That was a sign in front of a Mexican restaurant I passed today. It was like a call to religious revival in enchiladas, which frankly, is not too far out of line from my interests. But it did get me thinking: Is that true?
On the one hand, not in the context it was in: A pithy quote in front of a Mexican restaurant probably designed to make ignorant people feel better about ignorance: I may not know a lot, but I am creative! That is better! Go me!
The quote is true, but I think its truth is deeper:
Imagination is not an easily learned trait. Knowledge is taught.
Our business is complex, but if you are wicked smart, in a few months you will be all over it. Will you have a break-through idea? Maybe, however most will not.
Curing cancer is hard. It probably requires an incredibly imaginative breakthrough to cure. But I will tell you this: Without incredible knowledge, that breakthrough won’t happen.
The Theory of Relativity required a remarkable mental leap, yet most people could never make that leap because it required an incredible grounding in physics as its starting point.
I did three rounds of flirtation at Advertising.com before I actually got my position. One time they didn’t make me an offer, one time they did and I passed. Finally, they made an offer that I accepted. In between one of those periods, I sent a long email to Steve Root, the COO, asking if a business idea I had involving arbitraging search keywords made sense. His response was we should discuss this after I start working there, but suffice it to say that within weeks of starting I realized that my idea was incredibly simplistic compared to the state of the industry. I was just dumb, bottom-line. I think lots of people would say I am an idea guy and have an active imagination, but without a grounding in a deep understanding of the business, my ideas were useless.
A capacity for rapidly acquiring and assimilating knowledge and turning that into creative thinking is extremely rare. These are the “A” players that roam the industry and are snatched up by companies the second they hit the market.
Imagination is really only valuable after one has knowledge, as the logical step after knowledge in terms of creating value, of course it is more important. Should one feel good if one is imaginative? Nah. Do I pat myself on the back as an imaginative guy? Nah. You have to work hard every day acquiring knowledge to put that imagination to use. 99% perspiration, right?