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Getting Creative in Business: Exploring the 8 Types of Imagination

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This post was first published on my Medium blog—follow me there for the most up-to-date entries!

I distinctly remember hearing someone say, “Marie, you have no imagination.” I didn’t know what to think or how to feel about that comment. I’ll quickly admit: I’m not Leonardo Da Vinci. And, I haven’t read a fiction book since high school. So maybe this person was right. But gee, I’m able to think outside the box. So, is it true that I have no imagination?

Speaking as a person who supposedly has no imagination, I immediately started imagining there must be more than one type of imagination!

Indeed, that’s the case. Professor Murray Hunter described a psychological model with 8 types of imagination.

1. Effectuative imagination

2. Intellectual or constructive imagination

3. Imaginative fantasy

4. Empathy

5. Strategic imagination

6. Emotional imagination

7. Memory reconstruction

8. Dreams

I’ll try to break down these 8 types of imagination as the business owner might use them.

Effectuative imagination

The transitive verb effectuate means “to cause or bring about (something): to put (something) into effect or operation.”

Here, you’re combining two separate things into one. When Julia Davis Chandler put a glob of peanut butter with a dollop of jelly onto a slab of bread, she was using her effectuative imagination.

Intellectual or constructive imagination

This is pretty much what it sounds like. Here, it appears to me that you imagine how to use an existing model in a new way or for a different purpose.

For example, the Minnesota 12-step program is just that; a 12-step program. First used by Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, this model has inspired other organizations to use those 12 steps.

Imaginative fantasy

If you start from nothing and create something tangible from your creative brain, that’s imaginative fantasy.

Before we knew about the different types of imagination, it’s likely that imaginative fantasy was what we assumed imagination to be.

Typically, we might remember painters, music composers, and especially inventors for their imaginative fantasy. But from a business standpoint, we might think of Guglielmo Marconi for the radio, Henry Ford with his “horseless carriage,” or the Wright Brothers who wanted to defy logic and make a flying machine.

Each of these creative people undoubtedly had a well-developed imaginative fantasy.


Okay, I’m not so sure this is pure “imagination” for business owners. But maybe!

In his book, Marketing Made Simple, author Donald Miller emphasizes the importance of selling with “empathy and authority.”

It’s hard for me to see empathy as coming from our imagination. As a business owner, I don’t have to imagine my clients’ pain points. I go on what I see and hear. But that’s just me.

Strategic imagination

Like the name suggests, this is about strategy.

Did you notice that some business owners seemed to not only survive, but thrive, during the COVID pandemic? They reimagined either what they offered to clients, or how they offered it.

In the early spring of 2020, our local Silver Diner created outside seating. They also installed a hospital-grade air purification system for the booths inside. At the time, that seemed a little extreme. But it turned out that the pandemic lasted longer than any of us had thought it would, and this seemingly dramatic action kept the restaurant busier than others here in the greater-Washington, D.C. area where I live. This was an excellent example of strategic imagination.

In fact, because of the pandemic, some business owners saw a new opportunity or created a vision that was way outside the box. That’s strategic imagination.

Emotional imagination

As business owners, we all know people buy on emotion, right?

So, it will come as some consolation that this is one of the types of imagination we can use on a regular basis. We can use emotional imagination from two perspectives.

First, we might imagine what problems our customers are trying to solve. (Often the problems customers identify for themselves aren’t their real problems.)

Second, we need to help them imagine how great their life would be if they used our product or services to solve their problem. For years, you’ve seen or heard messages about selling to emotions. Consider some popular slogans:

· De Beers: A diamond is forever

· Walmart: Spend less, live better

· Wheaties: Breakfast of champions

Memory reconstruction

We all have memories of people, items, events, or situations. When we retrieve those memories, we’re using our imagination to regenerate the movies in our minds.

Every August 19, I remember the day I arrived at nursing school. (And yes, in those days, it was nursing school, not college.) My memories of that day are detailed and vivid and seemingly complete.

Other times, however, my memory or yours is less precise, and our subconscious minds end up filling in some of the blanks. That’s memory reconstruction.


Yes, it appears that among the types of imagination we could experience, dreaming is one of them.

Scientists have some disagreements about what dreams mean. But if you’ve ever had a powerful dream, you know that your imagination continues to work after you go to sleep.

In short, then, imagination is the beginning of whatever it is we plan to create. Without imagination, we can’t create a new product, or sell an existing product, or do a little time travel — backwards or forwards.

I want to close by pointing out that unlike any other animal species, we are endowed with this marvelous gift called imagination.

But just remember how to use it. Some people imagine something worse in their future, and that’s called worry. Other people imagine something better, and that’s called vision. As a business owner, we need to mobilize our imagination for better vision while minimizing our worries for the future.

Make sure you know how you want to use your gift of imagination.

Want to improve your imagination? I loved The War of Art, and I practically mutilated my copy of Flow. I loved Your Creative Brain, but it might be a little much for you if you don’t want to wade through the anatomy explanations. Daily Rituals describes the work quirks of some of the world’s most creative people.

Here’s a short list you could also pick from:

· It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden

· How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton

· Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

· Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

· How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

· Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

Before reading, did you think of yourself as an imaginative person? Now, what types of imagination do you see in yourself?

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