Great ideas: Is imagination more important knowledge?

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by Anastasia Haralabidou
13 February 2015

From Alexander The Great to Napoleon, Plato to Spinoza, Issac Newton to Albert Einstein and Henry Ford to Steve Jobs… Ideas are the seed of all achievement.

An endless sea of ideas constantly flows around our planet, streamlining inspiration, fuelling the minds of entrepreneurs, ultimately driving progress and innovation. It is pragmatism and action that now seem to be the overriding forces in channelling these ideas, but what lies beneath is the blueprint of inspiration, desire and imagination.


An apple falling from a tree in Isaac Newton's garden inspired the understanding of gravitational force and formulated one of the principal laws on the mechanics of the universe.

Around 300 years later, a start-up launched in a Silicon Valley garage that would rise to become a global tech giant. Steve Jobs would tell Steve Wozniak that its name would be Apple. In his own words: "I like apples a lot.... Apple is ahead of Atari in the phone book and I used to work at Atari! We found the juxtaposition of something that seemed to epitomise what we were going after, which was simplicity and yet very refined sophistication. The apple seemed to symbolise that."

On a different plain, the harmony of nature and the vastness of the universe around us have been a constant source of inspiration to the greatest scientific minds. Mankind’s desire to discover the unknown and reach new frontiers has led physicists, astronomers and cosmologists to an unending quest to decipher the mechanics of the universe and unravel the laws that govern matter and energy. From the foundations laid by Albert Einstein and the theory of relativity, to quantum mechanics and the evolution of superstring theory, the passion of humankind to understand its origins has never ceased.


When ideas fuel inspiration, the in-between state that leads to action is imagination. We crossed the oceans to discover new lands, invented the means to travel the world, reached for the stars and landed on the moon. All that started as an idea first held in the minds of imagination.

Imagination is the highest freedom of all and the one that no one can deprive us of. The greatness of creative imagination is praised not only by the romantics and artists of this world, but the brightest of scientific brains.

Einstein famously said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

Nikola Tesla, one of history's most fascinating innovators and a futurist, was a man of legendary imaginative power. Tesla had an eidetic memory that enabled him to precisely recall images, visualise objects and literally work out his inventions in his imagination. Once he was inspired by an idea, he would start building it up in his imagination to the point of first operating an invention in his brain as if it were real, before proceeding to its concrete form.


An idea is the beginning of everything, but the ingredients in the capsule of success are perception, skills, consciousness, focus, persistence, and belief. Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely said, "The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be."

The certainty of purpose has been described as the greatest principle of all in the formula of success, being the force of psychological charge and the focus of direction of all action for the big achievers and leaders of this life. Taught by Aristotle to Alexander the Great, held in the minds of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford, and singled out by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, focus and determination are the qualities possessed by big winners.

When Bill Gates and Warren Buffett first met, Gate's mother – who was on dinner-hosting duties - asked everyone around that table to identify the single most important factor accredited for their success through life. Gates and Buffett gave the same one-word answer: "Focus." 

In this world, there are those that follow the general paradigm, and there are the ones that diverge with passion. These are the ones that break away from norms and can climb the highest mountains of achievement against what life might rationally have had in store for them. Desire and determination combine to a substance that reigns above all. Plato said on the importance of desire that it "must drive the soul with a reigned-in craziness."

Once upon a time an English teacher residing in Hangzhou was introduced to the internet by a friend. His first reaction was to search for beer in the Chinese market, discovering that there was nothing relevant online. The individual was Jack Ma and the discovery propelled the growth of Alibaba to the biggest ever tech IPO in US history. 

He is not a technologist, neither is he a coder - he even struggled to pass university exams. He described himself as  "a terrific fighter since a young age, with no fear for opponents bigger than him," with a mantra of "never, never give up".

Ma has declared that he could be a general if he were born in a period of war. When Alibaba was battling eBay in China, reporters called him 'Crazy Jack' because of his animated manner of expression and boldness. His energy levels are endless and his methods far from conventional.

And, finally there are the dreamers and visionaries of this world. What better way to describe the power of having a dream than by giving the final word to Richard Branson. "Dream. Seriously. Don't betray your dreams for the sake of fitting in. Dreaming is one of humanities greatest gifts. It champions aspiration, spurs innovation, leads to change, and propels the world forward. Dream big!"

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