The Future is Closer Than We Think

Rita J. King
February 7, 2018

Applied Imagination is the sweet spot between the imagination continuum between fantasy and following.

When Elon Musk launched a Tesla into orbit yesterday, I thought of automotive futurist Arthur Radebaugh, whose art brought possibilities to life.

I was recently interviewed by Tim Lapetino, who is working on a book about the pioneering futurist and illustrator, Arthur Radebaugh. Lapetino is the author of the design history book, Art of Atari, and co-author of the design inspiration book Damn Good: Top Designers Discuss Their All-Time Favorite Projects.

This post includes excerpts from the interview, which included questions ranging from complex systems to scientific literacy. These fragments from the interview focus on creativity, and how to bring more of it into your work.

Nobody Has a Crystal Ball

We learn about the future by paying attention to where we are now and mixing it up with the knowledge that is available to us.

Vision and Collaboration

If you have a vision for the way a thing can be, then you have to do the hard, committed work of really making that vision happen, and you have to organize the right people to get it done. It is not easy.

Arthur Radebaugh at work.

Fantasizers and Followers

The fantasizers are one side of the imagination spectrum. On the other side are the followers. I think of applied imagination as a continuum between these two extremes. Fantasizers are people with great imaginations but they don't really think about whether their ideas are feasible. At the absolute extreme, fantasizers also don’t think about how to execute their ideas. On the other side, followers don't use their imaginations at all. They want someone else to tell them how to do something, and they want to do it exactly like that. That’s what makes them feel comfortable and secure.

My specialty is what I call 'applied imagination.' It's all about the combination of the right vision paired with disciplined, pragmatic execution. Ideas are easy. The key is to choose the most useful or desirable from among them. Pick something that you're actually going to do, something that will inspire you to create a path from A to B, even if you have to invent the path, and even if the path changes when you least expect it. Because it will. Your vision has to be energizing enough to get you to stick with it through what I call the tedium of creativity, the grind of making it real even after the euphoria fades. This process requires a lot of focused thinking and flexibility.

Ideas are not difficult to generate. Genius is far more equally distributed than the opportunity to develop it.

What is a good futurist?

Lapetino asked me: What is a good futurist? That's like asking what is a good artist or what is a good scientist? You might love an artist who does photorealistic paintings and I might love an artist who does abstract digital soundscapes. It’s no different for futurists. I think about the future as a collection of many possibilities, a possibility cloud from which actual realities continuously emerge. Anyone who pays attention can master the art of appearing visionary simply by stating things that other people are too busy to notice. Some people who call themselves futurists don’t do much beyond that. If that’s all a futurist is, anyone with access to information can be a futurist. To be a good futurist, you have to think clearly, focus and communicate well.

If you have an idea and you want it to be real in the future, you need to roll up your sleeves and make it happen. You can’t do it alone.

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