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Is imagination/creativity more valuable than knowledge?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” - Albert Einstein

It's very easy to compare creativity and knowledge in an abstract, metaphorical sense - but we know that our imagination is developed from the knowledge we gain in the experiences of our daily lives. So when it comes to a debate on whether we need to emphasize creativity or knowledge in education, society, etc. how can we say that one is more valuable than the other?

Are there any quantitative means to measure the value of creativity/knowledge? (e.g. statistics about creativity in the workplace)

  • MR T

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    Jun 6 2012: If you don't have knowledge then what do you have to be creative with?

    Knowledge is static and creativity is changing, change is needed for new things to happen but to have change there must first be something to change (knowledge).

    Creativity could be seen as a description of the quality in a person that drives the process of combining existing knowledge in a novel way.

    As both are essential for progressive change then perhaps both can be said to have equal value.
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    Jun 12 2012: Knowledge is simply a tool used by the imagination.
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    Jun 6 2012: I agree thouroughly with Einstien. Creativity/ imagination is priceless. Because think of it this way- no two people have the same imagination. Some people's imagination is but none, some people's imagination is vast. Everyone has different ideas, theories, fantasies. And without imagination there would be none of those things. Without creativity, we'd be nothing but boring, plain and bland. Because there'd be no inspiration, no spark to set alight good ideas and to get them out there.
    Without imagination, or creativity, this website probably wouldn't even exist.
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    Jun 13 2012: lets just keep in mind that imagination and creativity are two separate and distinct things
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    Jun 7 2012: This is like asking which is better: A good mother or a good wife.

    I would say both knowledge and imagination have their own peculiarities.
    Imagination creates a world of possibilities; but we access our world first by knowledge.
    Even the awareness of the power of the imagination comes by knowledge (as you have rightly pointed out).
    Sometimes the mind is enlightened when one gains access to the works and knowledge of dedicated scholars. The fusion of such discoveries then produces a fresh perspective.

    Both knowledge and creativity/imagination should be treasured. They are equally important.
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    Jun 6 2012: I believe that knowledge combined with creativity makes a magnificent combination.

    However, compared to one another, creativity is stronger.

    Knowledge serves as a slight basis for creativity.
    So, knowledge can be seen as a stepping stone, for a person to reach their level of creativity.
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    Jun 6 2012: I am reluctant to disagree with Einstein, but I think the answer to your question is relative (no pun). If the pilot of a fully- loaded 747 is incapacitated at 30,000 feet altitude and 650 knots airspeed, the need of the moment is not imagination. Imagination came into play when Boeing was brainstorming the design of a bigger airliner than had ever been built before. Back to the crisis at hand, we need someone with the knowledge to safely land this behemoth. Each trait has its place in the design, manufacture and operation of new products (and services). Which is more important?. . . . it's relative.
  • Jun 13 2012: First, creativity needs background in knowledge. Creativity or innovation, if verified as useful, then becomes new knowledge, Therefore, it is a little difficult to "compare" these two because they are inter-dependent and one contribute, at least partially, to the other. . Moreover, the term "valuable" has to be further classified as whether it means monetary value, scientific or entertainment value or simply the value to give human health, comfort or convenience. For example, an innovation which can be patented for commercial use would be tremendously valuable in the financial sense to the innovator, but may or may not be much beneficial to the society as a whole. On the other hand, creativity in art, music or literature will entertain" large number of people for generations. Another example, the use of wheelchair would be extremely valuable for the paralyzed person and his caretakers, but the inventor of it probably got no financial reward at all. Even Nobel Prize winners get very modest monetary reward unless the award recipients get commercial involvement. My academic adviser didn't get his Nobel prize until he was 92, thus even the honor and fame really didn't give him much enjoyment anyway. In other word, it is rather complicated and ambiguous to judge the "value" of such abstract concept as the creativity or knowledge.
  • Jun 8 2012: Einstein put great faith in imagination for a good reason, because it was a part of his own experience, I guess.
    I think, by 'imagination' he meant imaginative consciousness,which is a 'higher frequency ' state of consciousness.
    The mind has to become receptive to the depth of the imaginal field in order to access insight, it has to' tune in' to the right 'wavelength'.
    Almost all the great advances in science have come about not from logic or reason but from 'Eureka' moments - moments/flashes of insight.
    I believe that scientific and artistic insights both stem from imaginative consciousness.
    So, yes, imagination is more important or to be more precise, it is prior to knowledge, it is where knowledge came from.
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    Jun 12 2012: Knowledge and Imagination work hand in hand, although we live in a society where imagination is neglected and the world revolves around one side of the brain it may seem like knowledge is of more importance when in reality people are missing the point...Our wonder, our curiosity, our Imagination (underline)..Is what drives us towards greatness. I would encourage you to watch Ken Robinsons talk on creativity ("Ken Robinson says school kills creativity").
  • Dan F

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    Jun 10 2012: Hi Jun Park,

    A valuable question to contemplate. Here are some thoughts.

    There is discipline in knowledge that is not necessarily found in creativity (imagination). Follow this reasoning. Most fields of knowledge involves learning the basics and with a progression into more challenging subject matter. A student takes basic biology before they take genetics and genetics is fundamental to appreciating natural history, embryology, biological evolution, etc.

    As a student expands his/her knowledge to what is accepted to be factual, and sound theory that process limits one's creativity. The reason is that established facts influence thought. It precludes the more intelligent among us from doing things and saying things that can cost us our credibility and ethical standing. It is not that someone can not challenge established facts or theories, but we are not entitled to our own "facts" or redefinition of words, to be legitimately creative. The burden is on the creative individual to cause a reconsideration of what has been established as a reflection of what is understood to be true.

    Is there any time for creativity when spending considerable money trying to learn and comprehend basic knowledge? I understand there are exceptionally bright students whom can justify and influence experts (teachers, etc) with their creative thought, but most student must struggle just to ace a class - meaning to fully understand just the basics.

    Artistic studies and the social science are less confining areas of knowledge, but even here the discipline involved in learning the subject matter has considerable value.

    This is why global warming is so hard to sell to the general public by experts. It demands a certain amount of knowledge to appreciate why it deserve serious consideration. There are a number of glib creative promoters expounding with considerable influence why it is a hoax to the less informed public.

    History is made and changed by the truly creative thinkers.
    • Jun 12 2012: Creativity/imagination comes at least partially from knowledge. On the other hand, imagination or "creativity" would not be recognized as new knowledge without being verified as realistic by scientific verification. The claim of "universally agreed "global warming had been QUESTIONED by a statement signed by more than thousands of scientists years ago. You can call all of them less informed public as you wish, but the jury is still out as far as I am concerned. In summary, "creativity" will not be recognized as new knowledge until it is scientifically verified. Until then, it would still stay as "imagination"..
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    Jun 9 2012: I think that only creativity without knowledge is harder way to the peak.
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    Jun 6 2012: For reference, Data, Information & Knowledge

    Imagination can lead us to axioms, and if these axioms are useful for our life, then it could be considered as another way to seek for knowledge, but in essence, better imagining is not merely just imagining without thinking. It's imagining within the structure of logical thinking (thought experiment).

    We need empirical experience to construct logical structure while imagining, just the same as finding knowledge through information related to a specific data.

    The different is, when we build scenarios within imagination, by transferring any of logical structures on real life to the world of imagination and maintain those logical structures as long as possible, then it's similar to creating miniature of reality. This could help us getting knowledge and increase its accuracy better, since we can move 3 dimensional image within imagination.

    But, when we couldn't have clear imagination and we couldn't create clear scenarios by imagining, then seek for the knowledge through another way outside imagining is preferable.

    Knowledge that came out from imagination could be considered equal to knowledge that came out outside imagination, as long as it's an axiom.

    Less or more ...
  • Jun 6 2012: I totally agree with the idea of Einstein. Human is not very different from animal. Animal can learn too -but I am not sure if 'knowledge' is the right word to use here - but it is certain that those two terms can be pronounced together most of the time. Animals can learn but they have no imagination. Except the physical abilities - which in my opinion the animal have got more than us - this is the only thing that differs us from them. If conscious is knowledge + imagination then = it is definitely the only thing!
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    Jun 6 2012: Here is a recent TED conversation on this:

    One of the problems with the cultural disposition always to try to rank things is that it imposes a structure in which we simply assume everything can be ranked meaningfully in this way. Economics has a very different way of judging the value of things, which starts from the proposition that we should ask questions of value "at the margin." Specifically, if you have an environment in which the focus is entirely on knowledge to the exclusion of imagination, it is valuable to build more exercise of imagination into the mix. If you have an environment that is only about imagination without bringing any knowledge into the exercise other than what people happen to know already, increasing the amount of knowledge-material probably makes sense.
    Using a more mundane example, if you have five pairs of blue jeans and are deciding whether to get another pair of blue or to add a black pair, you might decide to add black. If you have five pairs of black, you might decide to add blue. Neither black not blue is necessarily better, or rather even if in buying your first pair you might prefer blue to black, once you have lots of blue, it might make sense to add black.
    The principle of asking such questions 'at the margin," or in relation to what the status quo looks like, is one of the great contributions of economic thinking to analytical thought.