March 13, 2017 / 15 comments
Why I’m writing a book about imagination
Today I want to tell you about a change to my role, and to what I will be doing for the next 12 months. As we celebrate 10 years of Transition Network, I am fortunate to have been offered the opportunity to take a part-time sabbatical (3 days per week) in order to research and write a new book. I’m not vanishing altogether from the world of Transition, I will still be working a day a week for Transition Network, and will be writing for the website, although less than I do at present.
The reason is that I am planning to write a book about imagination. It struck me recently that much of what we do in Transition is about imagination, how to stimulate it, how to create places where people can come together to reimagine in order to then set about rebuilding.
But it increasingly feels to me that our collective imagination, our ability to ask “what if?” and to imagine something other than what we currently have, is a much under-used muscle at a time when we really need it at full strength. As David Fleming put it:
“If the mature market economy is to have a sequel … , it will be the work, substantially, of imagination”.
And yet I look around, and I don’t see much imagining happening, indeed it looks to me to be being driven out of schools, universities, workplaces, families. While there is much written about creativity, there is much less written about imagination. I am particularly moved by this, from Ursula Le Guin:
“In the market place, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits. This reduction has gone on so long that the word ‘creative’ can hardly be degraded further. I don’t use it any more, yielding it to capitalists and academics to abuse as they like. But they can’t have imagination. Imagination is not a means of making money. It has no place in the vocabulary of profit making”.
So I want to take some time to dive deep, to take a road trip through the places in our culture (Transition being one of them) where imagination is still valued, cherished and celebrated. I want to meet some of the people to whom we entrust our imaginations, the authors, artists and filmmakers who imagine professionally, as it were. I want to find the people who are creating the spaces in which people come together to imagine as communities, in groups. And I want to reflect on what it might look like if we decided that we need a national crash programme of imagination rebuilding. What would happen? Who would do what? How might it unfold? Because if there were ever a time in our history when we needed our imaginations fully-charged, it is now, as we face a perfect storm of challenges.
It’s a journey I’d like you to accompany me on, to tell me what you think, to share interesting things I’ve come across, to point me to things I might not have spotted before, to give me feedback as the whole thing evolves. That’s why I’ve created this website, and thanks for following me here. Have a look around at the first few things I’ve posted. This will evolve and be added to pretty thick and fast. You can sign up, should you wish to, for notifications when anything is posted.
I will be taking on less speaking engagements on behalf of Transition Network, but can still be booked in my own personal capacity as a speaker. Get in touch if you want to discuss anything like that. As I say, this is a year-long change. I hope that my journey into the imagination, my imagination road trip, is something that you might accompany me on. I think it’s going to be fascinating.
March 17, 2017
Can’t wait to see where this takes you/us Rob. Please know that we are with you, as you continue to follow your intuition on this amazing life journey. We have already experienced so much good unfolding in our lives, personally and in our community from your contributions so far. Thank you, thank you.
March 20, 2017
Thank you so much. What a lovely first comment on this new website! Much appreciated. I hope you enjoy it as it unfolds…
March 20, 2017
Thanks for your great idea to explore imagination and this wonderful blog! I’m already talking about it to friends, and it is certainly stimulating MY imagination.
Here is a thought that came to me – what if kindness were valued over (productivist) ambition ? What kind of a world would that be ?
(here I have to give a nod to Jean-Luc Wingert and the game “What If?” that he developed: http://www.whatiflab.org)
March 21, 2017
Hi Rob, thanks for writing your first book, I can feedback from brazil, where I am. Here transition network has started to act in the southern state of RGS, mostly the productive system in latin america is based on extensive monoculture for exports, in Brazil we export large amounts of meat to Rusia and China, thus threatening amazon by opening new pastures. Here in minas region the atlantic forest has been subbed by coffee plantations in the beginning of the century, than pastures came along. The most similar to a transition strategy would be to create a municipal marcket system that enables local food distribution, here it is worth to mention the biggest distribution networks, such as carrefour, that indeed break the local distribution. To be effective, local policies must cut taxes for local producers and create seals for local production. Indeed, Brazilian productive system is fragmented, and mostly the large farms bellong to privates, to whom pastures is more profitable here in minas state. We do indeed hold local production in small properties that are called granjas, and there are further institutes working on permaculture in the forests, or forest culture. these movements are very punctual and do not scratch the scale of a transition town, or as to say, the village’s cropps. Indeed, the villages mostly do not hold their own cropps, most of our rice, beans come from the central monocultures, sometimes using trangenic technologies, those are worth for exports to europe as to feed their animals, to china and russia as well. The fruits come from the south, and it is worth mentioning that temperatures define the plantation type. Local food production is not only possible but also feasible in latin america, but the global policies induce us to plant and hold pastures mostly to exporting. The country peoples in minas are very connected to their land, and there is a vast culture on planting and growing animals here. Thus after the coffee plantation period, that was for exporting in the 1900’s, most country men moved to the city, and the land has been resting since them, or with pastures, the atlantic forest flashes back in strips of territory. Insects eat the plants, and if you go permaculturing, mostly you must follow the ants and poison their holes, otherwise they eat everything you plant, that I learned from an old man, who had 14 kids, was analfabet, but his plants grew really a lot. The first thing he used to do was to choose the right spot, as to say, next to a forest strip, where the land is fertile. Is the sabatic new book going to be translated into spanish, or portuguese? cheers!!
March 22, 2017
So looking forward to publication. Keep us all posted on that.
March 22, 2017
Thanks Liz. I will do indeed!
March 25, 2017
I like where you’re going with this Rob. As a person who avidly reads whatever I can about this era of transition that we are in, I’ve begun to realize that the articles I read now about the global catastrophes of climate change and resource depletion are no longer interesting. Not because they aren’t important but because the discussions of ‘What we need to do’ and ‘What the problem is’ are, for me, already well established. We know what the problem is. There are many things we can do about it. The problem seems to boil down to: ‘Why don’t we, as a society, act?’
Our current society is just so sure of itself despite the daunting facts. I will have a conversation with reasonable people and although they don’t contest much of the reality, they will still shrug it off with a ‘somebody will think of something’ sort of response.
Is this a result of a societal lack of imagination? I’m interested to see what you uncover.
March 25, 2017
Dear Rob, I just met you (from far) in Meyrin (Geneva). I really enjoyed your humour and little ‘déhanché’ – hip moves 🙂 And what did nourish me greatly was exactly where you’re heading next – your testimony brought forth imagination and creativity (in its original not for profit meaning) as the container, sub-texture and thread of Transition. And the rest of your speech was about love, social bond, grounding and simplicity… I thank you deeply for all this.
And I want to share with you something writer and activist Arundathi Roy said once in a speech (in 2004 maybe): Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
I am looking forward to be part of this exploration/conversation you’re starting around Imagination.
March 31, 2017
dear rob. thanks for sharing. and what a great adventure to be embarking upon. it’s wonderful to read the words of ursula le guin, a great imaginator (if i may use such a clumsy phrase). your reflections have stirred a long dormant thought for an essay i’ve been meaning to write, ‘how sci-fi made me an environmentalist’. the idea being that imagining, imagination and the ability to connect dots and see things as unique – as well as parts – of interconnecting ecologies is a useful tool for us to relate, enter into dialogue and understand ourselves, and others. some audio that may be of interest, in case you missed it:
BBC R4 | Beyond Belief: ScienceFiction | 20170313
Ursula Le Guin at 80
Ursula Le Guin at 85 (from 2015)
love the pic of the graff too — so true!
April 16, 2017
Yes! So glad you are writing a book on imagination Rob. I was really inspired by what you wrote, and the quote from Ursula Le Guin. Australia badly needs to dig out its imagination – not more coal! (As you probably know, Adani wants to build a mega coal mine in Queensland.) Looking forward to seeing more imaginative responses to the need for new investment and industry here.
April 26, 2017
Dear Rob – I am very inspired by your work & ideas, and the growing network of people engaged in sustainability. I am glad you are writing a book on imagination, and have created this blog. I am moved by your comment: ‘I want to find the people who are creating the spaces in which people come together to imagine as communities, in groups’. I invite you, and anyone who’s interested, to visit The Dragon Cafe, a creative cafe for mental wellbeing in the crypt of St George’s Church opposite Borough tube station in Southwark, S London http://dragoncafe.co.uk/ It opens every Monday from midday to 8.30pm. I run a drop-in singing group there from 1-2pm to which all are welcome. You can also have a massage, play football, do Tai Chi, dance, visual art, storytelling, theatre, play chess, and eat great vegetarian/vegan food freshly prepared by Alice the wonderful chef with ingredients from Ted’s Veg in Borough Market. At 4pm for the next 4 weeks at the cafe I’ll be running The Diggers Choir, which will pop-up in various open gardens as part of the forthcoming Chelsea Fringe Festival in May/June. All welcome to that too. All activities are free. The cafe is run by users of mental health services, and has been visited by over 6,000 patrons since it opened in late 2012. It shows that arts and social activities in a relaxed social space can significantly improve health and wellbeing. I’ve designed a new training for GPs and allied health professionals to enable them to refer patients, and I have just trained all 48 student GPs in Southwark. You can see a video of the outcomes of this training here: https://youtu.be/7thJqipA-dA I used the Manchester Colour Wheel to make an infographic showing how 160 cafe patrons significantly improved their mood at a trial of The Dragon Cafe model at Morley College: https://youtu.be/2rco4fg8fyM The story of Sarah Wheeler who created The Mental Fight Club, the charity which runs The Dragon Cafe is here: http://mentalfightclub.com/
I’d like to see and create more spaces like The Dragon Cafe which can enable us to come together to improve our wellbeing through community and connectivity. I’m inspired by thinkers like Stephen Mithen, one of the originators of the concept of Cognitive Fluidity, who wrote The Prehistory of the Mind and The Singing Neanderthals. He wants it to be better understood how singing and dance are ‘hardwired mechanisms for social cohesion’ which we’ve all evolved to do over 100,000 years, and which have helped us to survive. The new thinking and imagining we need to do can be helped by this understanding. Robin Dunbar’s work helps this understanding: https://www.psy.ox.ac.uk/research/social-and-evolutionary-neuroscience-research-group-senrg
all the best in your journey with this project!
May 4, 2017
Hi Vivien, I just wanted to say how truly inspiring your post is. I haven’t looked at the videos etc., but I just wanted to say how amazing that it is to hear positive news and acts that are shaping a new world. I live in a town that is disconnected from itself, from nature, my children attend a school that seeks to be need some inspiration themselves.
I feel the need to ‘act’ but feel nervous, lack a little courage/direction…where to start what is needed etc…
Thank you for sharing your post.
Rob, what a wonderful idea. I wish you well on your journey. I feel that we all need to reconnect with our imagination…we are bombarded with so many stories to live by that our own imagination is squished right out of us, no time, space, place to really connect with ourselves. I feel that imagination is linked to our connection with intuition, our connection to the soul of life. I also feel that our well-being is reduced by a lack of imagination. I have recently been starting a sit spot inspired by a course I recently attended. I have never felt so happy and alive, now back in the ‘real’ world I am struggling to reconnect. It’s like I am partialy programmed to be disconnected…it’s a constant battle to maintain it, but with practice I am sure it will flow again. Sorry for the ramble…:)
May 18, 2017
Terrific, Rob, let’s go… the fantastic voyage begins!
July 6, 2019
Chomping at the bit to encounter your collection of ideas on imagination! When is it due for publication..and can you please do an audiobook(the fastest growing segment of the publishing market?
July 6, 2019
Hi. Thanks. It will be out on the 17th of October, published by Chelsea Green. And yes, there will be an audiobook. Thanks, I hope you enjoy it when it comes out…