The undocumented danger of Imagination deficit disorder

Posted: 03.01.12

Im·ag·i·na·tion—noun, the faculty of imagining or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.

The single thing that separates the losers from the winners, besides dumb blind luck, is imagination. Some call it vision; others hard work, but the truth is the companies that died, did so because the CEO and his or her lieutenants just didn’t have enough, or maybe any imagination.

You’ve all heard the dumb things some great people have said —there’s only a market for maybe 100 computers, 64kB should be enough, and there’s no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home. Now in these cases two of the CEOs overcame their imagination deficient and went on to do great things. And ironically in the case of the third he had a history of imagination and bravery—launching VAX and StrongARM. But down the road from DEC was Wang Labs which started with the most imaginative personal calculator, grew to a giant company only to fail to imagine a world without big centrally controlled word processors. So many of the greats of the seventies and eighties failed when the circumstances changed—they couldn’t imagine a way out, the next step, something else to do and so they just road it down till it died.

Imagination – the ability to face and resolve difficulties; resourcefulness: a job that requires imagination.

And sometimes a CEO’s imagined imagination can put a company into a tail spin. There was SGI’s McCracken’s decision to buy Cray, followed by Rick Belluzzo’s disastrous announcement that SGI was out of the workstation business. And who can forget Leo the Lip Apotheker’s declaration that HP was going to dump the PC business? And turn into something like IBM. Those guys couldn’t imagine the consequences of their statements and actions. In the case of Apotheker, he was working from the playbook he brought with him from SAP.

When a company fails, fails to grow or fails completely and disappears, it’s attributed to a series of bad management decisions, or bad luck due to circumstantial situations, but that’s just baloney, a polite excuse. That fact is the CEOs had an imagination deficit disorder, they had IDD.

Imagination deficit is the cause of failure to launch, those without imagination simply can’t think of what to do next, or to do instead. Imagination is different than belief because what is personally invented by the mind does not necessarily affect the course of action taken in the apparently shared world, while beliefs are part of what one holds as truths about both the shared and personal worlds. Beliefs can be crippling.

And what about those companies that have imagination? Well Apple comes easily to mind, and Nvidia and HP, to name just a few. Sony used to have it, and I think still does if they could get their left foot off their right.

Imagination requires one to disconnect themselves from fear: Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of stock price decline.

How do you get it? How does a CEO get imagination, can you buy some on eBay? Well the really smart CEOs don’t have all the imagination, maybe the least—or the most. The CEO’s imagination may be to let all the smart clever people working for her or him to express their imaginations, and then maybe doing it. And the IDD CEO is the one who stifles, and dampens that imagination. He can’t see it, can’t get it, so it’s no good. He’s wearing plaid and can’t understand this stupid idea about micro-fibers.

The SciFi community has a great track record on imagination. Look at all the stuff that came out of Star Trek in the 70s and is part of our lives now and still not all of it realized—but imaginable. The dark side of that model is the apocalyptic movies; don’t think I want to live in a place like Blade Runner, or The Matrix.

Me, I don’t know anything about imagination, but I know it when I see it—and so do you.