The Creative Adult is the Child Who Has Survived

Rita J. King December 8, 2013


I made a promise on the spot, and for seven years, I have kept it. I will keep it for the rest of my life.

The child carved our names in the sand so we could wait, together, for the waves to come and erase them. We were on a beach, alone, during a hot pink and molten gold sunset.

It was then that she told me that I was the only adult who made her feel like her imagination didn't have to die when she became an adult.

I can't describe now how I felt when I heard this. What I can tell you is that I made a promise in return that I would dedicate my life to making sure she survived her own childhood.

Many sleepless nights followed, during which I wondered what had possessed me to make such an outlandish promise with no idea where or how to start. I have spent every moment of my life since then, working with collaborators, clients and friends all over the world, to fulfill it.

Imagination is not a "soft skill." It is the workspace of your brain, the place where connections are made between ideas to create something new. I started to think of my quest in honor of this child's survival as a bridge, a connection between two eras: the fading Industrial era, which isn't yet gone, and the approaching Intelligence era, which isn't yet here. I started to think of the kids and their imaginations as a precious resource, not just because imagination is fun, but because it is absolutely critical in order for us to survive, much less thrive, as a species.

The only thing stronger than your imagination is your imagination connected to the billions of other imaginations all over the world, connected to smart machines that continue to get smarter, faster. In the Imagination Age, understanding the relationship between human imagination and technology is critical as we move forward. Imagination is the key to finding new angles on problems. The ability to solve problems is the number one focus of the entire business world as we move into the intelligence era, which is a combination of technology and imagination.

Over time, with the support of many different people and organizations, the Imagination Age crystallized. My practice is now headquartered in Manhattan, at Science House. I'm currently writing a book about the arc of this journey, which continues to grow by the day.

I am telling you all this because tomorrow is the little girl's birthday. She will be eighteen. An adult. I can't believe it.

Brianne, I hope that you carry your imagination forward forever into a world that values it more and more each day. I hope that this vision continues to grow, and includes more and more children. I promise you now, again, as I did seven years ago, that my life's mission will remain now, and always, working on the Imagination Age so that we can all learn, together, what it means to solve problems, envision the future and have fun doing it so we can create a new global culture and economy. I hope that eventually, people who aren't yet born, and those who are, can together envision smarter systems, build them, and occupy them. This is not only possible. It is necessary. Humanity is in a state of conscious evolution, and this requires the discipline to harness the full power of our unique, thrilling gift: imagination.

And thanks to all of the organizations who have supported this work and continue to do so. Every project has given me a new dimension in thinking, and every collaborator has changed me in ways that I can't begin to describe here tonight. For now, I just want to express my deep gratitude and commitment to the future.

Image by the magnificent photographer Kirsty Mitchell, who has the imagination of a child and the vision of a sage. The title of this post is a quote from Ursula K. LeGuin.