The enduring emotional connection of going beyond your own imagination

by Marc Sokol on May 25, 2011

Voyages of Imagination

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Recently I’ve been focused on a phrase a client of mine has begun to use, “beyond imagination”.

My vision is to create a Global Research & Development Center that isn’t just great; I want others to experience it as beyond imagination!

He is wondering how to best engage his employees, his peers and other business units across the company to so they will deeply resonate with his vision. He aspires to create an organizational capability that will become an industry benchmark and a new reason for customers to remember his company. He wants to raise the standards against which we set all other expectations. In his future world, the R&D Center is not just a source of product innovation; it is also an agent of marketing and public relations, an opportunity for employer branding and recruitment, and an enabler of a vision that connects customers more closely to the business.

Nice aspiration, isn’t it?

As we map out his strategy, the transition plans, and ways to take his story on the road, I find myself searching for my own sense of when I have been taken beyond imagination.

My first image isn’t how far reaching my thoughts are, but rather how small they seemed in comparison to someone else.  I remember  a training program in which one exercise was to imagine the vacation of a lifetime. I told my partner about wanting to visit Hawaii, a place I’d never been. At his turn, he beamed as he talked about space travel and a trip to the moon. Hawaii would still be great, but space travel was clearly beyond my imagination at that time. Not any more!

How do you tap into what it looks and feels like to go beyond imagination?

• Do you remember your first trip to Disneyland? Or watching the expression on your child’s face as they experienced utter delight?

• Have you ever listened to a futurist describe how dramatically different your world will be in just a few short years? Or discovered that some of those amazing ‘future states’ were already here?

Star Trek and Star Wars fans know this experience intimately: with every story you expected to be transported to some setting that you knew you never could imagine. Real fans can recount episode after episode, still taking delight in the discovery.

That’s what I now think about when I hear the phrase, ‘beyond imagination.’

It may start in your eyes and ears and head as you take it all in, but it settles in you gut as an emotional reaction takes over. That’s beyond imagination!

Can you take your customers beyond imagination?

What happens when your customer has an experience that is beyond imagination?

• They keep thinking about it, and not just in their head; they continue to feel the experience over and over.

• They look for others with whom they can share the experience; sometimes they become your best advocates, what Michael Cowen at Ravetopia refers to as raving fans who become agents of word of mouth marketing.

• They immediately think about you whenever a competitor even begins to present an alternative option.

Not a bad place to be, huh?

So when was the last time someone took you beyond imagination?

How did they define a new standard and reset the stage for how you benchmark the products and services you receive?

The key is to reconnect with that moment of discovery. It’s one step, but a big one, toward finding a place that is beyond imagination.

BestCustomerConnection, by Marc Sokol

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel M. Wood May 26, 2011 at 3:42 am

Hey Marc,

This isn’t really related to your question, more to the story you told about your customer.

In Stephen Coveys 7 habits of highly effective people he talks about creating a company mission statement. Getting everyone in the company involved in its creation and getting the reward system to match the vision.

I think using the methodology he shares would help your customer.
Take a look at the book if you haven’t read it, it is worth a read!
Daniel M. Wood recently posted..Motivational Tip 10 – Reward Yourself for all Results Program Yourself for Success

Adrian Swinscoe May 26, 2011 at 6:54 am

Hi Marc,
This is a great post and reminds me of a phrase that I have seen flying around the last few days re the Social CRM debate. The phrase is from Wayne Gretsky and he says that ‘You have to skate to where the puck will be’.

Building an emotional connection with customers that extends from now into the future is a clear winner in the game of long-term loyalty, retention and value.

Adrian Swinscoe recently posted..When it comes to social media- do brands really understand what their customers want

Marc Sokol May 26, 2011 at 8:57 am

Thanks for the suggestion Daniel. Like Covey, CK Pralahad and Gary Hamel also spoke of creating and organizational dialogue as a route to discovering core competencies of the corporation. My client has an opportunity to build momentum by asking ‘what if…’ and ‘imagine a future in which…’ type questions. And at the same time, he need to both channel that energy toward the mission/vision statement and manage realistic expectations of the sequence of moving there with the resources at his disposal.

It’s a good challenge to have, isn’t it?

Marc Sokol May 26, 2011 at 9:04 am

Hi Adrian,

Social CRM is a good example of how many of us have experience applications the get deployed beyond what we every could have imagined. And once we see the potential for web-based customer engagement, it’s hard to imagine the world as it was before.


Cecily Sommers May 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Thank you, Marc, for linking to one of my talks! You’re right, the objective of futures thinking is to bring “beyond” potentials to the table, then invite people to let their imaginations run wild. Once new scenarios are conjured, you can entertain the challenges and opportunities within those scenes, and consider a variety of solutions/inventions that anticipate future needs.

It’s cool work and very cool that your client wants to build a business, culture, and (presumably) process that embeds it into their approach to problem-solving (that’s how I see it, anyway).

But I’m stuck on the phrase “beyond imagination,” and wonder what, exactly it intends to say. Sorry to be such a stickler, but I think finding really specific language is an important part of creating vision and alignment, the very exercise in which you and your client are engaged.

My impression is that he’s really talking about a shift in business model, not in cognitive function. In fact, wouldn’t imagination be precisely the facility used to inspire new possibilities? Maybe it’s intended to advocate for the value of fantastical thinking, backed up by an environment/process/culture (the “how” of it, which also needs to be specific) that encourages ideas that unconstrained by conventions, logic, or limitations of current conditions.

I share my .02 only because I can feel your excitement that “there’s something here!” in your client’s thinking, and as you try to flesh out how it works, you want to be careful not to get seduced by shiny things like cool catchphrases and such. There’s a whiff of the hyperbolic in it — such as “Xtreme branding” or “Radical Innovation” — and runs the risk of 1) not really saying anything and 2) distracting you from the challenge of asking, “What is it, really, that we want to create?” and “What, really, does it take to make that happen?”

Further, the metaphor of skating to where the puck will be may be inspiring, but it’s not really applicable to what you’re doing. Gretsky could “see” the trajectory of the puck only because he’d practiced the same skills so long that his brain could anticipate the puck’s behavior. If anything, that’s a routinized neurological script, not a leap in imagination.

Similarly, Social CRM didn’t appear out of thin-air. People who live their lives in building 2.0 technologies, like Gretsky, were so intimate with the technology’s capabilities and potentials that, very likely, creating Social CRM was a big ‘ol “Duh!”

The “Duh!” comes from knowing that, even as tools and conditions evolve, people and businesses still have the same needs. For instance, if much of your communication and relationship building has moved online, then anticipating a need to manage those relationships is not just a smart move, but a must-do.

My impression, from your brief description, is that your client’s vision has to be grounded in a proven, replicable, scalable process that consistently takes people to that “beyond ____” space. If that’s not already in place, then that’s where I would start. If it is in place, then build your strategy around what that process is designed to produce.

Hope you don’t mind my jumping in with both feet on this. It sounds like a wonderfully juicy opportunity for all! Best of luck,

– Cecily

martin hill-wilson May 31, 2011 at 10:35 am

I think Cecily basically wrapped up this discussion, but my postscript is this.

Nothing is beyond imagination. As testified by your client. His 1+1=3 might well be beyond expectation because it busts a few categories but he is surely doomed if he believes it remains beyond imagination. That level of transcendence is a big ask even for a Bodhisattva!-)

martin hill-wilson recently posted..The Art &amp Skill Of Customer Listening- session 3

Michael Cowen June 1, 2011 at 4:39 am

Hi Marc,

That is a really beautiful post. You had me laughing at the idea of swopping Hawaii for space travel. What if we put hawaii in space?

I read this quote the other day: “In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, in the expertes mind there are few.” It is by Shunryu Suzuki.

The future of business belongs to people who think like this.

And thanks for the mention :)

Michael Cowen recently posted..3 Steps To Getting Your Customers To Tattoo Your Brand To Their Body

Marc Sokol June 1, 2011 at 9:16 am


Great quote. Thank you for that. When I think about ‘beginner’s mind’, I also think about Sherry Turkle’s wonderful research and book, The Second Self, where she applies Jean Piaget’s developmental psychology ideas to discovering how young children think about computers. Similarly, great marketers have also known the importance of seeing the world through eyes others than their own, and constantly inquire how their friends children at all ages view the world.

I also have a ‘beginners’ mind exercise’ to share with you: When I am working with a group and want them to think about how they think, that is to pay attention to the types of questions they ask (vs. how smart they are), I use the following exercise:
Step 1 – form a single line quickly where one anchor is the most experienced member of the group, and the other anchor is the least experienced member of the group. They are not allowed to talk during this exercise, so eye contact and self-assessement is all they have to determine order. And I don’t provide any detail about what defines experience.
Step 2 – pair up with the person next to you in line. What are the most pressing questions you two have that you would like to explore with the group?
Step 3 – we review the questions of each pair from least to most experience, at which point I ask the most experienced half of the room to talk about the wisdom of the questions from the least experienced group, and how some of those questions persist even as one gains experience.
This exercise often gets the group in the right mental framework for listening to each other and not just trying to have the answers already prepared.

Thanks for the visit, Michael.

Marc Sokol June 1, 2011 at 9:30 am

@ Cecily

Delighted to see you jump in Cecily!

If ‘beyond imagination’ becomes just a slogan, then it fails, just as you say in your comment. For me, I see it as an emotional hook, drawing someone closer in to discover an elaborate process, structure, and governance that brings the vision to life. I’m thinking about this similar to the elaborate infrastructure and set of operating principles that allow Disney magic to ‘just appear’ at the surface, even though many of us know how much goes on below the surface and behind the visible scene. Hopefully my client will evolve his Global R&D Center with as much innovation below the surface as occurs in the visible arena.

I like how you characterize the need for a vision to be grounded in processes that are proven, replicable and scalable. I agree AND for me these aren’t just matters of engineering the vision; it’s also about leading organizational processes that engage hearts and minds into discovery of how to be a different type of R&D Center than in the past. And that itself is a journey into the future!

Marc Sokol June 1, 2011 at 9:43 am

Interesting to see how we play on the phrase, Martin. Beyond imagination could represent an upper limit of imagination beyond which one can’t perform, but it could also be thought of simply recognizing the outer reaches of cognition at the present time, with explicit belief that it’s just a matter process and engagement to get to a new level of thinking. — That kind of transcendence seems within reach, particularly when I think of the glass of imagination as one that is only half-full.

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