Collective Imagination: how to embed in wider business practices

[Esther intro from Blog 1]

Collective imagination is a tool for helping groups of people start to imagine a future that is different to the one that would have likely occurred if on autopilot.

For an introduction to collective imagination see this blog post. A workshop process is the most effective way to develop a sense of the collective future your business community or social community want to bring to fruition.

However there are also a number of practices that a business can embed within their organisation, to start further weaving collective imagination into their business strategy and daily operations. 

Below we share three ideas on where to start: 

1. Lengthen your planning horizons.

Collective imagination practice rose out of the need to resolve the quandary of how we might ‘learn to plan wisely for the challenges of the future.’

Key to this wise planning is shifting business planning cycles from focusing on one to four year planning horizons, to instead prioritising long-term planning: where does your business want to be in ten, fifty, a hundred years? Over these timelines, how will your business create value for your employees (and their families), your customers, the environment and society on which the business depends? How can we start thinking differently about time and what it means to business? These planning activities should be based on the outcomes of a collective imagination process, which must include the widest sample of voices as possible to ensure long term decisions reflect the needs and desires of all within the business.

2. Embrace non-linearity through embedding design-thinking.

Western business pace is typically rapid and linear. Driven by slogans like ‘move fast and break things’ and a quest for constant growth. Collective imagination is about providing space for alternative ideas beyond the dogma of the day. Thus for business, exploring what a company may look like should it choose a different path to the future, other than the one prescribed by normative business views. Slowing down doesn’t have to mean hitting the brakes on progress or innovation.

Collective imagination isn’t about creating nostalgic or regressive systems, but instead one where the future is considered and responsive to the needs of a wider group of real people. Rather than a future dictated to by current normative thinking. As such, the adoption of non-linear approaches to design and operations, like Design Thinking, are a good place to start. Design Thinking is a cyclical process that is having a resurgence across government, business and design communities and is centred on adapting workflows and innovation to cyclical rhythms.

3. Encourage radical collaboration across teams, geographies, society & value chain stakeholders.

Collective imagination is most potent when a multiplicity of voices and lived-experiences offer grounded alternative futures to the one we are all faced with. Often, we find in imagination practices, that there are individuals, businesses and communities that are already experiencing and responding to elements of an alternative future. Where possible, strive to radically collaborate with such stakeholders, to help further catalyse change at the society level.

Collaboration could be horizontally, between innovative players in your sector or across your value chains but also vertically: working with innovative individuals at a grassroots level through to government level. Wherever you can try to create connection and synergy between these groups of players, to amplify the call for collective intelligence to guide our futures.

To learn more about some collective imagination activities you can do with your team, please read Esther’s blog on ‘Collective imagination: some starter activities for your team’. If you would like to to run a collective imagination process within your business you can reach out to Esther on X

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