One of the virtues of being very young is that you don't let the facts get in the way of your imagination.

 

-- Sam Levenson

What Color Is Your Imagination?

is Who Moved My Cheese? © meets

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ©.

It starts with a metaphor using color symbolism to describe the types of imagination and creative environments in which problem-solving occurs, and then delves into ten ways we can improve our problem-solving skills and produce our own Purple Imagination

Introduction

The Story Behind 

What Color Is Your Imagination?

A conversation with my then four-year-old son and a need to make an inspirational speech for my staff sparked my journey to learn more about imagination, creativity and innovation.

I had just picked up my son from preschool.  As we did each day, during the twenty-five-minute drive home, we discussed his day. ​Out of nowhere, he asked me,

"Mommy, what color is my imagination?"

​I don’t know what motivated this question that day, but I LOVE these types of questions.  I miss these types of questions.  You ever try to have a philosophical conversation like this with a teenager?  Now the questions I get are, “What’s for dinner?” or “Can I have my allowance?”

Young children have an innate ability to be so much more abstract and non-concrete than we adults.  They put no limits on themselves and their creativity. Whether it is coloring a picture or telling a story, children do not have to play by the “rules” we adults seem to have created for ourselves.  It’s very liberating to have a discussion that is not always so bound by “reality.”

 

Anyway, as an early childhood education professional at the time, I knew better than to tell him what color his imagination was.  That would be ironically stifling his creativity.

So, I said, “I don't know, Honey.  What color do you think your imagination is?”

           

He thought about it for a few seconds, and then said oh-so matter-of-factly, "My imagination is purple!" 

​And because my son has the mother he has, that sent me on a journey of discovery. It piqued my interest, this potential relationship between creativity and color.  I started doing research on color theory and how color is believed to impact various aspects of our personalities, our imaginations, our moods, our appetites, our buying habits, even our relationships with our environments.

 

I had heard about the phenomenon of grapheme-color synesthesia, where people associate letters and numbers with certain colors; and chromesthesia, where sounds are associated with colors.  Yet, I hadn’t come across the linking of color and imagination in this way.  It got me thinking about color symbolism, and I reminded myself what I knew about the history of the color purple and its significance in various cultures.

In addition, it got me thinking about how we, as adults, tend to stifle our own creativity for a variety of reasons.  It reminded me that, in addition to making everyday life more interesting, imagination, creativity and idea generation are also tools in problem solving.  It got me thinking about how we, as adults, could learn from children in our processes of problem-solving.

Coincidentally, I had a work project coming up that needed my attention. It was an opportunity for me to use this new-found knowledge and curiosity about problem-solving.

At that time, I was a Head Start Director for a medium-sized program, in a community action agency, serving just under five hundred children and their families each year and with a staff of about 125 early childhood education professionals. 

Head Start is a federally funded school readiness program for low-income children that was founded in 1965.  Head Start services are delivered through over a thousand grantee agencies across the United States.  Head Start takes a very wholistic approach to school-readiness, addressing not only the educational needs of the child, but addressing their nutrition, social-emotional and physiological needs as well.  Likewise, Head Start believes that for preschool aged children to learn and thrive, we must include their families in the process; empowering parents and guardians to not only be their child’s first teacher but empowering them to be advocates for their child as well.

 

In Head Start, there are what's called “All-Staff” meetings.  These are times when, as the name would suggest, we get all the staff in the agency together for a day of training and professional development. It’s not unusual to have a speaker come in to “rally the troops” and provide some inspiration to continue the important work of school readiness and helping low-income families move toward greater self-sufficiency. 

I’ve always loved public speaking and educating; and since I was the Head Start Director, in addition to the day’s schedule of various professional development workshops, I got to choose myself as the keynote speaker to rally my troops at that year’s All-Staff. 

The previous year, I had talked about creating synergistic relationships: how we are more successful when we work together as a team, combining our collective knowledge and skills to create better results and better outcomes for the children and families we serve.  That year, I decided to speak on using one’s imagination in problem solving and in our roles as educators; I’m a firm believer that every staff person in a Head Start program – from bus driver to family advocate -- is an educator, not just the teachers in the classrooms. 

 

I created a metaphor where the types of problem-solving behaviors and environments were represented by an assortment of colors.  For example, Yellow Imagination was the “we’ve always done it that way” type of imagination, or the imagination of fear. Green Imagination saw creativity as a commodity to be traded and, therefore, was highly impacted by personal motivations and incentives. White Imagination is the implementation of the creativity of others and is therefore not as “vivid” and “vibrant,” is less impactful than original ideas.  Black Imagination is what we would call the “mad genius” type of imagination.  Those exhibiting this type of imagination are the ones about whom we usually wish, “If they would only use their powers for good.”  

While no type of imagination is ultimately bad or long term – we each exhibit all the distinct types of problem solving at one time or another – there is an ideal.  That ideal is Purple Imagination.  It is the combination of Red Imagination and Blue Imagination.

If we take Red Imagination (love, passion, and enthusiasm) and combined it with Blue Imagination (analytics, statistics, and empiricism) we get Purple Imagination: a synergistic, almost exponentially beneficial relationship where innovation and invention occur.

All those may years ago, I asked my staff at a program-wide meeting: “What Color Is Your Imagination?”

            And the rest is history…