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The Ministry of Imagination

A litterateur friend of mine always tells me that a story-teller must experience many experiences for being able to write good stories. He thinks, if we don’t write stories from our experiences and pains, our literature won’t create any impact in the reader’s mind. The author, he told me, won’t feel passionate enough to write a worthy story if s/he doesn’t experience the anguishes of life.
I have always differed with him. I told him that you don’t require experience to tell a good story. All you need is imagination. You observe others and imagine their experiences and then plant those in your story. If you can live the experiences in your mind, you’re ready to deliver the story.
We often undermine the power of human imagination, the focused use of which can result in wonderful output. Applying our imagination in a certain task can give a whole new dimension to the work.
There’s a saying in the corporate world: “Thinking outside the box.” I don’t want to agree with this concept. I believe in order to be creative, we must think without the box, and that’s where imagination is. Because we were taught to remain in the box, and when we are asked to think beyond the box, we get out of one box and enter another. And that’s how we keep changing boxes that look pretty similar.
I’ll give you an example. When I look at the apartment complexes in our cities, I ask myself: Where have our architects gotten the idea of the designs they have been implementing? The buildings look like pigeonholes devoid of any aesthetic charm.
Many say it’s the way of the present time; one has to be faithful to the demand in order to create the design. You can’t accommodate so many people in an aesthetic structure.
Okay; agreed. But not entirely. Could we apply the design of our age-old mud huts and come up with something new with that theme?
When I commute through the long airport road, I observe many bus-stops that have Western-style looks. Quite glamorous. Aesthetic too to a great extent. Surprisingly, they don’t match with the road and the pavement. The design of mud huts could easily be replicated with a modern touch while developing the bus stops.
Why are our pavements so high? Nobody imagined how our elderly would step on such a height or how someone commuting on a wheelchair would get his or her chair on that.
We lack imagination in not only building our structures, but there are millions of instances in our everyday life that are craving for imagination-jihads.
We have thousands of porikolponabids who certainly have the pori but not the kolpona. I mean they do plan, but that doesn’t have an iota of imagination. If we could engage some people who could imagine something before finalizing an execution plan, things would have been different. Haven’t you seen, in the West, how science fiction writers fired the imagination of scientists for great inventions?
I hardly see any imagination being applied in our policy-making also. What we do in our contemplative show-offs is actually fire-fighting. Someone told me that our Dhaka city has several master plans. I laugh about it. I know we humans have limitations, but to this extent? How could a city have several master plans in a matter of 60-some years?
I often feel that we require a Ministry of Imagination, the business entities should have a position of chief imagination officer, but I certainly don’t want to see a department of imagination at a university. As soon as we create a degree for imagination, the imaginators would be cocooned in a new box.
We often hear the word “innovation.” The business entities usually use this word while formulating their strategy papers. Innovation means to add value to what we’re doing. But what does the word “value” mean in our boxed psyche? The best value that we add to innovate is to build a pavement by the side of the road — nothing more.
We add value by building the pavement but our sewage system remains as it was 200 years ago. See, there was no imagination in our innovation. Imagination, to me, is to be able to see beyond innovation.
Educational institutions do guide us to learn innovation, but they also limit us by putting us in a tunnel at the end of which we do see the light, but somehow cannot get out of the tunnel to experience that light.
Look at the thousands of business, engineering, and arts graduates who are coming out of the universities. What value have we added to the existing innovation practices? Nothing. We are simply carrying out the prescription of the overseas consultants in our business-as-usual life.
Let me give you the example of that tall building in Dubai, Burj Khalifa. The building doesn’t have any sewage system. Hundreds of trucks come every day to remove the waste. The building might look like a wowing innovation to us, but we actually didn’t imagine it before building it. If we had, we wouldn’t have to burn that fossil fuel by operating those hundreds of trucks.
We are required to ask ourselves: As humans, how far can we imagine? Are we able to imagine? Or do we at all want or need to apply imagination in our work and lifestyle?
The idea of creating a ministry of innovation would seem a crazy one to most people. It also has risks. Even if we could create the ministry, it may head for another bureaucratic cocoonism and it might start cloaking itself with what they are already doing now. However, the businesses could create a position for an Imagination Officer or create a cell where its members would imagine (wildly) to make the state of business better.
Let’s not give the imaginators any formula. Let them imagine and then we, with our formula-stricken minds, could pick some ideas to implement.
First published in Dhaka Tribune on 23 October 2021.

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