The importance of radical imagination

Right now, as a society, we appear to be in a state of confusion, where the dominant feelings are of uneasiness and disillusionment with our current systems, and we can’t quite imagine what’s next.

This uneasiness is likely to have multiple sources. A recent survey of Thinking Ahead’s Future of ESG working group members found that the three most-worrisome global systemic risks (in a portfolio context) are; escalating climate change, biodiversity loss/ecosystem breakdown and geopolitical confrontation. Let’s not forget about the natural resource crisis and widening societal inequalities ranked just behind.

In times like these, with increasing risk coming from every direction, it is easy to get disheartened. However, this time can also be liberating. It is a time to reframe our beliefs using radical imagination, to shift our mindset.

According to ClimateCulture, radical imagination “refers to the capacity to envision…radically different futures that challenge the status quo and move us towards a more just and sustainable world”.

We can use this radical imagination to explore new possibilities. Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics, believes we can solve our biggest issues through new framing, “by revealing old ideas that have entrapped us and replacing them with new ones to inspire us”.

To solve these issues, we need to acknowledge that the modern way of thinking, especially concerning extractivism, is not the default — the world possesses a myriad of different cultures that have so much to teach us in terms of alternative mindsets, knowledge of the past, and vision for the future.

This is why in April, Thinking Ahead held its first ever climate film night, ‘Real people, real stories, real change’. This film night sought to use the power of storytelling, through different voices from all over the world, to inspire. We paid particular attention to perspectives from the global south and indigenous communities, who are still very much underrepresented, despite being at the frontlines of our changing climate.

We brought this series of short films to an audience that is unlikely to have seen anything of that ilk before. And due to its popularity, we screened another set of short films at WTW’s Manager Ideas Exchange conference in June.

The short films selected zoomed into life on the frontlines, like the fisherman whose livelihood is being eroded because of dredging by shipping multinationals or the young woman whose land is disappearing under rising seas. More than that they highlighted the power of radical imagination in finding solutions, like the chef who created the UK’s first zero waste restaurant when everyone said it was impossible.

What could radical imagination mean for society? It might mean reimagining our economies, embracing ways that accommodate well-being, social equity, and environmental stewardship. It might mean questioning our energy systems as we work to consciously transition away from fossil fuels. It might mean looking at our cities and communities anew, designing cities that prioritise walkability, green infrastructure, and public transportation. It might mean prioritising long-term value creation and resilience when investing for a sustainable future. Moreover, it might compel us to address the deep-rooted social and environmental issues that perpetuate inequality.

How can you as an individual strengthen your radical imagination muscle? You can learn about economists challenging the status quo, such as Raworth at the Doughnut Economics Action Lab and others at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. You can dive into film, art and literature representing different, global perspectives. You can re-examine your investment beliefs, starting with Thinking Ahead’s Six investment beliefs to change the climate trajectory. And you can include one on thinking differently and working collaboratively.

To do all of this we must foster spaces for creativity, collaboration and dialogue. We must encourage diversity of people and of thought. At Thinking Ahead, we are trying to do just that through everything that we do from our research, working groups, podcast to events like the film night.

I would highly encourage you to do the same within your organisation and, more broadly, within the system you find yourself in. The investment industry, and the world, needs your radical imagination.

“Most things begin here. In the mind, in the mindset.”

Kate Raworth