The Future of Imagination #AspenIdeas2016

by Louisa Wong:
Executive Chairman Global Sage and LinkedIn Influencer

ASPEN, COLORADO – I found myself at the crossroads of American politics as powerful politicians, including Joe Biden, Newt Gingrich, and Loretta Lynch, took center stage to wrap up The Aspen Ideas Festival 2016. 


They stood proudly and spoke candidly.

“You do not have to like them but you must find ways to work with them – but how do you work with them when 20 to 30% of the time you do not agree with the institution’s processes and decisions?”

Indeed, how do you even begin to empathize with larger-than-life characters you only get to see in the news?

Empathy, or the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes, was itself a hot topic at the Festival.  It is believed that empathy is less emotional than we thought and is more creative.

There is also a distinction between “hard” and “easy” empathy, according to Jane McGonigal, world-renowned game designer, author and technology advocate in her speech, The Future of Imagination.

“Hard empathy” is trying to see things from the lens of the other person when you do not share anything in common.  Immediately after practicing “hard empathy” you experience a boost in creativity.  Here’s the thing: it is only “hard empathy” that is linked to taking future action.

So you can say I tried hard – very hard – to put myself in the shoes of these political giants and see the world through their eyes, until I realized that “it’s easy if you try” (to borrow from the immortal lines of the song Imagine).

On how we can all be a “futurist”
  • Futurist: A person who transports people to a place that may or may not exist
  • Be constantly aware of our power to make changes and make people want to transform our world
  • Make decisions and take action to determine what the future world looks like
On “predicting the past and remembering the future”
  • Imagine ‘what if’ instead of doing X you did Y – how would your life have turned out differently?
  • Predicting the past is counterfactual to memory
  • Predicting the past is an effective intervention for depression
  • Immediately after predicting the past you experience a boost in creativity e.g. What if…I had not moved?  I had taken the job I turned down?  My name is not what it is now?
  • Unlocking your brain can pave the way to the future
  • Remembering the future is counterfactual to foresight
  • Imagine that in the future you do something you have never done before
X-Y-Z format:

X – Actions you have taken
Y – People you actually know
Z – Places you have already been to

  • Every time you remember a future, you rate that future as more likely
  • Immediately after remembering the future you experience a burst in creativity
  • Common neurological paths and stimulation: To the brain, remembering the past and visualizing the future looks surprisingly similar
  • Autobiographical future – Best way to predict the future is to make it happen
  • Instead of ‘I have seen the future’ it should be ‘I am making the future.’
  • Imagine all possible futures
  • The future is a place where everything is possible
  • What would you do in this future to try to help humanity survive?
  • Personal foresight can inspire experiments
  • Imagining the future prepares you to be more creative
  • Signals from the future: The future is already here but it is just not evenly distributed
  • The internet of things vs. The internet of trust
  • I may not know what I need to do now but it does not matter as the future is full of possibilities

Towards the end of his speech, Joe Biden spoke emotionally about losing his son to cancer, and about his commitment to unite both parties and all institutions involved to elevate the fight against cancer. As he broke down in tears while his family stood by, the audience was touched by his words and sincerity.

Overall, the Festival was an inspiring experience, a place where the elite and the thinkers drop their guards and open their minds (and hearts) to dive deep into the pressing and complex issues facing America and the world.  Indeed, everything begins with an idea and in sharing ideas we are making the future.  

Lots of Love,