Exploration of Absurd Thoughts through "Theory of Imagination" - Essay I: Theoretical Underpinnings
Updated: May 24
This blog series aims to delve into the hidden wisdom of seemingly absurd ideas through the lens of the newly proposed "Theory of Imagination". Throughout this series, I will investigate the application of the theory to organisations and workplaces to foster innovation, enhance critical thinking, strengthen leadership, and promote intellectual diversity.
Brimming with thought-provoking content and humour, this collective of multimedia essays will uncover the power and connections between the outrageous, the inventive, and what some might deem both extraordinary and mad.
In Essay I, I embark on an unconventional journey of creating the underpinnings of the Theory of Imagination itself, providing preliminary examples of its application to the particular context of organisations and workplaces. The upcoming Essays will continue these discussions, focusing on applying the theory to the study of leadership. These upcoming essays will further explore the role of the theory in the analyses of absurd thought, mainly that leadership can be analysed based on its analogies to theories and concepts in physics.
Are you ready to challenge your preconceptions and embrace the power of the absurd? Read carefully, question unstoppably, and enjoy thoroughly.
2. Theoretical Underpinnings
This essay focuses on exploring absurd thoughts (i.e. a "Bonkers Idea" that construct of leadership can be analysed based on its analogies to theories and concepts in physics*) within the context of the emerging "Theory of Imagination," also referred to as the "Theory of Freeing the Right" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Cropley, 2006).
Theoretical Framework for Exploring Absurd Thoughts through “Theory of Imagination”
3. Principles of Theory of Imagination
This essay proposes that the principles of the Theory of Imagination are used to guide the exploration of absurd thoughts (Paul & Elder, 2006). The proposed principles are as follows:
1. Follow no rules, including these;
2. Refrain from "rights" or "wrongs", “good” and “bad,” “useful” and “harmful,” “correct”, and “incorrect”, viewing such terms as never absolute but dependent on the ever-changing needs and dynamics;
3. Consider “judging” as inherently inaccurate;
a) Open-mindedness (not to be confused with the phonetically similar "madness");
b) Curiosity (for everything from dots in sentences to neurotransmitter molecules);
c) Joy (here achieved through the use of bullet points, random stories, and application of so-called "3S +1", i.e. being sharp, short, simple, + silly).
5. (...) - This point is reserved for additional principles that have not yet been identified but are essential to acknowledge as potentially "existing."**
The application of the principles of the emerging Theory of Imagination is crucial for the effective exploration of absurd thought such that the concept of leadership can be analysed through the analogy to the theories and knowledge of physics. These principles ensure an open and creative approach to analysis, essential for re-evaluating absurd thoughts' absurdity. However, it is important to acknowledge that compliance with these principles is a choice rather than an obligation. In the spirit of the theory, one may choose to break the rules and forge their own path in exploring the proposed absurd thought. However, before doing so, it is advisable to familiarise oneself with the principles, as this understanding will allow for more informed and meaningful deviations.
4. Obstacle to Theory Application
When the analysis of the application of the Theory of Imagination offers evidence that points 1 through 3 have been disrespected excessively, and in the absence of evidence demonstrating that points 4a, 4b, 4c have been applied thoroughly and diligently, one can conclude that, most probably,
we are dealing with a case of domestic violence perpetrated by the ego.
These cases are common among the human species, frequently following a somewhat standard procedure. They often culminate in a "thinking fear freeze," where one feels overwhelmed and flooded with self-critical thoughts. These thoughts are usually fueled by negative adjectives that suggest that the individual's ideas are not just "odd", "embarrassing", or "absurd" but outright "stupid". As a result, many may hesitate to express, fearing rejection, ridicule or embarrassment (similar to Huck Finn when he disguises himself as a girl and visits Judith Loftus, only for Mrs Loftus to see through his disguise quickly), fearing a negative impact on one's professional image (if it could worsen), or even job loss. (Employing someone perceived as "bonkers" in a small town of X, from country Y, could be akin to hiring "trouble", and we all know nobody wants "trouble").
The unfreezing occurs through a surprising turn when the life-provider of the ego (that is, 'you') comes to comprehend that the ego was never endowed with the authority to dispense such warnings, and, furthermore, that it is erroneously anticipating its admonitions to be obeyed. The ego's immortal nature allows for continuous mending; one can behead it unlimited times without the consequence of life imprisonment or otherwise.
Another factor that can hinder the application of the Theory of Imagination is social conformity. A classic study conducted by Solomon Asch (Asch, S.E., 1951) exemplifies the powerful impact of social conformity on perception and judgment. In Asch's experiment, participants were influenced by the majority's opinion to identify one colour as another due to group pressure. They subsequently tested the afterimage to determine if the participants genuinely perceived the false colour or were merely lying about it. This experiment underscores the potential barriers social influence can create in adopting and implementing the Theory of Imagination.
Most people are programmed instinctively to conform to the group for safety and are not able to adopt a new idea until enough rebels have adopted it to push it into the safe zone of being accepted.
When individuals are more susceptible to conforming to established beliefs and thought patterns, they may resist embracing the critical thinking and intellectual diversity that the theory promotes. By acknowledging the powerful role of social conformity and working to overcome its influence, we can facilitate the successful application of the Theory of Imagination, fostering scientific progress and social change.
5. The Importance of Gaps in the Theory
The emerging Theory of Imagination relies on both principles and a concept I will call "gaps." Indeed, the proposed Theory of Imagination has many "gaps" – or, more accurately, it is a "gap theory," broken here and there with a handful of facts, mainly ideas. The relationship between the gaps and the principles is essential, as the principles serve as a foundation for expanding upon all that is not a gap, while guiding the discovery process to uncover what lies within the gaps.
These gaps are the most valuable aspect of the theory, and since the theory has so many of them (an unlimited amount), the worth of this theory is immense.
It is the gaps we want to look at – identify, analyse, and "squeeze to death" until we reach an understanding (well, let's remain hopeful such a culmination is achievable). This ongoing and never-ending process, which I call "gap filling," embraces one of the most striking characteristics of the theory, i.e. its incompleteness.
To illustrate this more clearly, envision that when the application of the Theory of Imagination occurs, each thought does not end with a period but with an ellipsis ("...") to indicate dynamism and the importance of ongoing exploration. The ever-evolving nature of the Theory of Imagination indicates there is always room for continuation and further development (Bruner, 1986).
6. Application of the Theory in a Real-world Setting
The application of the emerging "Theory of Imagination" to both "gaps" and "no gaps" can be a challenging process that may prompt criticism from those who are unfamiliar with its principles. In 2022 and 2023, I conducted a series of mini-experiments at a UK-based university to explore the costs and benefits of using this theory in group settings. The research objective was to gather preliminary data on the impact of the theory on working teams. In one experiment in February 2023, as a Team Coach, I applied the theory to a self-managed group of 10 individuals tasked with evaluating their company's strategies.
During a coaching session, I acted as a "dead body" lying on the floor with my mouth open and tongue out for about 20 minutes while the team members engaged in role-playing exercises to visualise the importance of transitioning from "dead strategies" to new and more effective ones. This approach aimed to help the team members tap into their imaginations and facilitate creative thinking.
Using self-observation and self-experimentation as my methodology, I aimed to encourage participants to embrace the principles of the theory without explicitly discussing it. To achieve this, I manipulated variables in my coaching behaviour, from using standard coaching competencies to adopting unconventional approaches, such as playing the role of a "dead body". I allowed the theory to manifest through my coaching behaviour and observed its impact on the team members. Gathered reflective evidence indicated that individuals uncovered novel solutions and approaches to problems that initially seemed insurmountable or disordered. The team members harnessed the power of seemingly absurd idea (i.e. me playing dead) to approach complex problems with a fresh perspective, leading to more innovative and effective solutions, ultimately leading to the recognition of their work by their peers and instructors.
The key findings from these experiments indicate that embracing the Theory of Imagination can foster an environment that promotes team cohesion, trust, and authenticity. By demonstrating one's uniqueness and embracing one's "unconventional" qualities, individuals can lead by example, encouraging others to free themselves and overcome their limits.
Applying the Theory of Imagination carries some risks, including the possibility of being misunderstood, compromising oneself, and appearing ridiculous (see the visual depiction of me lying on the floor during the team's coaching session). Leaders of this process must anticipate and accept the costs of theory application, seeing them as an expected consequence of liberated behaviours. It is important to note potential rejections of such behaviours may cause the individual to hesitate to use the theory's principles in the future. They might resist new applications based on previous incidents where their behaviour was seen as inappropriate or, perhaps, even judged as disruptive.
In my experimental study, managing these risks involved trusting the process and focusing on the objective. In the February 2023 experiment, the objective was to motivate the team to embrace the evaluation of their strategies; in the video below, the priority was to energise employees by expressing one's love for the company one works for, as exemplified by the CEO of Microsoft. Both examples explicate that:
individuals must sustain faith when experimenting with the Theory of Imagination, especially as such behaviours are expected to be seen as absurd and ridiculous.
7. Connection to Chaos Theory
The Theory of Imagination is rooted in Chaos Theory (Gleick, 1987). Both share a common theme: finding order within disorder.
Chaos Theory examines the behaviour of dynamic systems sensitive to initial conditions, often resulting in seemingly unpredictable and chaotic outcomes. Despite the apparent randomness, Chaos Theory posits that there are underlying patterns and structures within these systems. Similarly, the Theory of Imagination aims to discover hidden patterns and structures within seemingly chaotic and disorganised environments, behaviours, or ideas (Wallas, 1926).
The key connecting factor between the two theories is finding order (consider this in terms of "purpose") within disorder. While applying the principles of the Theory of Imagination may seem chaotic and disorganised on the surface, the intentional use of this approach can reveal underlying patterns and enhance creativity, problem-solving, and innovation.
For an external observer to recognise and embrace these seemingly chaotic patterns, a level of "see-through" is required. One must be able to trace them back to their origin - moments of deliberate decision-making to use the principles of the theory with the purpose of unlocking the full potential and best possible version of their future selves.
8. Future Research and Applications
I suggest conducting further experiments, meticulously recording and analysing the results to gain deeper insights into this topic. It is crucial to consider that the research design may need to be based on the principles of the theory itself, with experiments conducted in both a pre-planned, controlled manner and through spontaneous, ad-hoc approaches.
I posit that even when the principles of the Theory of Imagination are applied without conscious intention, they can still yield positive outcomes. Nonetheless, short-term drawbacks might emerge in some instances, potentially complicating the interpretation of results and causing confusion between short-term and long-term effects. It is essential to approach the analysis of the Theory of Imagination's impact cautiously, recognising the distinction between these effects. My personal belief is that challenging established beliefs and fostering critical thinking, which may include the emergence of unconventional behaviours and radical ideas, outweigh these potential drawbacks.
However, we must remember that assumptions can often be brilliantly correct or utterly inappropriate, humorously defined as "it makes an ASS out of U and ME." Therefore, while acknowledging my assumption and confidence in it, I fully understand that it remains an assumption. Ironically, my certainty goes against the principles of the very theory discussed. I further recognise the difficulty of letting go of assumptions that seem so very right—an almost impossible process. One might find it extremely challenging not to end up in a place where upon going through all of that reflection, they proclaim once again that the benefits of applying the theory are unquestionable, promoting intellectual diversity, exposing weaknesses in established beliefs, and encouraging social change.
In light of the Theory of Imagination's emphasis on interdisciplinary understanding, it's crucial to appreciate the importance of collaboration across various fields, including leadership. When a hard scientist delves into philosophical arguments, it's prudent to approach their views with the same scepticism as a philosopher discussing quantum mechanics. By recognising our expertise limitations and engaging in intellectual exchanges, we can foster a holistic understanding of issues and enable meaningful progress in applying the Theory of Imagination.
Therefore, I propose that further research explore the possibility of the Theory of Imagination being the exception to its own principles.***
Continuous applications and experimentation with the Theory of Imagination are paramount. This notion is based on one noticing of striking similarities between humans and ants (laugh), with both being able to exhibit behaviours that may not be entirely conscious, even counterproductive or, worse self-destructive.
In biology, these phenomena are called "ant mills" or "ant death spirals." Organisms, including humans and ants, have a tendency to prefer shortcuts or more straightforward solutions, which might not always lead to the most effective outcomes.
Like ants, humans can sometimes become trapped in "trail loops" of their evolutionary history, locked in endless circles of unproductive or self-destructive thought patterns (Schneirla, T.C., 1944; Delsuc, F., 2003).
These patterns can manifest in various aspects of life, such as being stuck in a dead-end job, an unhealthy relationship, or stagnating in theory development. Unconscious behaviours may lead to potential harm for individuals and their families, communities, organisations, and entire systems, which underscores the importance of self-awareness, critical thinking, and questioning our actions and behaviours.
Consider the Milgram and Zimbardo prison experiments. In Milgram's obedience study, participants were ordered to administer electric shocks to another person, who was actually a confederate (Milgram, 1974). Despite their discomfort and objections, many participants continued to administer the shocks because they believed they were following orders from an authority figure. Similarly, in Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment, participants were randomly assigned to the roles of prisoners or guards, and soon became so immersed in their roles that they began to behave in ways that were consistent with their assigned identities, even if those actions were harmful (Zimbardo, 1973). By acknowledging the potential influence of our ideas and misconceptions on our actions, we can develop greater awareness and control over our behaviours, leading to a more responsible and ethical quality of our thinking, and hence what we later say and finally do (Gandhi,1948).
The Theory of Imagination challenges us to explore the boundaries between conscious and unconscious behaviours and break free from counterproductive or self-destructive thoughts. It might be seen as a response to Einstein's famous quote: “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” ****
The Theory of Imagination paves the way for scientific breakthroughs and advancements by encouraging us to challenge mental loops and promote intellectual diversity. Continuously applying and experimenting with this theory allows us to overcome the limitations of our unconscious behaviours, ultimately fostering social change and scientific progress and empowering us not to lose hope for a brighter future.
In this chapter, I have presented the Theory of Imagination, outlining its key principles and exploring its potential applications within an organisational context. These considerations were designed to establish a robust foundation for the Theory of Imagination, also known as the Theory of Freeing the Right.
These considerations were intended to provide support for those interested in exploring the power of imagination and accelerating their cognitive processing to approach the speed of light, otherwise known as "blueshift thinking" (Bennett et al., 2014; Purves et al., 2018). By providing scientific scaffolding, I aimed to empower readers to explore the deeper, more meaningful aspects of knowledge, life, and the universe. If chosen, this exploration can facilitate a shift in values allowing for engagement with alternative perspectives, ideas, and approaches, ultimately providing an opportunity to experience unknown layers of happiness and well-being.
However, I also recognise that despite my best intentions, the essay may be perceived as a collection of clichés, a potentially misrepresented study, and a handful of stereotypes that have been haphazardly pieced together in an artful pile of spaghetti, with no clear points that emerge.
As per the theory's principles (in particular point 2), I ignore right and wrong and proudly declare:
The theoretical considerations are seen as "complete enough" to serve as the foundation for the Theory of Imagination, also known as the Theory of Freeing the Right. I now proclaim that the theory is formed (as far as the theory allows) and ready for application across all domains.
The end of Essay I.*****
* Physics should not be seen as a superior or inferior discipline compared to Leadership. Instead, both fields can benefit from each other's perspectives and insights. There is a risk of accepting ideological claims as objective truth without questioning the underlying assumptions. This is not a problem unique to physics or leadership; it is a challenge that all disciplines face. By acknowledging the potential limitations of our own fields and engaging in interdisciplinary collaboration, we can broaden our perspectives and identify blind spots in our thinking. This can lead to more innovative and effective solutions to complex problems building on not us and the respective fields we represent competing with each other, but working together to achieve common goals and advance our understanding of the world.
** Note the analogy between 3S +1 and the four fundamental forces at play in the universe: electromagnetism, the strong force, and the weak force plus gravity, with the last one, sadly, so far not included in the Standard Model, as too weak at the microscopic level to be incorporated into the quantum world (Griffiths, 2008).
*** And now, for an intriguing "twist" – and who doesn't love a good twist? Well, I certainly do.
When considering the principles of the Theory of Imagination, we must also entertain the possibility that this theory itself may just be a better or worse-looking proposition amongst a sea of incorrect answers.
**** Another famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein is, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” The development of the Theory of Imagination adhered to this advice. I have spent my entire adult life (41 years and counting) trying to understand the unconscious behaviours and thought patterns that can lead to counterproductive or self-destructive actions (and there's no shortage of material to analyse). This approach aligns with Einstein's perspective on problem-solving, emphasizing the need to thoroughly examine the problem before seeking solutions. As a result, the Theory of Imagination can be seen not only as a response to Einstein's quote on problem-solving but also as a manifestation of the same principle, underscoring the importance of critical thinking, intellectual diversity, and self-awareness in achieving meaningful progress in science and society.
***** This essay, along with those that will follow, is grounded in my PhD research at the University of Reading, UK. Although the Theory of Imagination was not the central focus, nor was it mentioned in the main text of my PhD, the research content served as a catalyst for the development of this essay. It provided a foundation, sharpened my insights, and deepened my understanding, ultimately shaping my perspective on the Theory of Imagination and its extensive applicability.
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