Black Imagination, like the beauty and complexity of a spider's web
Have you ever looked at a spider’s web and marveled at the beauty of its complexity? Yet, one of the primary purposes of a spider’s web is to trap its prey.
O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!
-- Walter Scott
Like Green Imagination, Black Imagination can be. . . complicated.
Who hasn’t heard of the wardrobe necessity of the “little black dress?” If you are in business, you want to be “in the black.” The term Black Friday has become synonymous with consumerism. (You decide if that is good or bad.)
Yet, we also see black in less than positive terms. Black magic is the sinister side of mysticism. The black market is an underground and nefarious economy where those who wish to avoid the laws of society flourish. In old westerns, the bad guys wore black.
Black Imagination is the imagination of those who seek to be outside the lines and confines of social conventions, outside the rules, sometimes even outside the law. It is the imagination of “we wish they’d use their powers for good” creativity. These are the creative geniuses who use that genius in sometimes destructive ways. Yet, many times, we must admire their special brand of creativity and channel its greatness in more productive ways.
British author and art critic of the 19th century, John Ruskin, once said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” For example, while we may not like the rain, it is not bad weather; because without sun and rain we would have no crops. One might say a similar thing about many examples of Black Imagination. It is not so much that it is completely bad, but that it is so different than what we would expect, or it is using a powerful skillset in a less than positive way.
The average deceptive teenager is probably on the more benign side of Black Imagination. If they would put as much effort and energy into following their parents’ rules as they did trying to get around them, they, and their parents, would be much better off!
Have you ever come across a co-worker who seemed to create elaborate schemes to get out of doing their fair share of the work? How about a boss who seemed to have a leadership style that had the precision of a surgeon in identifying subordinates’ insecurities and then targeting them with passive-aggressive behaviors that left the employees in a constant state of distrust of their own abilities?
That’s Black Imagination.
If the co-worker put as much effort into figuring out ways to be more productive, if the boss used those talents to figure out how to inspire his employees, imagine how much better that organization would be? Yet, sometimes people use their imagination in less positive, albeit very industrious, ways.
I love to use the example of the highly effective criminal masterminds as an example of Black Imagination. If situations were different, if their lives had taken them in a different direction, they might have been CEOs or highly successful entrepreneurs. However, their Black Imagination took their creativity to dark places.
There is some good to having some Black Imagination in your midst every now and then. The color black can make other colors appear brighter by contrast. Those exhibiting Black Imagination can highlight and help us recognize the other types of imagination. It can
also provide us with the inspiration and motivation to do better. You can’t have a hero without a villain. In almost every super hero story, there needs to be a super villain who creates a tragedy or a martyr for the hero to derive some inspiration and motivation to fight that much harder.
In an episode of the television sitcom The Big Bang Theory, the character of Sheldon is rhapsodizing to Penny about the relationship he has with his nemesis and compares it to various heroes and supervillains, when he remarks, “Why is it so many supervillains have
advanced degrees?” Perhaps it’s because, even in our fantasy life, a truly great villain is an intelligent villain. We don’t dislike these super villains because they are smart and are highly creative, we dislike them because they use their creative brilliance in the most destructive,
albeit fascinating ways.
Likewise, sometimes, the greater the villain, the greater the heroic transformation. Have you ever seen the movie Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks? It centers around a young man who, between the ages of 16 and 21, manages to steal millions of dollars from several banks and succeeds in impersonating an airline pilot, a lawyer, and a doctor, just to name a few.
This movie was based on a real-life person: Frank William Abagnale. After eventually getting caught, Abagnale later worked for the FBI, helping them catch people like him. He even started his own consulting firm to help financial institutions, corporations, and law enforcement agencies combat fraud and other security issues. This is not an unusual phenomenon. Many former criminals who have an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to work on the right
side of the law start businesses teaching organizations and individuals to counteract and combat the Black Imagination they themselves used to generate.
One of the areas where Black Imagination is most useful is in disaster preparedness. Whether one is crafting a family protocol for what to do if the house catches on fire, or a full-scale, state-wide plan in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster, you need masters of Black Imagination on your team. You need those who can envision the “worst case scenario.”
The most effective preparedness plans are those that anticipate even the most improbable scenarios. For that, you need a little bit of Black Imagination. When coming up with preparedness plans, I want people on the team about whom I can say, “I never would have thought of that in a million years, but she did!”
While natural disasters like storms and disease epidemics are one thing, Black Imagination is especially important when dealing with human created disasters. When considering human behavior, while it is nice to see the best of people, when preparing for the future, we unfortunately must also consider the worst in people; for that is the only way to be prepared with ready solutions. We hope we never have to use them, but consider the consequences if we are ill-prepared and underestimate the evils lurking in our society? To catch a criminal, sometimes you must think like a criminal.
So, you see, while Black Imagination that seeks to hurt others is bad, in problem solving it is useful -- when properly harnessed -- to get inside the head of the opposition in order to come
up with counter strategies.
In other words, the best defense against a rebellious teenager is a parent who was just as rebellious at their age.
The above is the “Black Imagination” chapter of the book What Color Is Your Imagination? © It is the first of three books by Nadine Owens Burton based on her proprietary quality improvement themes.
Nadine Owens Burton has been a teacher, a university administrator, a non-profit board member, a director of a school readiness program and a Mompreneur. She is the founder and president of Owens Burton Consulting, a quality improvement training and speaking services company. Her book, What Color Is Your Imagination? © is available at Amazon, Bookbaby, Barnes and Noble and other booksellers. It is the first of three planned books based on her proprietary workshops and keynotes. The next in the series will be The Power of CARE™ followed by The Promising Professional™.