and 67 miles of tunnel. Today, Shinkansen trains leave Tokyo for Osaka every three minutes, seating up to 1,323 passengers, and traveling at cruising speeds of 168mph—some even reaching top speeds of nearly 200mph. Fast, frequent, clean, safe and on-time, the bullet trains have virtually killed domestic air travel in Japan. Innovation, definitely, but one fired by imagination, not creativity alone.
The success of innovators like Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber exhibit a similar dynamic: imagination first, creativity second. In his book, The Imagination Challenge, Alexander Manu explains the key difference between creativity and imagination:
“…creativity is chiefly a development tool, applied to an object or idea that has already been imagined. Creativity deploys mental skills to develop an idea but not to generate it…”
Just like a spacecraft goes through a series of firing sequences before launch, innovation needs a series of corporate capabilities to fire in the right order for it to take off. Although the two are linked, imagination must come before creativity. When implemented in the proper sequence, the two function more effectively, and innovation wins.