A business introduction to collective imagination

In a world of polycrisis, the the future can feel inescapably bleak.

Climate change, nature loss, pollution, social decay… how can we survive, let alone thrive in such a world? However, thrive we must. To do so, it is essential we collectively start to think about the future we want, before collectively working together to bring this future into a reality. 

Collective imagination is a tool that helps us conceptualise the futures we want to bring to fruition.

This workshop-based process is designed to help groups (could be business or community group) navigate the ambiguity of the future, through providing a safe space to collectively consider alternative futures, to the one participants feel will inevitably happen to them. The emphasis on 'inevitable' and ‘to them’ is important, as for many, their future can feel dictated to by others: their family, boss, government or even the political economy at large. 

Collective imagination is a practice interested in supporting individuals, organisations and wider systems to start imagining the futures they want to embody. Then working backwards to understand what changes (at the business-, value-chain & socio-economic-level) must be enacted to make this future a reality.

When done correctly, a collective imagination process won’t spit out a blueprint for a perfect future that suits everyone. But what it will do is provide scope for the creation of a more considered and purposeful set of future options and ideas, than the future that would have likely occurred had the participants stayed on autopilot. 

The process is about providing a safe space for divergent thinking on all the different possibilities the future could hold...

...as envisioned by the widest possible range of individuals. Core to collective imagination is the need to hear from the collective. In a business setting this would mean individuals from across the business and corporate power structures are involved within the workshops.

So for example (in an ideal world) the CEO, Head of Operations and CFO would be workshopping alongside a sub-contracted cleaner and Tier 3 factory workers and agricultural workers (and even the children of employees). All their inputs would have equal weighting and value in the collective vision for the company’s future. 

The insights gathered from the workshops can then be fed into wider business strategy or the collective imagination practitioners can help participants to develop an action plan to start the operationalisation of the collective visioning for the future. The unrolled doughnut is a particularly useful tool for the operations stage and this blog and this blog provide some example of how to start embedding collective imagination into your business today.

The principles of collective imagination are increasingly being embraced by governments, communities, businesses and design communities and it is time more organisations joined them.

Here some example of interesting collective imagination projects, to get inspired:

To learn more about some collective imagination activities you can do with your team, please read Esther’s blogs on ‘Collective imagination: some starter activities for your team’ and 'Embedding collective imagination within your wider business practices'.

If you would like to to run a collective imagination process within your business you can reach out to Esther at X

Image by Reilly Dow — Watchet Imagines Lab hosted by Moral Imaginations and Onion Collective 2021

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