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Leaders: Don’t Fail Because You Fail to Reimagine

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When I picked up the phone, I heard the strain in her voice.

“I hate to ask, can you watch Matt? It’s my back. The PT is going to squeeze me in if I can get there in 20 minutes.”

Matt is her two-year-old son; she would take her newborn with her to the appointment. No client calls scheduled until the afternoon, I quickly agreed.

When Matt came in my house, he knew to look for the good stuff. He walked over to our snack bin to make a selection and asked for juice. Next stop? Toys.

My son is on the edge of outgrowing his matchbox cars, so we have them all packed away in drawers, out of sight, but still within reach for times like these. I opened the bin and Matt looked like he had gone to heaven. Cars, airplanes, trucks and trains all to himself.

On the top of the pile was a portable car track that my son once enjoyed, but had not seen the light in well over a year. I pulled it out for Matt and tried to put it together. All it required were flaps jammed into slots, but I couldn’t figure it out. Matt didn’t care; he played with it anyway.

Broken track became opportunities to fly.

Missing loops transformed into jumps.

Out of service elevator mutated into a storage facility.

Deadly shark morphed into a car wash.

He played with abandon, and I watched with curiosity.

Matt didn’t throw the toy aside as junk because it wasn’t all hooked up as intended; he reimagined.

Matt didn’t get frustrated about the parts that weren’t working; he worked with them in new ways.

Matt didn’t give up trying to get it to work. He’d periodically move parts around to try and make never before seen connections.

Given that I’m an adult and wanted to get it working the way it should, true to the design, I decided to give the repair another go. Magically, this time I figured it out. Launcher led to loop, perfect.

He played with the new set up but even more interesting, he didn’t let go of his new vision. It had become something entirely new – more than the original design and more than broken pieces filled in with visions of what could be. He reimagined. 

Kids use their imagination all the time. My friend’s son, when looking at the shark garage, he saw something that was invisible to my adult eye. To him, it was larger than life. He wasn’t sitting on the floor of my living room zooming cars; he was in another world where imagination reignedThe fact that the toy didn’t work was an opportunity to reimagine. I told him it was one thing, and he created another, brilliant. 

The greatest failure is giving up at the first sign of challenge instead of cultivating the ability to reimagine. It’s not a showstopper if your circumstances don’t make things easy, or every time you try, you fail in a new way. The only failure is never stopping to reimagine and set a new course. Learn from where you’ve been and take it with you where you’re going.

What is reimagination and how does it differ from imagination?

I turned to my favorite source for definitions, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary.

Imagine: to think of or create (something that is not real) in your mind

Reimagine: to imagine again or anew; especially : to form a new conception of

There are innovators who do not see beyond their big idea.

There are dreamers who give up when their vision has cracks.

There are idealists who can only picture one path.

If you are an innovator, dreamer or idealist, don’t stop with imagination… continue to reimagine and move beyond your original vision.

I’ve worked as a coach for months with people who never fully embraced what two-year-old Matt did in twenty minutes.

Broken is a time to reimagine.

Broken can be a gift. If the toy was set up correctly initially, there was one clear way to play with it. If I showed Matt cars jumping off the edge, he’d tell me “that’s not how it works” or “that’s not how you do it.” The broken toy still had potential that would have gone untapped if it was smooth going to start.

Don’t give up on a fix.

He was happy playing with the toy as-is but when it was restored to the original design, he had more than the original design. Workarounds can inspire elegant solutions that would otherwise go undiscovered. Take two paths – 1) Use what you’ve got 2) Repair and restore.

Let your vision encompass AND and not only BUT.

When you use the word “but,” you shut down possibility. If you’re ready to capitalize on what’s present and build, adopt “and” thinking. Matt started with a broken toy, reimagined, AND carried his new ideas with him even when whole again. He created something entirely new and you can too.

When was the last time you reimagined instead of moving on?

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