The Next 30 Trips - Imagination (Issue #3)
Engage in the conversation with reality to explore the adjacent possible. It's advice for entrepreneurs, and it's advice for Alaska.
What is Imagination? 💭
Websters defines imagination as... just kidding. Like a more infamous word, imagination may be hard to put our finger on, but we know it when we see it. I think that imagination might be the single most important component of the development process for people working to effect change at large scale, through business, community organizing, politics, or art. But there's some things we need to keep in mind along the way.
Don't get lost in fantasy.
Entrepreneurs love to fantasize. We dream of the day when we'll land that big contract, build our team, raise that round, hit seven figures ARR, or sell our companies. Often times it's these fantasies - chasing the dream - that sustain us through the uneven, lean, early days.
But we can also get lost in the fantasy. Over time, fantasizing about how things would be different if you just had this thing or that win, can start to replace the persistent hard work required to make our dreams a reality. If only we were in that accelerator, or moved to that startup hub, or had won that contract, or were born to different parents, or ... you get it.
Imagination is a little different. If you're imagining something, you're living as if it were real. Therefore, imagination differs from fantasy because it requires your dream be coupled to a plan. It's active and engaged, just like when kids are playing. They aren't sitting in the corner with their eyes shut; they're making up games, inventing characters, and creating whole worlds from their minds here in the real world. That's why, in many ways, active imagination is the opposite of a fantasy.
Some call this manifesting ✨, which it is! It can also be called empathy, putting yourself in the shoes of the situation, asking what it needs, and responding appropriately. As David Whyte puts it, you're engaging in the conversation with reality.
Exploring the adjacent possible.
This is important because this is how we can explore the adjacent possible - that place where things we're familiar with mix, overlap, and interact to create new ideas. I first learned about this in the book Where Good Ideas Come From and I have seen it in action many times. (Incidentally, this is also the book that disabused me of the notion of the solo inventor at a mercifully young age.)
The adjacent possible makes sense because it takes ideas that exist (therefore ones that are already compatible with, and validated by, our world) and push them one step further forward. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule from SpaceX are amazing, but they stand on the shoulders of (and are funded by) giants who worked on multi-stage liquid fueled rockets and capsules for generations. Heck, even landing them was a step forward for an existing notion. That doesn't take a single thing away from their accomplishments, rather it should simply inspire us to work with imagination in the same way. Take what has worked and move it forward.
When exploring the adjacent possible, of course we need our technical skills, but we also need our imagination. It's no good to just be technically proficient, you have to be able to apply those skills in a way that benefits the world through your work. Put another way, just because you can drive nails, it doesn't mean you can frame a house. Just because you can build a barge, doesn't mean you have the vision to transform it into a sea-based landing platform for rockets. It takes a completely different skillset to create a vision of how the world could be.
Keep imagination alive when things are hard 💪
It's all well and good to be creative, engaged, and have work feel like play when things are going well. Sometimes we're just in flow and everything lines up for us. Other times, things are hard. That's when it's good to remember advice from the author of Atomic Habits:
When I left SpaceX, I was desperate to be back home in Alaska, a place I love. I moved home and started a drone service business, flying around rural Alaska. It was tough sledding. I did a bit of couch surfing and ate groceries from a cooler in the back of my Jeep to keep costs low while I worked to get things going.
That business didn't work out, but I ended up pivoting it to The Launch Company. Aerospace design is something I know how to do, but I also found that my imagination was much more engaged with that business and, as a result, so was I.
It was about more than the business, though. It was about where it could lead. I could envision Alaska becoming a leader in aerospace. We have the needed pieces, we were just missing some wins. I realized how Launch Co. could provide some of those wins, step-by-step. That work is still on-going, of course, and it will be for a long time. But on the heels of our acquisition this past spring, our first aerospace focused conference track last week at Accelerate Alaska, and the first successful commercial orbital launch from Kodiak last night, it feels closer than ever.
You built what? You built it where?! 🚀🏔️
Extraordinary things happen in ordinary places.
Pictured above is The Shop. It's our Launch Co. worldwide headquarters (at least until we get the orbital HQ functional 😏), a 5,000 square foot warehouse in Anchorage, Alaska down on Ship Creek. We build hardware for aerospace companies and agencies all over the US inside our Shop. We've integrated hardware in here that's gone to work on space ports, tests sites, fueling rockets on the pad, and even flown to space! Next, we're working on things that'll go to the Moon and beyond.
Before we were here it was a super cool community space (Anchorage Community Works, RIP 🙏) and before that it had many other interesting lives, including as a location for raves and illicit grow spot.
The point is that you don't need a custom-built, brand new facility to take on an industry. When we moved over here from our coworking space down the road, it seemed like a huge step; from 100 sq. ft. to 5,000! But we could imagine what would come next. Despite some tough timing moving in February of 2020, we recovered and executed the plan we'd put together, taking on more hardware design and build projects. Now, it's full of hardware projects, test rigs, engineers, and technicians to help us scale to the next level.
Bring it home.
At Launch Co., we're living proof that we Alaskans can do things outside the norm. In most aspects, Alaskans are generally known for doing just that, but when it comes to our economy we're often stuck in memories of the past or paralyzed by a future that looks like a giant ❓.
Instead, we should be excited about the future. There are a lot of things stacked in our favor. We have a nascent but growing aerospace industry, a growing renewable energy market, more coastline than the rest of the United States combined making us a leader in ocean tech, and will likely be the first place to commercially fly heavy, cargo drones over the horizon to connect our rural communities.
It'll be messy. It'll probably be run out of coffee shops, coworking spaces, and old warehouses instead of gleaming, manicured office parks. But it'll be ours, if we can just picture it, imagine it real, and step towards it.
It's all closer than we think. And whether you're here with us, or working on the future from your own neck of the woods, remember that it just takes a little imagination for the ordinary around us to become extraordinary.