A few weeks ago I read a very interesting online article: Why John Seely Brown Says We Should Look Beyond Creativity to Cultivate Imagination. John Seely Brown, aka JSB, was chief scientist at Xerox and director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). He is now the independent co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge and a visiting scholar at USC. We’ve been friends for over 20 years, and currently both serve on the Advisory Board of USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab.
In his personal website, JSB calls himself Chief of Confusion, “helping people ask the right questions.” The article, a conversation with journalist and New School professor Heather Chaplin, explores a few such questions, the most intriguing of which, I believe, is the distinction between creativity and imagination.
“I think we’re way too focused on creativity,” he says. “It’s misguided. We should be focused on imagination. . . The real key is being able to imagine a new world. Once I imagine something new, then answering how to get from here to there involves steps of creativity. So I can be creative in solving today’s problems, but if I can’t imagine something new, then I’m stuck in the current situation. . .”
“I think what’s happening in STEM education is a tragedy. Art enables us to see the world in different ways. I’m riveted by how Picasso saw the world. How does being able to imagine and see things differently work hand-in-hand? Art education, and probably music too, are more important than most things we teach. Being great at math is not that critical for science, but being great at imagination and curiosity is critical. Yet how are we training tomorrow’s scientists? By boring the hell out of them in formulaic mathematics - and don’t forget I am trained as a theoretical mathematician.”