Opinion

Innovation hasn’t killed imagination – we just need to learn how to connect the two

In this age of innovation obsession, is there still room for imagination? M&C Saatchi’s Justin Graham poses the question.

We are all obsessed with innovation. It’s what brands desire, what D&AD awards celebrate and is a bridge of hope for agency folk to talk to the C-suite. But in our quest to innovate, innovate, innovate, where does that leave imagination? Has innovation put it to sleep once and for all?

To figure this out, we need to unpack innovation and imagination and decide whether they are actually in opposition with each other. An obvious argument is that innovation and imagination are not binary. They are not competing forces.

Actually, I propose that with every great innovation, a new world of possibilities open up. In fact, innovation only fuels imagination.

Sir John Hegarty, legendary founder of BBH, spoke at Cannes last year of the need for the creative industries (insert ad agencies) to ‘sort it out’. To take the new innovative platforms available to us and ideate on them, be creative, be brilliant, because the great creators have always done that.

Innovation resets the playing field for imagination.

Louis Lumiere is not a household name, although he is widely credited as inventing what we regard today as film or moving image. He invented the technology, but it was those imaginative folk in Hollywood and beyond who made it brilliant. Spielberg, Streep, Kathryn Bigelow – they are the creators.

It’s a similar story in music. George Beauchamp is a music industry legend for inventing the electric guitar. But he is no Robert Plant or Tom Morello or dare I say it, Slash. They are the creators, the people who imagine. Without innovation, they wouldn’t have the new platforms to create.

Imagination enables innovation to be human.

There’s some merit to the argument that one specific innovation has killed imagination: the mobile phone. And this is not far off the mark.

‘Insert stat here…’ on our wildly out of control addiction to the little pocket computer.

While innovation is certainly not contained to the latest iPhone, it is true the device has changed the way we think. How we engage. An obsession and a distraction for those times when we just used to ‘be’. For those that embrace it, it can be the ultimate enabler. For those embraced by it, it’s a problem.

But innovation is much more than the latest face recognition or swipe function. Innovation is what fuels our industry and it certainly hasn’t killed imagination.

Imagination is creativity. And creativity is the big stick we have over most other industries, certainly our closest competitors.

Ultimately, I believe innovation and imagination are partners.

Without imagination, innovation is just optimisation.

Without innovation, imagination is just wonder.

How fortunate are we to live in an era defined by the pace of innovation? And with these new tools, platforms, constructs and channels, we have the opportunity to let the imagination fly.

Justin Graham is the chief strategy officer at M&C Saatchi. He recently debated ‘Has innovation really killed imagination?’ as part of the annual Vivid Ideas Exchange on behalf of the APG.

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