Imagination Failure

“Great ideas originate in the muscles” Thomas Edison

Can imagination be harmful, possibly leading us away from success rather than toward it? Yes! I know because I have been here before.

It would be hard to convince Napoleon Hill of a negative outcome related to imagination, a topic that he dedicated an entire chapter in his best-selling book, The Laws of Success. Even if we have not read this book, which I do recommend, we have been exposed to material that declares that imagination is a major component of any success journey.

Just hearing the name Walt Disney or Dr. Seuss conjures up in our mind individuals who pressed the imagination accelerator to the floor.  Success through imagination overload.

How important was imagination for Albert Einstein, Michelangelo or Ralph Waldo Emerson? The most important quotes handed down to us by these highly successful individuals from the past often include the word imagination.

 “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”  Albert Einstein 

“Science does not know its debt to imagination.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Yet, I have traveled down the road of imagination failure. What?

 According to Rick Lewis, imagination can be harmful when not used properly or effectively. In his article “How to Visualize Success Using Right Imagination, he identifies some examples where imagination can delay or prevent progress and also includes a simple, effective visualization recipe. When imagination is properly and positively used, it can be one of the most important principles in our journey to success. When improperly used, it can be harmful.

Rick illuminates his concern when he writes about imagination of negative outcomes. Just as we love to imagine winning, we can also imagine losing. We can easily conjure up all the reasons why we cannot accomplish a certain goal, why things may go wrong. Have you done this in the past? I have.

On a personal level, I can remember times when I have conjured up the worst. Recalling times when our transportation company took on a huge amount of new business and struggled with its integration, I would worry that we had taken on more than we could handle. I would imagine a major disaster, even going out of business.  While a certain amount of concern is beneficial and helpful, too much can be counter to success.

Fortunately, I have had a business partner and friend that has helped me to see a different vision. Balance in imagination is the key.

Just as the negative can be a barrier, Rick also believes that positive imagination can be hurtful. “Imagination makes you lazy.” he states in this article.  You can end up being someone who only fantasizes about the future, but never works in the actual process to accomplish that future. Most of us have some element of Walter Mitty in our life. (William Thurber’s short fictional story is about a man who fantasizes about what he would like to be but never becomes)

On this side of the coin, I believe I have performed my best work. For me, it comes down to having a daily formula for success. Mine includes doing something each day that is connected to a long-term goal.  A step or effort that helps you make progress on the future.

A highly successful person who used his imagination effectively, balancing it with the need for hard work, was Thomas Edison. He is known for his imagination. But, equally important to his success was his hard work. Here is what he had to say.

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

“Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.”

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”

 My wife Carol and I believe in hard work – a roll up your sleeves approach. In the early years of building our success in Hackbarth Delivery Service, when things went wrong in an operation, we traveled to that location and went to work. Ground level approach. Doing, not just saying.  Taking action.

Yes, lots of thinking went into it. But, the thoughts were always processed into action. Carol always had this part of the formula right. She would immediately go out on a route and see with her own eyes what was not working. Old fashioned work. She practiced genchi genbutsu – a successful Japanese management practice – getting your hands dirty.  

So . . .what works? Balanced Imagination. Rick goes on to conclude ‘the art of visualizing, when we envision both the goal and the process – arms us with a balanced approach that primes our mind for true success.”

 Positive imagination of winning results combined with a process that is converted into real actions is a formula for success.

Inspiration plus perspiration.

Positive thinking plus rolling up your sleeves.

Ideas plus muscle.


Today, I will imagine great success.

I will limit the obstacles that I imagine.

I will put on my overalls and get to work.


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