Imagination matters a great deal in creating a great design, idea or concept. But it only has jurisdiction to a certain extent.
It has limited domain when real people make real decisions that drastically contrast with your expectations and the decisions you wanted to believe they would make. It is critical to receive new information as it comes in; to relinquish a hopeful vision if things do not turn out to be quite what we had in mind; to welcome an ever-evolving reality; abandon and pivot away from preconceived notions if need be.
When I think about this principle in action, I very often envision the scene from the film Elf in which Will Ferrell’s character, Buddy, is preparing a breakfast of spaghetti and maple syrup for the family. Loading some onto a plate, he asks his dad, eagerly: “how many scoops?” His enthusiasm in this is all but overwhelming. But when his dad responds, gruffly, “I’ll stick with the coffee,” Buddy nods and quickly slides the spaghetti back into the pot. (If you’re unfamiliar with the scene, you can see a clip of it here. It is very poor quality, but you get the idea.) In fact, pretty much this entire film and its humor draws from the often stark contrast between imagination and reality.
We may think something up that seems wonderful in its hypothetical state, inside our heads, where all of the imagination in our capacity keeps it flourishing and alive. But once we introduce it to the world and see that things are not entirely as we had assumed, it is important to receive that information openly – to respond appropriately to new input as it is offered and adjust our actions accordingly.
There are many situations in which we may receive information that contrasts with our vision after we have released it. Sometimes, however, we receive new facts beforehand. In these situations, it is perhaps even more important to react. Doing so means conserving resources – time, money, attention or effort – that might have otherwise been wasted on an endeavor or design.
It can be heartbreaking, of course, to be told this. It is just as hard to realize that you are “barking up the wrong tree” creatively as it is in any other realm of our lives. Nobody wants to hear that their vision is off course or that they’ve set their sights on impossibility, and it can be hard to accept when you do. Worse, though, is the risk of never seeing pay-off, as is the case in chasing a phantom concept. Effectiveness, it should be said, only comes by pursuing something that will be received. This is the reward for accommodating feedback that conflicts with your concept, heartbreaking as it may initially be.
In short, it is imperative that we embrace new information as it comes in; to develop a hunger for facts over fantastical ideals.
Don’t get so caught up in what you wish would happen that you overlook what actually is.