Seeing with your imagination:

historical examples of people who saw with imagination

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People who saw things in a different way.

It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that even as a young child, Pablo Picasso had his own way of viewing things. Unfortunately, it made school difficult for him. Mathematics was a particular problem because instead of seeing numbers as numbers, he saw them as symbols, as the beginnings of drawings. But what hindered him in math became an invaluable tool for abstracting images.

While only 14 years old, Philo Farnsworth puzzled over how to create a picture on a cathode ray. The previous method had involved a scanning disk with holes. But Farnsworth knew he could improve on the technique. While sitting on an Idaho hillside, he noticed the neat rows of harvested hay and the idea struck him: scan the image in horizontal lines. He presented a version of his invention as a science project, and by age 21, he applied for a patent for his “image dissector.” We know the evolved version of his invention as the television.

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Cloud shapes
Seeing double

DaVinci's Doodles
What can it be?

Swiss inventor George de Mestral came home from a walk one day with cockleburs stuck to his clothes. He was curious about their clinging qualities, so he examined them under a microscope. The burrs had tiny hooks that had caught in the loops of his clothing. As he pondered those tiny shapes, he began to see them as something quite different – a fastener, with the same two-sided approach. Velcro® was born.

For weeks, painter Romare Bearden stared at his blank canvas, unable to find inspiration. His cleaning lady – whom he had rescued from life on the streets -- noticed his lack of progress and suggested he paint her. Bearden hesitated to answer, for the woman was haggard and worn from her years of hardship. She knew what he was thinking, and said, “When you can look into me and find what is beautiful, you’ll be able to paint something.” He never forgot that lesson. *

Robert Sutton, professor of management science at Stanford encourages businesses to see things in new ways. He said in an interview in the magazine Fast Company, “The ability to keep shifting opinions and perceptions is crucial to creativity… It means switching off the autopilot and looking at every challenge, project, and task with fresh eyes.”

* Dick Russell, Black Genius and the American Experience (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1998), p. 73

all material ©2003 Bruce Van Patter