IS IMAGINATION MORE important than knowledge?
Albert Einstein certainly thought so. He said: “I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
I have looked at imagination at work in life and it never ceases to amaze me. When I see my children share the knowledge they have learned I encourage and applaud with pride but when I see their imagination shine through I really stand back in awe… it is theirs, it is unique and it is truly amazing!
So yes, I do believe imagination is more important than knowledge, but I also think that if you combine both you are really tapping into life’s power. What does science have to say about it?
What is imagination?
Imagination is creativity in action. It can be using our brain and our senses to create an image within our mind. Imagination draws on our experiences and knowledge of the world around us and combines them with the complete unknown to make something new.
It allows us to explore beyond the constraints of our environment and our reality, into a world of dreams, where creativity and invention are at their strongest.
How does it work?
Science has long held that the complex nature of imagination must involve more than one area of the brain. The idea and the proof have been hard to amalgamate but recent studies using advancements in the monitoring of complex neural interactions within the brain provide new evidence for this theory. The findings from this study suggest that imagination uses a large portion of the human brain, creating an interconnecting network of activity across many different areas. Imagination really does light up our brains!
Is imagination unique to humans?
It would appear that imagination (at least in its complete form) is a uniquely human experience. It has allowed us to modify and develop our surroundings and to create and invent new ideas, new structures, new technologies. Imagination also allows us the very human emotion of empathy as we can literally imagine another person’s life experience without ever having actually experienced any of it.
In the words of JK Rowling… “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation 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.”
The evolution of imagination
Our early ancestors, the hominids, showed basic levels of imagination in their tool making abilities, cooperative hunting skills and social interaction and colonisation. It would appear that their level of imagination was limited, though, perhaps with respect to their brain size and their compartmentalised thinking.
As modern humans evolved, scientists have reported an increase in brain size, advances in technical skills and creativity, and a development in social complexities. Farming, sophisticated tool making, complex language development, the performance of rituals and the development of art and crafting all required a complex development of thought and mental interaction… Imagination!
A more developed neural network within the brain, connecting the different areas of brain function, must have had some part to play in all this. The majority of these changes evolved between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago, to the eventual emergence of the modern human.
The importance of imagination in development
As a parent this is the part that I am most interested in. What part does imagination play in my children’s development?
Science has shown that imagination stimulates brain function and activity. It literally expands the mind as it encourages connections between so many areas within the brain.
Both neurologists and psychologists agree that play in early childhood is necessary for children to develop at a normal rate and to reach their full potential.
Imagination and play have been shown to increase brain development and growth in children. At a neurological level imagination can increase the number of neural connections within the brain, linking different regions. These links need repeated stimulation and activation to be maintained.
Imagination is an activity that used the whole brain rather than isolated, individual sections. Use of the whole brain in this way increases a child’s problem solving abilities, emotional development and social interactions.
Early childhood (between the ages of three and six) is usually when children are most actively involved in their imagination. Through pretend play children create their own imaginary world, allowing them to develop and learn from the new experiences they explore.
When children start school there is often a shift in how they play, moving towards games with more social interaction and rules. These games still engage the children in creative play, often with a more cognitive imaginative thought process.
Imagination and learning
Imagination is a vital learning tool within the classroom. Children will learn and remember more powerfully when imagination is included. Imagination will create more neural links within the brain, engage more regions within the mind and it will bring the subject to life!
This holds true for all subjects not just the ones we consider more creative. I have always loved maths, for example, and I remember from a young age that each number took on a personality for me. This probably increased my enjoyment of the subject and certainly would have increased my memory and ability.
As children grow it is important therefore that their imagination is constantly stimulated and encouraged. As they enter their teenage years imagination will allow better social interaction and social awareness as it encourages a better sensitivity to the needs and feelings of those around us.
Imagination can also decrease stress levels as it encourages problem solving and the possibility of positive outcomes and solutions.
A powerful imagination is a wonderful skill to have and a very important one to nurture throughout all stages of life. To really reach our full potential I believe imagination and play should be as important in our daily lives as love, nutrition and health.
How can we encourage imagination within our children?
We all have imagination within us, that is what makes us human. We do not need to instil it within our children but perhaps we can encourage and assist what is already there. Starting from a young age we can encourage pretend play, imaginative fantasies and the belief in some things unknown.
An imaginary friend can be encouraged rather than feared. Dress up clothes are a great facility for a child’s imagination. There are many simple toys that can assist a child in a wonderful make believe world. It is also a wonderful reinforcement for children to see their parents actively involved in the imaginary worlds that they create.
Dr Naomi Lavelle is a mum to three junior scientists who are always asking “how”, “why” and “what if”. She blogs at Science Wows where she aims to answer all their questions, one post at a time. She can also be found on Facebook and as @sciencewows on Twitter.
Infographic: The differences between left and right brain people
I started this article looking for 101 call to action examples.
My plan was to review the all-time great copywriting controls and find the calls to action that made them so effective.
After all, they were written by the historical greats.
But I hadn’t read more than a handful of mailings when I discovered something interesting. All the CTAs were essentially the same.
Well, that was a bust!
Or was it?
I found some interesting parallels between traditional direct mail calls to action and the digital calls to action being written today. And I found three criteria for effective CTAs that work no matter what format you’re using.
Let’s take a look…
First, some traditional calls to action
Reviewing traditional direct mail promotions, I found three things that nearly all calls to action accomplish. See if you can find them in this line-up of old CTAs. (I’ll tell you my findings below.)
Sales and Marketing Management Magazine
So if you were waiting for the perfect time to seize this opportunity, the time is now. Send for your free issue today.
Discover the exciting world of outside. Subscribe today.
Get a taste of SUCCESS! Send me the form at the top of this letter and I’ll send you the next issue of SUCCESS absolutely free.
May I send you a free copy?
There is no obligation attached to my offer…
Please let me know if you’ll accept my offer by January 31.
House & Garden
So indulge—in so much excitement, for so little! Please take advantage of our “Summer White Sale” and save on a subscription to HG today.
Those were the more creative ones. But the majority read like this:
Do mail your acceptance to me today.
So act right now. The postage is paid and you’ve got nothing to lose but a great garden to gain!
SEND NO MONEY NOW! But please mail your card today!
So if you’re looking for knowledge, a rewarding adventure, and the advantage a future perspective can offer, mail the enclosed card today!
See the pattern?
The CTA is your final instruction to your reader, so (duh!) there won’t be 101 variations.
In direct mail, you have to tell people to “mail the enclosed card.” In digital marketing, we ask for a click.
No matter how creative we get, it still boils down to this one request.
But if you look closely at the examples above, there are three things that nearly all the CTAs include:
- A no-obligation statement that removes or reduces risk. In many cases, they’re asking for a free trial rather than a purchase. In other words, try us, you’ll like us. This gives people the confidence to buy.
- All of them contain some version of “Mail your acceptance card.” This is simple usability. You have to tell people what to do next. Today it would read, “Click the button below.”
- Encouragement to respond right away. That’s standard direct response. Don’t give people an option to wait and think about it.
Let me show you a few more examples
Transferring traditional techniques to digital formats
Some digital CTAs perfectly mirror the old mailings. Take this one from Stansberry Research’s Retirement Millionaire promotion.
The pattern is there:
- Try it, you’ll like it: “Try” is in all caps.
- There’s no obligation, which is the modern version of “send no money now.”
- He wants a response “right away.”
- Click on the “subscribe now” link to fill out a form.
Now let’s look at some other formats for CTAs…
The “why not” argument
Sometimes there isn’t a strong reason to take action. But there’s no reason not to, either. Here’s how W Magazine used this logic in an old direct mail piece:
This offer may not last long. So order W now—and see what you think of your free issue. After all, with so much to gain—and with absolutely nothing to lose—shouldn’t you at least take a look?
And here it is in a recent 1-2-3 Shrink promotion:
Your CTA needs to make you want to click, and let’s face it, there isn’t always a compelling reason to try something. Price can get people’s attention, but it’s not good for business, so a common alternative is to ask, “why not?”
Making it all about the benefits
This old Audubon promotion didn’t just offer a subscription. It offered “all the benefits of membership.”
To begin receiving AUDUBON at once and to enjoy all the other benefits of membership in the National Audubon Society, simply return the enclosed form.
If you can offer membership in an exclusive group, this may be a useful approach. But what if you aren’t offering a club, per se?
Focus on the benefits of responding, like this “Off the Grid” promotion from Sovereign Investor:
Who doesn’t want to protect their wealth, build a fortress around themselves, and live a richer, more satisfying life?
Leading with a strong CTA
Here’s the headline in an old Earthwatch promotion:
Got some free time? A week? A month? A summer?
Come volunteer for a conservation project in the wilds, an environmental project in the tropics, an archeological dig abroad.
Or if you’re busy now, cheer us on from the sidelines.
Adventure? Save the world? Wow! It even has a built-in call to action, the “come volunteer” statement. Today, I’d recommend following this headline with an order button.
The call to action for this promotion is good, but not nearly as compelling.
Remember, the CTA must tell people what to do next. Which means it can’t always have the same excitement level as your headline or lead. Here’s how Earthwatch did it:
If our organization sounds like something that you too would take pleasure in being a part of—whether by participating actively, or cheering us on from the sidelines—I urge you to send in the order form at your earliest convenience…so your adventures can begin with the very next issue of EARTHWATCH.
Can the lead ever work as your CTA? In the Earthwatch promotion, it could have. But back then, you had to provide instructions for how to respond.
Today, people are comfortable with responding to digital offers, so you don’t need to provide the instructions that made their CTAs clunky. You can simply provide a link or button—and people know what to do.
Here’s a digital promotion that pulls off this technique quite well.
It was introduced in an Early to Rise email like this:
Click the link, and you land here. There’s nothing on the page but the CTA.
Selling the trial
Because people are so comfortable with digital formats, your CTA can almost be implied. (Implied, but not forgotten!)
Prevention promotions typically ask for a Try rather than a Buy. It sounds less obligatory, so buyers offer less resistance.
And Prevention is so sure you’ll like their products, they give generous trial periods. Here’s one from Prevention’s Dance It Off! promotion. Notice that the actual CTA is in a graphic:
Of course, software and similar products rely on the trial too. Here’s Crazy Egg’s call to action:
This approach emphasizes the no-obligation element of strong CTAs. And it works.
Two CTAs that don’t work
I mentioned above that you can leverage people’s comfort with digital marketing, which allows you to streamline your calls to action. But you still need to be clear.
Weak or no CTA
One of the most common (and worst) mistakes in direct response is to assume people know what to do, and forget the call to action.
From my perspective, that’s what this promotion does:
This is just a portion of the page—there are floating elements that didn’t allow me to grab it all—but this screenshot has the majority of the information.
Where’s the call to action?
“Pick your city” is all I can see. That’s not compelling, risk-reducing, or benefits-oriented. In fact, if you read the fine print, the author of the book won’t be at the event.
There’s little here to compel anyone to respond.
The other extreme: too strong of a CTA
I can’t tell you what’s on the page because the pop-up acts as a pay-wall, so to speak, blocking entrance until you share your email:
Here, I’m stuck if I don’t respond.
“Join Now” or don’t view the page.
This call to action is a little too high-pressure for my taste. What saves it is the “Why we ask for email” link at the bottom of the form, the promise of 70% off, and the no-hassles language below the button.
But I still don’t want to be forced into compliance, so no thanks.
You want a strong CTA, sure, but not too strong.
The winner: A benefits-oriented, personal CTA
TheStreet’s Quant Ratings promotion showed up in my inbox, and it’s the clear winner among the promotions I reviewed.
Look at the call to action:
This CTA does a lot of things right.
- It implies no work on your part. It’s completely benefits-oriented and personal, asking you to put TheStreet to work… for you.
- There isn’t a vague, uninspiring “click here” command. The link is embedded in the benefit statement. And that statement is phrased as a command, so I can’t miss it.
- There is also a button—in a bright, can’t-miss red—that offers an incentive for clicking: “Save $150.” (You’ll need to test the color that works for your promotion, but here, red does well.)
- Urgency is subtly included in the CTA with “don’t wait another minute.” So it urges you to respond now without resorting to hype.
Does it fulfill the three criteria for effective calls to action? You bet:
- It offers a trial membership.
- The link and button provide implicit instructions (without going so far as to omit the CTA). It’s clear that you’re supposed to click on the link or the button.
- You’re asked to respond now: “Don’t wait another minute.”
Not only does this call to action use the same techniques that worked in direct mail, it improves on them, because there’s no bulky paragraph telling you where to find the response device and how to submit it.
With digital, you can build the response into the promotion for a seamless user experience.
CTAs may have changed over the years, but the goal hasn’t changed: Put the right message in front of the right people at the right time. It’s critical that you learn to do this well. And, of course, there’s no better way to learn than to be testing your CTAs.
Have you got some favorite techniques for an effective call to action? Or do you struggle with telling people how to respond? Let us know in the comments below.