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Imagine if we could …

Boston
Innovation Center June 2nd, 2016

By Robert Urban, Global Head
Johnson & Johnson Innovation

In a few days, many of the world’s leading global healthcare innovators will gather in San Francisco for the 2016 BIO International Convention and I was particularly struck by the theme for this year’s program: “Imagine” – a single word that bears a world of significance.

To imagine is a most uniquely human endeavor. As humans, we have the innate ability to form new “images” in the mind that are not derived or perceived through seeing, hearing or utilizing our other senses. Our senses enable us to experience the realities of the world around us, but our capacity to imagine empowers us to change those realities – whether in that moment or at some point in the future. Imagination is a natural gift of youth, which becomes increasingly constrained as rules, protocol, assumptions and bias crowd our adult minds. Albert Einstein, one of our most prolific imaginers, once stated that one of his deepest struggles was to remain able to see the world “through the eyes of a child.”

Imagination is difficult – much more so than creativity, with its rather easy reduction-to-practical sensibilities. Imagination fills vacuums in consciousness but soon elicits imagery that deeply connects us.

Most of what we consider imagination yielding takes the form of story, art, invention and emotion. But perhaps more importantly, imagination also gives us the powerful ability to connect and empathize with others, to begin to understand the experiences of individuals who we likely will never know. Imagination fuels our compassion, driving us to care and emotionally invest.

Although poverty, disease, fear or despair might not be present in many of our own lives, imagination allows us to rapidly understand how these plights can impact and overcome others. It gives us the acute ability to empathize with others experiencing these tremendous hardships and obstacles, even if we have never ourselves experienced them. Imagination builds an invisible web by which we are all interconnected and, if harnessed appropriately, it compels action.

For those who choose to seize the opportunity, imagination can inspire us to do more – to contribute to humankind, to improve the lives of others. We are able to envision possibilities and new innovations that are not part of our reality today – but could change the reality of tomorrow. We are mobilized to tackle difficult diseases, to create solutions that defeat world hunger, and build to a world powered in ways that sustain our fragile environment. 

To imagine is the natural propensity of the child and the precious gift of being human. As we embark on this year’s BIO it will be exciting to witness imagination hard at work, motivating innovation to address human need and transform the world.

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