Business is an image in the mind of the entrepreneur. To start or expand a business we must imagine what it will become. We will begin to see the image of the journey ahead — inside our minds. Without being about to harness the power of your imagination, you wouldn’t be an entrepreneur.

We see the future in our mind’s eye.

The mind’s eye is a powerful thing. It is entirely separate from the physical eye, in that it sees things that the real eye cannot. Take this Shakespeare quote :

HAMLET:

My father! – methinks I see my father.

HORATIO:
Where, my lord?

HAMLET:
In my mind’s eye, Horatio.

Hamlet is imagining that he sees his father — which we find may encourage or discourage his subsequent actions. Indeed, our experiences in early (and later) life will influence the way we see the world.

The strong influences in the decisions we make.

People often quote things they’ve heard influential people say to them throughout their journeys. These influencers can be parents, teachers, famous business leaders, iconic entrepreneurs — or other relevant people being encountered. Negative experiences can prevent the imagination from running free and act as filters to free thinking.

The famous philosopher Hannah Arendt said that we should “train the imagination to go visiting” and learn to “think without banisters.”

Your power to imagine opportunity in things you see and how they can be developed could well be the key to your future success. I believe fear is a powerful deterrent to imagination and to succeed I think we must think and imagine without fear. How often have you heard it said that “that will never catch on?”

Successful entrepreneurs are optimists — what they imagine, they believe will happen. Then, they make it happen.

Walt Disney had such a creative mind that he employed Imagineers in the making of DisneyWorld in Florida. The current Disney jobs site says that “Imagineering” combines imagination with engineering. Building upon the legacy of Walt Disney, Imagineers bring art and science together to turn fantasy into reality and dreams into magic.

What image of your business do you have in your mind’s eye? What Imagineering are you doing?

When you think of your market, what image springs to mind? What does it look like? Where is it? This is crucial to the subsequent actions you will take. Many people only have an image of the town or city they live in.

What do your customers look like? Can you imagine what it is like to be one of your customers? Are they old, young, middle aged, American, European, Asian, African? These choices are only limited by what your imagination is bringing to you from what your mind has become. Of course, your choice images are not static. Your image and your business will change with discovery. These concepts may be difficult to grasp, upon first viewing — but they are crucial to the path you will undertake. It is your imagination that rules the direction you will follow.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Your image will change with experience and become more connected to the real world. One of the greatest satisfactions I get from business is the successful realizations that my imaginings have brought out and made viable for me. When you are correct, the connection between what you  imagine, and what you make real makes all the difference (after a few false starts, it is important to say). The customers buy the product. My business model worked.

Are you making a movie?

Piero Morosini, the author of “Seven Keys to Imagination: Creating the future by imagining the unthinkable and delivering it” (Marshall Cavendish, April 2011) says that changing the future of a small business is like making a movie. You just have to imagine or embrace a great story and write a fantastic script. Everything else — the actors, set, editing, distribution, and production, and even the direction — can and should be done by other people. Your job is to find, inspire and orchestrate all these extra people (your employees).

What is the future you imagine?

Morosino also says that the future is what you imagine, not what others tell you. Avoid blindly following other people’s analysis of the future. Recent history shows that the likelihood they are right is less than two percent. Look around and trust your observations. Use your imagination to build the future rather than studying other people’s unlikely predictions.

Go out and find out whether your imagination is valid.

Sarvathy et al in Effectual Entrepreneurship (2012) details the process of discovery and confirmation through action. In other words, your imaginings can be tested in the real world and refined through experience. You are going to get things wrong, but the testing is the important part.  Find out whether your imagination had the correct picture of the market, marketplace and the customer. Is this image valid and real at this time?

Be a dreamer and a doer. For example, this advice holds true throughout the entire business process. Being a dreamer and a doer, and testing the market even holds true in areas such as product development and advertising.

Large corporations often struggle to keep imagination alive as they mature.

These larger businesses have players who get immersed in the practical “now” at the expense of the future. Imagination can be crushed. Indeed directors of disruption are now being hired to stop companies falling into the trap of “this is always the way we do things around here.”

The Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland famously said that “sometimes I believe in six impossible things before breakfast.”

What impossible things do you believe today?

Owen O'Brien

Owen is an entrepreneur, teacher, songwriter, and general ideas man and has run several businesses over the past 30 years. Working as a barman, and then a sales representative, he decided to go out on his own when he found that he has no difficulty selling and making deals for other companies.