Home Articles Imagination Effect: don’t underestimate the effect of your imagination on your business

Imagination Effect: don’t underestimate the effect of your imagination on your business


Some may say, you’re a dreamer. But you’re not the only one. Okay, paraphrasing John Lennon, has never been done before. Ever. It’s not highly imaginative quote him in an article about imagination.

But, the point is, those of us who imagine, or visually embrace a concept, can be seen as different. Yet, as new research shows, creativity and learning is enhanced by using your imagination . It is the dreamers who should be actively encouraged to think, create and imagine. And, they should teach the non-dreamers how to join in.

Two decades ago, Professor John Sweller, an expert on Cognitive Load Theory, came up with the landmark finding called “Imagination Effect.” When schoolchildren were presented with a procedure or concept to learn, they achieved better learning outcomes when they imagined the procedure or concept.

So, why do corporate leaders fail to recognise the importance of imagination in learning and development?

Not to worry, Sweller seems to say, emerging this time with similar results in a study sponsored by Canon.

“Participants that engaged their imagination during the learning process improved their scores significantly compared to their colleagues who simply studied the training module in the conventional way,” said Sweller, who designed the study and conducted it along with University of New South Wales colleagues Paul Ayres and Slava Kalyuga. The imagination group’s mean score was 63% compared to 29% for the study group.

Ayres is a professor of Educational Psychology and Kalyuga is a BSc/BEd Convenor.

Canon to fire up imagination

The Japanese electronics major Canon, which sponsored the study for its employees, said it planned to act on the results of the study.

“As a direct result of the imagination for business project, we are changing the way we structure some of our learning and development programs and how we ask employees to engage with the organisation’s knowledge capital,” said Ian Flemington, General Manager Human Resources, Canon Australia. “It’s relatively straightforward to implement, but delivers huge return on investment.”

What the Canon study found out doesn’t talk highly of corporate Australia. Imagination was one of Australia’s most underrated business assets, despite correlations with higher earnings and better learning outcomes, according to the researchers. Also, imagination ranked last on a list of 15 workforce characteristics valued by employers.

“Imagination is key for organisational success. It not only drives innovation, we’ve proven that it significantly improves learning and knowledge retention in a corporate environment,” Craig Manson, Director Canon Business Imaging Australia said. Still, the research uncovered a wider trend of “imagination neglect,” he added.

The following were the other key findings of the survey:

  • Only 36% of Australian businesses said they train people how to apply their imagination to their work.
  • Less than half of all respondents (47%) said they actively try to harness and share imagination in their workforce.
  • 46% of organisations believed that imagination was related to a company’s productivity levels but only 38% believed that imagination was related to a company’s revenue.
  • Organisations that said they value and harness imagination were the highest earning companies.
  • High-revenue companies were more likely to say reward imaginative employees in company through promotion and pay rises — 45% of those with over $100 million, versus 27% of those with less than $10 million.

The experiment, developed by Sweller, involved Canon employees participating in an e-learning program. Where one group completed the modules using conventional study methods, the other used their imagination when learning the concepts and procedures. The report, “Imagination for Business,” also details results of a survey of 400 senior executives from organisations throughout Australia.

As an entrepreneur, using your imagination is probably at the very heart of what you do. As your company grows, don’t forget to embrace using it, and those of your team, to grow and innovate.

John Lennon may have been the walrus, but he knew what he was talking about when it came to imagination.