How Business can stifle imagination

Roger Martin, writing for the Harvard Business Review, talks about how common American business practices often get in the way of imagination.

    How often do you hear these old saws repeated: “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count”; “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”; “If you can’t measure it, it won’t happen?” We like these sayings because they’re comforting. The act of measurement provides security; if we know enough about something to measure it we almost certainly have some control over it . . . If an institution is all geared up for a future that is like the past and the future changes radically, then the institution becomes an anachronism, like a Motorola or GM.

    The late 19th and early 20th century American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce was the first to point out that no new idea in the world was ever produced by inductive or deductive logic . . . “If you can’t imagine it, you will never create it.” The future is about imagination, not measurement. To imagine a future, one has to look beyond the measurable variables, beyond what can be proven with past data.

He also mentions in the article something called abductive logic as an alternative to more restrictive deductive and inductive reasoning (the process by which a company or individual arrives at the idea that “If you can’t measure it, it won’t happen.”). Abductive reasoning is “the process of inference that produces a hypothesis as its end result” according to Wikipedia. Without it companies run the risk of going out of business.

Martin uses Motorola and GM as examples of this. Motorola, for instance, assumed the feature phone was the end-all of cell phone technology. Smart phones weren’t on their radar. However, while Motorola settled into this status quo, others continued to innovate.

Imagination often seems a forgotten facet of our humanity in the midst of all that makes up the fast-paced machine of our cultures. The process of imagining looks unproductive (“If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count.”) to much of the business world, but it isn’t just for officially creative types such as artists, designers and authors of fiction.

Imagination is for everyone.

Article found on Makoto Fujimura’s Twitter feed.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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