Innovator: Put Your Imagination into a Straitjacket:

Measure your IIQ (Innovation Intelligence Quotient)

By Shlomo Maital



  The Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman once said, memorably, “Science is just imagination in a straitjacket”. 

   What in the world did he mean?  Why would you ever want to put imagination into a straitjacket?    Feynman himself surely never did that!  Straitjackets restrain those who are violently psychotic!  Yuk.

    Here is what I think he meant.   Imagination alone, that generates wild ideas, is just not enough.  Lots of people have imaginative ideas – but nothing ever comes of them.  Da Vinci himself was like that. His notebooks, written in left-handed mirror image, were full of amazingly imaginative ideas that were never implemented.  Da Vinci himself preferred this, because many of his inventions were weapons, designed to kill people, paid for by his patrons who as city-state warlords fought neighboring warlords; da Vinci didn’t want to kill people. 

    For imagination to be effective, to change the world, it needs to come with constraints.  For science, the constraint is the scientific method.  You may have a wild hypothesis, but you need to confirm it methodically, in ways that convince your peers that you are improbably right.  You need this, so others can replicate what you found. If they can’t – you have screwed up. 

    For innovators, the straitjacket is the set of business constraints – time to market, financial resources,   labor hours, management skill,  marketing channels – that cannot be ignored.  I call this: head in the clouds (imagination), and feet on the ground (business constraints, or the business ‘straitjacket’).   That is why successful innovation is imagination in a straitjacket.  The trick?  Knowing which straitjackets are needed, constructive and real, and which are needlessly self-imposed.

    So, innovator – let your imagination soar.  Create wild ideas.  Follow the rule that great ideas are often lost because those who originated them could not bear being laughed at.   Let laughter at your idea strengthen, not weaken, your resolve. 

   But as you do this, design the straitjacket for your innovation.  Make it answer to the necessary conditions for fast, cost-efficient implementation.   Make it live within the constraints of a sustained business.  

    F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that intelligence is the ability to entertain two conflicting ideas in your head without dumping either.   If you have both a soaring imagination and the ability to straitjacket it pragmatically, you have a very high Innovation Intelligence Quotient.