Imagination is an asset

· by Steve · Read in about 5 min · (896 Words)

Remember when you were a kid and pretty much everything was a spaceship? A cardboard box, an egg carton, a bottle of washing up liquid. There were spaceships everywhere in those days, you couldn’t go from the kitchen to your bedroom without tripping over three of the blighters. And to think NASA were paying top dollar for theirs, when the damn things were just lying around.

Then you grew up and the skill of being able to turn anything into a spaceship with a single thought suddenly lost a great deal of its currency as a marketable skill. In its place, perceived value was shifted to the skills of holding down a job you don’t like, saying ‘yes’ to idiot managers, and being able to borrow eye-watering amounts of money without having a nervous breakdown and running naked through the street with nothing but a Post-It to cover your modesty. But  you know what? That spaceship-making skill was always better.

Really, we should be proud of and fully indulge the human ability to make crazy sh*t up all the time, because we’re naturally great at it. Let’s be honest, all those traditional middle-class jobs where you sit pushing paper around in formulaic ways all day are going the way of the Dodo, replaced by machines who frankly are much more suited to that job than you ever were anyway. You’re inconsistent, have fleshy needs like eating and going to the bathroom, and despite years of training in the corporate machine you will still accidentally daydream about spaceships when you’re supposed to be doing something else instead. No, instead the future of the middle class is creativity - dreaming things up out of nowhere, making them happen, improvising - all those things that machines are terrible at. This is your trump card, people - creativity is the one thing that ‘they’ are unlikely to be able to source from a battery farm or make armies of electronic slaves do in the foreseeable future. Why wouldn’t you want to get in on that? Believe me, letting your imagination muscle atrophy because your parents told you you should get a safe white-collar job will turn out to be a false economy, and you’ll wish you’d spent more time playing video games and fantasising about whizzing around other planets in a badass jetpack.

Personally I read, play video games, enjoy movies, but one of the most important exercises for my imagination muscle is pen & paper roleplaying - this is where you get together with friends around a dining room table and basically make sh*t up as a group for a few hours. My friends and I are over 40 now, and we’ve been doing this for 25 years, yet it remains a uniquely amazing thing - somehow a bunch of people come together with nothing more than ideas, some dice and pencils, and using that create a rich world which only ever exists in their collective heads, and turn it into a kind of virtual epic serial. Right now, I’m running a campaign set in the modern day where my friends play members of a secret organisation which investigates ‘unusual’ events, kind of like the X-Files or Fringe. They’re currently in an undersea station trying to figure out why the inhabitants disappeared. I pulled the idea for this scenario out of my head one weekend and they’re enjoying figuring it out in our weekly play sessions, experiencing the story structure I created via characters pulled from their own imagination, from washed-up actors to on-the-run translators. Each week we effectively advance the story together - I know the environment and story constructs, but it can all change based on what the others decide to do - we’re all making it up on the fly.

I’ve no doubt some people think this is a weird thing for grownups to be doing in their spare time. And yet most people wouldn’t think twice about going to the cinema to watch the latest Hobbit or superhero movie, or to devour a box set of Fringe or Game of Thrones. There’s been a resurgence of interest in science fiction and fantasy in recent years, which can only be a good thing IMO. Pen & paper roleplaying can be considered much like a weekly TV series, if you imagine that one person is the writer, and the others play characters in the show - except there are no fixed scripts, just a concept, environment and story framework that the writer sets up, and which evolves dynamically based on the actions of everyone in the room. Sometimes, as the ‘writer’, it goes in a completely different direction to what you expected, and you have to pull things out of your ass which both deal with the unpredictable actions of the other players, and that somehow remains consistent with the overall story arc. Challenging though that is, that’s often when it’s most awesome. I strongly believe that this has taught me to improvise, think on my feet and generally be far more imaginative than I would otherwise have been, and I also believe those are very valuable skills today.

In a world that is moving towards automating mundane work, IMO your imagination is a more powerful asset than ever, so you should exercise and indulge it. Screw being a sensible adult, bring on the spaceships and dragons.