What limits what we can imagine? One more take on it.

In the past 10 days, we were trying to find an answer to that important question in multiple articles. We were talking about today’s hospitals’ issues, incremental and radical innovations, more and more complicated relationships between people and technologies, education, empathy and much more.

However, none of the articles were giving or even trying to give a simple answer to that question – What limits what we can imagine.

So, I looked up this exact question on Google and here’s what I got:

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The first article is actually on AC4D blog written by Elijah Parker (which I highly recommend reading).

Second is an announcement of speech that happened a year ago – Are there limits to what we can imagine? I got very interested in this question because the answer for me is obvious – YES – but if she gives the speech on it – there’s likely more to it. Unfortunately, there are no details.

Last three links are all in relation to the same book – “The Innovation Killer: How What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine”. Ha! Is it the thing – what we know – that limits what we can imagine? I decided to take a closer look at the book.

I read the description and started to get the point, but this 3 stars review did it for me:

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This resonates very much with what I believe in: a fresh outsider perspective can bring the creativity into the companies. Makes a lot of sense to me, and to most of my peers at AC4D as well, based on everything we learned so far.

But I saw something else here. So, I decided to check my hypothesis.

During the class, I asked my colleagues (who know about cars not more than everybody else) to draw a “vehicle of the future”. The drawings turned out to be beautiful – and very interesting.


According to the theory from Innovation Killer what you know limits what you can imagine. So, it looks like than less you know that more you can imagine?

Children are known to be extremely creative creatures who don’t have so many limitations as adults do. They’re “not limited by what they know”. So here are some children drawings of “vehicle of the future” to compare.


Yes, kids got colorful pencils and probably more than two minutes to draw it – but whose vehicles are more creative?

Here’s what’s in common between all of these pictures: the ones that kids drew, and the ones that my adult colleagues did. They all contain the “inventions” that are based on things that have already been known to the individual. It’s a combination of components, often very diverse components. We create new things based on other things we’re familiar with. The bravest – science-fictionists – do the same.

But… According to the point above, knowing less should help us be more creative than when you know a lot. Kids, knowing less, and having fewer limitations baked into their heads, are creative in their own way. However, their imagination is still limited by how narrow their perception of the world still is.

Does what we know limits what we can imagine?

Yes. But when applied correctly, it becomes a strong foundation for imagination.

What really matters for highest creativity is the breadth of knowledge. If your view of the world is very narrow, it’s hard to get “out of the box”.

The depth matters too: dive deeper into what, out of the wide array of fields and topics, makes the most sense for the creative concepts that come from the breadth.

This is what design thinking helps us achieve. Depth + Breadth.

We often can hear these days: “We don’t need to remember things, there is Google for this.”

I don’t agree.

The more we know, in different fields, from different perspectives, the more elements we have at our disposal to bring together to create something new and then more empathy we have.