Truly original ideas with the potential to enrich the world come to us by means of creative imagination, and not through synthetic imagination, which produces derivative ideas and mediocrity.

This article contains multiple references to three outstanding people: Napoleon Hill and Edward Matchett (both deceased), and Jon Rappoport (living in San Diego). In the context of this article, they stand out for their important insights into the faculty of imagination: what it is, how it works, how it can be accessed, and how its power can be harnessed more fully. I encourage you to explore their work in greater depth. You might find it a deeply rewarding experience.
Imagination lets a person know what could exist but doesn’t now exist.
Imagination lets a person know what could be invented.
Imagination lets a person know that, despite claims to the contrary, the future is open and unwritten.
Imagination lets a person know that he can think thoughts that have never been thought before.
The journey of individual liberation is, therefore, much more than discovering what already exists in one’s own mind.

Source: The individual is not the group, by Jon Rappoport.

Synthetic imagination and creative imagination

In his classic 1937 book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill describes the process of combining existing ideas to create a new one, which he refers to as the use of synthetic imagination, in contrast to creative imagination.

Nowadays, writers such as Maria Popova use the term combinatorial creativity when referring to this process, and insist that originality is a myth. This is tantamount to asserting that original literature is a myth, because it’s nothing more than a combination of words that already exist. In the material world, everything is made out of something.

Download Think and Grow Rich (pdf, 253pp; free)
+ Find out what Napoleon Hill means by ‘rich’
Riches cannot always be measured in money!

Money and material things are essential for freedom of body and mind, but there are some who will feel that the greatest of all riches can be evaluated only in terms of lasting friendships, harmonious family relationships, sympathy and understanding between business associates, and introspective harmony which brings one peace of mind measurable only in spiritual values!

Source: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, 1938 edition published by The Ralston Society, Meriden, Conn., USA
Through the faculty of synthetic imagination, one may arrange old concepts, ideas, or plans into new combinations. This faculty creates nothing. It merely works with the material of experience, education, and observation with which it is fed. It is the faculty used most by the inventor, with the exception of he who draws upon the creative imagination, when he cannot solve his problem through synthetic imagination.
Through the faculty of creative imagination, the finite mind of man has direct communication with Infinite Intelligence¹. It is the faculty through which ‘hunches’ and ‘inspirations’ are received. It is by this faculty that all basic, or new ideas are handed over to man.

¹ Napoleon Hill doesn’t seem to be suggesting that the source of these hunches, inspirations and ideas is God or some other supreme being.
Edward Matchett uses the term ‘creative intelligence’ when referring to the same phenomenon.

Edward Matchett (1929–1998) started out as a design engineer at Rolls-Royce (aircraft engines, not automobiles) in Derby, UK, later becoming a teacher of design.

From 1966 to 1970, he conducted an investigation into the creative process, sponsored by the Science Research Council of Great Britain. The aim of this research was to identify practical and workable means of injecting a new order of “creativeness, professionalism and achievement” into product design and development.

His findings, some of which are summarised in Creative Action: The Making of Meaning in a Complex World (first published in 1975 by Turnstone Books), are a refreshing and badly needed antidote to the mechanical and soulless brainstorm-then-project-manage approach to innovation.

Edward Matchett talks about “two spirits” at work in the world. These correlate strongly with Napoleon Hill’s creative imagination and synthetic imagination.

The great gulf that divides mankind is not political. It is not the gulf between religions, between religion and science, between science and art. It is not the gulf between rich and poor, between the privileged and the underprivileged. Not the gulf between the practical and the theorist, between those who would work and those who would dream. It is not the gulf between management and those that are managed, between the possessive and the philanthropist, between the saints and the sinners. All of these things are important, yet none so important as men often suppose. They are all streams that flow towards the same sea. All would meet and be reconciled except for one division that is greater by far then these—a division that is far more fundamental. It is the split between those persons who would hang on to old forms and those who wish to see new ones.
Two spirits are at work in the world. It is they who are the cause of the great divide. One would drive the world along at an ever-increasing rate, one would have the world stay precisely where it is. One has its foot hard down on the accelerator, the other is trying hard to apply the brake. One has his eyes fixed firmly on the future, the other has his eyes fixed firmly on the past (he does not realise that the ground that he thinks he is standing on disappeared many years ago).

Source: Edward Matchett’s Credo | © The Matchett Foundation | View source
Visit the Edward Matchett legacy website

Those working in a generative, world-enriching enterprise must be able to deploy creative imagination on demand.

Sometimes, an unoriginal idea is all that’s required. Let’s say you’ve been given the job of organizing the office party and you need to choose a suitable venue. There are only so many places it can be held. The answer is out there somewhere. Assemble a group of volunteers. Brainstorm a list. Evaluate the options. Vote with sticky dots. Choose the one with the most dots. Job done.

But on other occasions a breakthrough idea is needed, and if an enterprise is going to be effective in accomplishing its mission and manifesting its intent, the members of its workforce must be able to deploy creative imagination on demand.

They must have the ability to produce high potential ideas and world-serving visions without recourse to brainstorming or other diverge-then-converge ideation techniques.

And they must be able to convert—quickly and successfully—a high potential idea or world-serving vision into a creation that will generate significant value for customers or users, and other constituents of the enterprise ecosystem.

The Innovation Readiness Process has been designed to help people activate the faculty of creative imagination. Readiness is the first stage of the Lifespan model, summarised in this graphic:

The lifespan of a value generator

Creative imagination at work

I collect quotes from people who have experienced the power of creative imagination in the course of their work. Here are some of them:

David Arnold is a British film composer best known for scoring five James Bond films, the 1994 film Stargate, the 1996 film Independence Day, and the cult television series Little Britain, and who was appointed Musical Director for the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

During an appearance on BBC Breakfast, a British morning television programme broadcast on BBC One and BBC News, he was asked how he goes about composing music. He replied: “You walk around with your aerials out and it gets delivered to you. It’s more about feeling it than thinking about it.

David Arnold
See also David Arnold: The Hollywood composer on the scores that came to him in dreams, Puff Daddy, and why an MP3 is no match for a live orchestra, on The Independent.
Marianne Elliott-Said (punk rocker Poly Styrene) said “I just channel my songs like a medium.” Source: The Guardian, 27 April 2011.
Novelist Ian Rankin said “I’m not really in control at all of what I’m writing. It’s almost as though before I start writing there’s a shape sitting there that I’ve not seen yet, and when I start to write the novel the shape will reveal itself to me, the novel will decide which way it wants to go.” Source: The Guardian, 26 March 2011.
In The Observer newspaper (view source) Kevin McKenna reports that the English novelist Howard Jacobson quite often doesn’t have a plan for his novels, but that one emerges when he starts writing.
Lionel Richie was asked “Where do your melodies come from?” He replied: “I wish I knew. It’s like radio stations playing in my head. I’m in the shower singing along to this great song, and then I stop one moment and go, ‘Hey, it’s not on the radio.’ What’s frightening about it is I’m not singing a song, I’m singing along with the song that’s playing in my head.” Source: Deseret News, 31 January 1993.
Bryan Ferry was asked by the singer and radio presenter Cerys Matthews about his approach to songwriting. He said “When you get it right, it’s like someone is writing it for you.” Source: BBC Radio 6 Music, 30 December 2012.
Day-dreaming and Creativity
If anyone doubts that it is the unconscious mind that solves real problems, just take a look at the actual places where new insights have come into existence.
Archimedes recognized the principle of buoyancy while soaking in the bathtub.
Martin Luther did his best thinking in the bathroom, on the toilet.
Albert Einstein as a child was obsessed with the idea of a beam of light passing through a falling elevator. He worked out the details while sailboating during summer vacation, and the result was e = mc2.
Kekule, the discoverer of the benzene ring, which is the basis of organic chemistry, got the idea by dreaming of a fiery snake that formed a circle to bite its own tail.
Otto Loewi, who performed the crucial experiment that proved the chemical transmission of nervous impulses from one neuron to the next, dreamed the whole experiment, woke up, diagrammed it and carried it out, and it worked as he had dreamed.
Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, got the idea while daydreaming up in a tree in his father’s orchard.

Source: How to use conscious purpose without wrecking everything (pdf), transcript of a talk given by John Gall
Lyrics emerge in a spontaneous and revelatory fashion, going through many revisions before [Leonard] Cohen is satisfied that he can “get behind” their ideas. You kind of keep your tools sharp by working all the time. We are professionals. You can’t wait for inspiration. I try to do it every day. When something good comes, you have to be prepared to polish it, carve it and chisel it, that’s the work. But the actual intention, what you are really going to be writing about, that’s going to come up from a really authentic place that is deep and over which you exercise no conscious control.”

Source: Leonard Cohen at 80: “The other side of the hill is no time to tarry”, by Neil McCormick, in The Telegraph.

More quotes about imagination

Imagination is the seed of power. It is where power starts.

Source: Imagination solutions at the edge of time, by Jon Rappoport (article contains further gems).
Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will.

George Bernard Shaw
The truth is, when most people try to access their imaginations, they actually stare at what other people have proposed as solutions instead. They make that error. They find no other options.

Source: Separating yourself from doom and gloom, by Jon Rappoport.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we’ve flattered reality enough. It doesn’t need any more. Reality needs a massive injection of imagination.

Source: 25 quotes on the power of imagination, by Jon Rappoport
Imagine that you are a Kalahari Bushman and that you stumble upon a transistor radio in the sand. You might pick it up, twiddle the knobs, and suddenly, to your surprise, hear voices streaming out of this strange little box. … Now let’s say you begin a careful, scientific study of what causes the voices. You notice that each time you pull out the green wire, the voices stop. When you put the wire back on its contact, the voices begin again. … You come to a clear conclusion: The voices depend entirely on the integrity of the circuitry. At some point, a young person asks you how some simple loops of electrical signals can engender music and conversations, and you admit that you don’t know—but you insist that your science is about to crack that problem at any moment.

Source: Incognito, by David Eagleman, quoted in Your Brain Might be a Radio, by Jeffrey Kripal, in The Chronicle Review and republished in Utne Reader. David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and writer at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law.
+ View more quotes on the same theme
My brain is only a receiver. In the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.

Source: Nikola Tesla (widely cited)
An alternative Bergsonian understanding of the function of the brain is that it acts as a type of “receiver,” somewhat similar to a radio or television set. Drawing upon this second metaphor, Bergson postulates that the neurochemical activity of the brain does not produce consciousness, but rather enables the brain to “tune into” appropriate “frequencies” of preexisting levels of consciousness—that is, the states of consciousness that correspond to waking life, dreaming, deep sleep, trance, as well as, at least potentially, the consciousnesses of other beings. Just as the programs received by a television set are not produced by the electrical activity within the television itself, but rather exist independently of the television set, in the same way, this Bergsonian understanding of the brain/consciousness relationship postulates that consciousness is neither contained within nor produced by the brain.

Source: G. William Barnard in his book Living Consciousness: The Metaphysical Vision of Henri Bergson, p. xxxiii, citing philosopher Henri Bergson.
Independent thought (and thus independent character) and imagination aren’t emanations from the brain. They aren’t the accidental output of sub-atomic particles whirling in space. Independent thought and imagination are not made out of energy whose flow and ebb operate according to rigid “laws of nature.” Independent thought and imagination are free, which is to say, non-material.

Source: Technocracy and the scientific matrix, by Jon Rappoport
Reality—the things of reality—can be perceived as having come from imagination. This goes beyond metaphysics. This goes beyond blueprints. This suggests that you can also imagine and create reality. And what you create doesn’t have to resemble what others have invented.

Source: Reality as a machine, by Jon Rappoport
All human accomplishment has the same origin, identically. Imagination is a force of nature. Is this not enough to make a person full of ecstasy? Imagination, imagination, imagination. It converts to actual. It sustains, it alters, it redeems!

Saul Bellow, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts
The word ‘art,’ across the full range of its meanings, is what happens when, from a platform of structure, a person takes off and discovers that consciousness doesn’t particularly want to wait around a railroad station looking at What Already Exists forever. Consciousness wants to invent what isn’t there. Consciousness wants other spaces and times.

Source: Beyond structures, beyond one space and time, by Jon Rappoport.
There are some people who hear the word CREATE and wake up, as if a new flashing music has begun.
This lone word makes them see something majestic and untamed and astonishing.
They feel the sound of a Niagara approaching.
CREATE is a word that should be oceanic.
It should shake and blow apart the pillars of the smug boredom of the soul.
CREATE is about what the individual does when he is on fire and doesn’t care about concealing it.
It’s about what the individual invents when he has thrown off the false front that is slowly strangling him.
CREATE is about the end of mindless postponement.
It’s about what happens when you burn up the pretty and petty little obsessions.
It’s about emerging from the empty suit and empty machine of society that goes around and around and sucks away the vital bloodstream.

Source: Making your work known in the world, by Jon Rappoport.

Further reading

25 quotes on the power of imagination, by Jon Rappoport

Creative Action: The Making of Meaning in a Complex World, by Edward Matchett. Buy the book from Systematic Innovation (GBP 20.00)

Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind, by Napoleon Hill | Free download of entire book

Inner creative power and Outer creative power, by Ken Ferlic

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. By 2011, more than 70 million copies of the book had been sold worldwide. Free download of entire book