Space to Think

So thinking can develop

Importance of fantasy and inadequacy of experts

Reading Alan Bennett’s annual ‘diary’ in the London Review of Books (vol.30, No.1); his entry for 15 October reflects on a conversation with Peter Gill who was bringing out a book on acting, Actors Speaking. Bennett writes:

He thinks that what has been a shortcoming of American actors, namely, that while superb at naturalism they find artificiality difficult, is now the case here [UK] …

Bennett goes on to comment, with Gill, “today’s generation of actors are better at imitation … but what they lack is fantasy…” Bennett gives examples of actors from lowly backgrounds who have been very successful both generally and at portraying a range of characters.

… all of them had some sense of their proper position in life, a fantasy of what they wanted to be which these days would probably be disapproved of or discouraged, fantasy frowned on as some sort of escape.

This all got me thinking. Perhaps we have so exalted the expert and technical knowledge that we fail to value the contribution that imagination and fantasy can make to our lives, personal and corporate. If the only standard against which we measure ourselves and others is established expert knowledge, or orthodoxy then there can be no real innovation, only adaptation; no entrepreneurship or leadership, only management. If we are measured against some agreed sense of ‘reality’ then what we must do is imitation rather than creativity.


I think this is important far beyond acting and the arts. It has relevance to how we shape education, what we value in business and what we bring to major global environmental, social and political thinking.

As Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge has shown in his development of the Cynefin Framework, the realm of experts is in the ‘complicated domain’ where the relationship between cause and effect is still knowable, though it needs some investigation or expertise. Once we attempt to live or intervene in the ‘complex domain’, where relationship between cause and effect is inherently unknowable because there are multiple agents acting and interacting, then expertise, imitation and application of established knowledge becomes much less useful. Engaging in the complex domain requires imagination, to try things that have no proven outcomes; perception and imagination, to notice and tentatively identify emergent patterns; and courage, to respond without certainty of outcome.

Our (NZ) polititians have begun the long countdown to our national elections; and the opening gambit has been on youth. Both sides of the political divide have ideas on what to do to improve skills and reduce youth crime. All good stuff for us to consider. My worry is that education will become so instrumental that it will devalue even more imagination, fantasy and that sense of position in life (that is not conditioned or constrained by so called ‘givens’). What if our anxieties about skill shortage and delinquancy lead us to normalising the complicated domain – educating/training people to know and apply stuff while under-nourishing and undermining fantasy, imagination and creativity?

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January 30, 2008 - Posted by | Cognitive Edge, complexity, Education, imagination, leadership, management | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] Find more about it all here […]

    Pingback by Actors and Actresses » Importance of fantasy and inadequacy of experts Graeme Nicholas | February 4, 2008 | Reply


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