Why Innovation Struggles: The triumph of explication over imagination

The ancient Oxford College All Souls, founded in 1438, has since 1932 been giving a one word exam as part of a two day battery of admissions tests.  Imagine what it is like to look at the page, see the word "charity" and have to draw upon your knowledge and wit to craft a story worthy to be read by an Oxford don.

Sadly, they have dropped this one word exam because as the New York Times reports, Sir John Vickers, the college warden (don't you love the British titles!, "warden" of a college), reports that the exam does not provide "insight into the merits of the candidates".

I am discouraged by this development because as a former educator and now consultant I have seen what I think is the inexorable march of explication snuffing out imagination.  The byproduct of the media-rich, always-on, 10 hours and 45 minutes a day media generation is the triumph of the empirical to the creative; the long march of the tangible trampling the fanciful, and worst of all the evisceration of the generations ability to do "blue water thinking" in which one needs to have not only the intellectual horsepower but also the emotional compass to create where there are no limits to what can be created.

Put another way, the lack of ability to draw on a completely blank slate means that we are more likely to create a generation of people who cannot reason from first principles; who cannot imagine the radically new and by extension are unlikely to solve some of our knottiest problems. What do you think?  Are we losing our ability to navigate in the open ocean of thought?

Recent or relevant posts and links:

Why Amazon Will Innovate Past Kindle and Microsoft's Bing Will Never Win

Blue Water Thinking: Why deep innovation is so hard