Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
J. K. Rowling, 2008
Developing creativity in students is not a luxury. Technology experts project that about 47% of current jobs in the United States will become obsolete because of computers within the next decade or two, and the jobs that will remain are those that require creative intelligence (Frey & Osborne, 2013). In this chapter we propose that supporting youths’ capacities for social-emotional imagination – their abilities to creatively conjure alternative perspectives, emotional feelings, courses of action, and outcomes for oneself and others in the short- and long-term future – is a critical missing piece in many classrooms. This mental act of imagining precedes and translates into creative behaviors – behaviors that demonstrate divergent thinking or a novel approach to a problem and result in the formation of a useful idea or work.
Students’ school success and lifelong creativity are facilitated not only by the cognitive skills measured by IQ tests but by other cognitive and social-emotional attributes. Critically, a capacity for imagination enables many of these cognitive and social-emotional skills, such as intellectual curiosity, openness to experience, passion, inspiration, love of work, envisioning future goals, persistence, sense of mission, courage, delight in deep thinking, tolerance of mistakes, and feeling comfortable as a “minority of one” (e.g., Cox, 1926; Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Fredricks, Blumfeld & Paris, 2004; Furnham & Bachtair 2008; Kaufman, 2013a, 2013b; Kaufman et al., 2015; Nusbaum & Silvia, 2011; Oyserman & Destin, 2010; Runco, Millar, Acar, & Cramond, 2010; Torrance, 1993, 2003, 2004; von Stumm, Hell, & Chamorro- Premuzic, 2011). Imagination is central because it allows students to reflect holistically about what they learn such that school-related tasks are more meaningful, personally relevant and rewarding, and more connected to the adulthood they hope to achieve one day. Imagination facilitates creative, critical dispositions toward new content and skills by helping students conjure new connections between ideas and invent new ways to represent and apply information.