On Imagination, Tour Cancellations and Failure
“Imagination is a kind of mental time-travel” – Thomas Suddendorf, University of Queensland
To quote the famous philosopher, Yogi Berra, “It is deja vu all over again”. For the second holiday season in a row, the second new year, we are back to lockdowns, restrictions, hospitals struggling to provide services and a future that feels bleak.
When things start feeling grim, I try imagining alternatives. No wonder that while looking for something interesting to read, my eyes locked in on an essay, Homos Imaginatus. The article explained that the one mental capacity that might truly separate us from other species, “…isn’t exactly a skill at all, but more a quality of mind. We should perhaps have called ourselves instead Homo imaginatus: it could be imagination that makes us human. The more we understand about the minds of other animals, and the more we try (and fail) to build machines that can ‘think’ like us, the clearer it becomes that imagination is a candidate for our most valuable and most distinctive attribute.”
Over the holidays a friend called and we chatted about having to cancel so many tours over the last 18 months.
“You must be disheartened” he said. “Why”, I asked.
“With what is going on, delaying and cancelling trips you have been planning for so long.”
“No, I just move on. I imagine that sooner or later better times are coming.”
Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the article on imagination explained my instinctive reaction, “A mind that can conceive of possibilities beyond its own experience can prepare for the unexpected; better to over anticipate than to be surprised.” As I write this, our company has just cancelled yet another trip. “The task of a mind,” wrote the French poet Paul Valéry, “is to produce the future.” And so, we plan. And the future is ours to imagine and create.
That is not to say that I don’t feel anything when we cancel a tour. The Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, who I quoted in the final blog of the inaugural South American Epic wrote: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
But cancelling a tour is also not a failure. Samuel West, the curator of the Museum of Failure, is quoted in a CBC Ideas program on failure, “... it’s not so horrible to fail if you’re failing because you’re trying something new. I think a lot of it is because we want something genuine. We want something uncurated,” he said. “And, because failure is something that most people and most companies usually hide, putting failure up on a pedestal and shining a spotlight on it offers that sense of ‘this is real.’”
There you have it. We at TDA imagine, then plan, then execute the plan. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes it ‘fails’ because we forget to take something into account, sometimes because of geopolitics and sometimes because of externalities beyond anyone’s control, like, say, a pandemic. It is all ‘uncurated and very real’.
On our inaugural South American cycling adventure, a participant on the tour asked me:
“Henry, do you know why your company is successful pulling off these crazy bicycle expeditions one after another when other companies don’t even attempt them?”
“No”, I responded
“Because you are not afraid to fail.”
Well, he was wrong. It is because failure is never a failure. Failure is just another word. To quote Samuel Becket, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”. As the writer of Homos Imaginatus, Philip Ball, writes, “Imagination is the essence of humankind. It’s what our brains do, and in large part it may be what they are for.” We at TDA use our imagination a lot and I hope that during these challenging times, you too can imagine a better future.
So stay tuned for our future tours. Those planned for 2022 and beyond can be found on our calendar page.