Three-year-old Jonathon is gifted. And precious. I'm told that when his parents took him to a restaurant, he ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. "Jonathon, I'm sorry, we don't serve grilled cheese sandwiches," the server replied.
He asked playfully, "You have a grill, don't you?"
She answered, "Yes."
He continued, "You have cheese, don't you?"
"Yes, we do."
"You have bread, don't you?"
"Well," he said, "I'll have a grilled cheese sandwich."
Three years old. (You may think his parents should have taught him better manners, but please don't let that keep you from seeing the marvel of this small child's imagination.)
The smiling server returned after checking with the chef and told the boy they would be happy to fix him the sandwich. "But I forgot to ask you what you want to drink," she said.
"I'll have a milkshake, please."
"I'm sorry, Jonathon, but we don't serve milkshakes," she answered. But this time she was ready for him. "Now, it is true we have milk. And it is true we have ice cream. But we don't have syrup," she explained.
He laughed. "You have a car, don't you?"
There's always a solution. Whatever other intellectual gifts Jonathon seems to have, the trait that may serve him best is imagination. He has the valuable ability to imagine a solution to whatever problem comes his way.
Albert Einstein famously said, "Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions." In other words, what we can see in our imagination today we may experience in life tomorrow. He also said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." He knew that we humans are limited by how much we can learn, but we are never limited by how much we can imagine.
I have come to realize that I am held back far more by my lack of imagination than by my circumstances. When I believe nothing can be done, I search for a way OUT of the difficulty when I OUGHT to be searching for solutions. How can I change anything when I'm looking for a way out? When I perceive my situation as impossible, I resign myself to that fate and give up.
But WHAT IF I were to look at it differently? WHAT IF I approached it in a different way? WHAT IF a creative answer could actually be found? I often settle for less when I should be asking myself powerful questions that begin with the words "what if. . ."
Some two hundred years ago a class of noisy boys in a German primary school was assigned a task to keep them busy. They were instructed to add up all the numbers from 1 to 100. The children settled down, scribbling busily on their slates -- all but one. This boy looked off into space for a few moments, then wrote something on his slate and turned it in. His was the only right answer. When the amazed teacher asked how he did it, he said he wondered if there might be some shortcut. He went on to say, "I found one: 100 plus one is 101; 99 plus two is 101; 98 plus three is 101, and, if I continued the series all the way to 51 plus 50, I have 101 fifty times, which is 5,050."
The teacher decided then that this child needed special tutoring. The boy was Karl Friedrich Gauss, and he became a great mathematician of the 19th century.
Gauss solved his problem when he asked himself the question, "What if there is a shortcut?" Two of the most powerful words I know are "what if."
The solution to my problem, the way through a dilemma or the beginning of that next creative change in my life almost always starts when I decide that I am NOT locked in. "What if" questions release my imagination so I can better see what was hidden.
Imagination is everything. And what if I were to use the words "what if" more often? I can only imagine what might happen.