Imagination: The great power of the human mind, which creates, associates, or alters mental images or ideas; the faculty of creativity.
Long ago, anthropologists concluded that the characteristic that distinguished human ancestors from all others, including similar species, was their ability to devise and use tools - the capacity of imagination.
“Rather than just using sticks and stones to leverage innate abilities - something done by plenty of animals from chimps to otters to finches - someone had deliberately selected raw materials in a sophisticated and consistent way with careful intent. This wasn’t just tool use; it was technology.”
Does all this make you wonder if the oldest profession, in reality, wasn’t that of a toolmaker?
Those tools were used for survival, for making difficult tasks easier, and to provide some level of comfort in the day-to-day lives of ancestral mankind. As time went on, their imaginations would conceive more and more things that would change their lives. It also gave our primitive ancestors a purpose in life beside simply survival and procreation, as was the case in lower forms of life.
Their imaginations could make a better life for them and they could even begin to realize rewards beyond the obvious tangible ones. It’s even conceivable that they could feel some level of elation at having solved a nagging problem with a new and unique idea, however primitive. They may even have received a primitive version of a high five or maybe just a knowing glance or smile from friends or relatives – recognition. It’s possible that they also gained a measure of personal fulfillment in the process.
Can you imagine the feelings experienced when seeing the flint spark, a puff of smoke, and then a glow and finally, a flicker of flame for the very first time? Likewise, finding useful growth from the first seed purposely planted, mimicking Mother Nature’s random wind blown method of sowing, surely elicited some special feelings as well. Human imagination had produced discoveries that would change lives forever. “The growth of the cognitive areas that distinguish ours from other large brains - could have come from our increasingly creative use of tools.”
Thousands of years later, that basic characteristic is stronger than ever in the makeup of modern man and it still serves the original purpose. The state of today’s sophisticated and highly productive machine tools and the human progress that results from them is testimonial to this fact. Myriad other tools, services, and efforts such as computer hardware and software, medicine and agriculture, are also important.
In this book, an American machine tool industry segment whose genesis can be traced to a “Connecticut Yankee” is used as the basis for discussion of several subjects. It is the special purpose segment of the industry that is the focus of the discussions. It is an industry in which imagination manifests itself like few others, as its only products are a continuous stream of inventions. While not exclusive to the industry, the term Yankee ingenuity is used throughout the book and has been closely associated with it from their mutual beginnings.
The industry that has been selected is unique in several ways. Why, then, is it used as an example for generalized discussion? Because all the challenges and stress normally associated with a new product cycle, from marketing and engineering to manufacturing and customer support, occur on nearly every order on a size and difficulty scale that could be fatal to the enterprise if proven unsuccessful. As a result, the various company functions are intensified in comparison to normal product companies, challenging all involved, and can be instructive.
This industry is just one example of those operating in an intensely competitive environment. The way that those pressures and challenges impact the organizations, the individuals involved, and the positives or negatives that result are all a part of these discussions. Many of these positives are not obviously tangible and require perspective to fully grasp. An objective of this book is to help provide that perspective. Additionally, numerous other industries and professions share many of this industry’s characteristics and may benefit from the observations and examples that are discussed.
The subject industry, currently centered primarily in the Southeastern Michigan and Rockford, Illinois areas, is experiencing serious difficulty. Among the reasons are a market contraction, serious currency exchange rate disparities, questionable procurement tactics, and entrepreneurial, succession and estate planning shortsightedness.
With all due respect to New York City and its Yankees and the spirit that the team generates, this is not its story. However, in their vernacular, the global marketplace plays hardball and those expecting to succeed must have a competitive mix of imagination, passion, and courage to play.
Invent: To produce or contrive a new device, method or process by ingenuity and/or imagination.
The early Yankees, New England residents, sought independence from the Old World in all respects, including religion, liberty and self- determination. They especially wanted to be free from the environment of the Old World business monopolies and the culture of indenture. They wanted to be free to create the things that would make a difference in their time, an important plateau in the upward journey from primitive times to the present.
Indenture: A contract binding one person into the service of another for a specified term.
The new world environment was entirely different from that of the old. People were free, the needs of an exploring, pioneering, and settling population were altogether different, and an unprecedented abundance of natural resources was at their command. There were no precedents for the things that they could do. As with their primitive ancestors, they wanted more than just survival and procreation. They wanted a better life for themselves and their children and the other rewards that their liberty, passion, imagination, and courage would make possible through their own efforts - their “life’s work.”
Imagination is a characteristic common to all of us. Like others, it varies in magnitude and intensity. It is very likely that it is latent in many who have not yet recognized its potential or who have not yet discovered the passion and courage to experiment and develop that potential. The prospect of failure can be a daunting barrier to personal achievement, fulfillment, and progress.
Many of us do not think of ourselves in the context that in our time, we (all of us) are the source of the imagination and energy that create the things that make a difference. Those efforts can provide enormous personal fulfillment at the same time. It can involve material things, art, philosophical thought, music, medicine, agriculture, and countless other fields.
The human generations that live today are responsible for advances in such areas that would be incomprehensible to even recent previous generations. Advances continue to accelerate in following generations as the human element and its imagination continue to evolve and become even more effective. The individuals specifically responsible for those advances come from all walks of life, all levels of our democratic society. They have various skin and collar colors.
Michael D. Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, Up From The Apes, (Time Magazine, August 23, 1999), 57.
See note 1 above.