[Outlook]Imagination is the keyOn January 27, 1967, 40 years ago today, the Apollo 1 spacecraft caught fire during a training exercise. The astronauts, Vigil I. Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee could not escape from the cockpit and all three died.
Some critics said the accident was the result of the overheated space race with the Soviet Union. A hearing was held in Congress. During the last part of the hearing, an astronaut was summoned; the congressmen wanted to get confirmation from him that the U.S. administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration were obsessed with the competition with the Soviet Union, causing the disaster. But the astronaut said something unexpected.
He said that it was true that they were anxious because of the competition and running out of time, but that there was another reason for the accident. That was a lack of imagination, he said. Space program officials had imagined all types of emergencies that could occur in space and prepared for them, but nobody imagined that a problem could occur while the spacecraft was still on the launch pad, so they could not react to the fire, he concluded.
That’s right. How imaginative we are defines how well we can react to and survive certain situations or incidents. Today, imagination leads to the productivity and competitiveness of individuals, organizations and countries. Of course, for that imagination to work, it should be extraordinary enough to start from what others think impossible and work out the ways of making it happen.
Sheikh Mohammed, the leader of Dubai, has become a household name. He imagined a catastrophic situation in which the country had run out of oil, the resource that the country lives on.
In preparation for that disaster, he set a goal that other leaders of oil-exporting countries could not even think of. He announced that he would make Dubai’s economy totally independent of oil by 2011. There are four years left, and now the rate of Dubai’s reliance on oil is less than 5 percent.
The leader changed the framework of the country’s economy thoroughly into a better one. His imagination was so unique that he used a possible crisis as a good opportunity for advancement.
We may have forgotten, but Koreans have achieved that too. Last year, many problems erupted in the fields of politics and national security. But still, the value of our exports exceeded $300 billion, and that was the fruit of the seed that is the imagination of Koreans.
Major export items, such as semiconductors, cars, steel, ships and communication handsets, have made big leaps.
Who imagined 20 years ago that Korea would become the leading country in the semiconductor field? Who could imagine then that Korea would become one of the top countries in steel, vehicles and communications?
But political and economic leaders at that time had dreams and imagination, even though they had nothing in their hands. Their imagination and vision made us prosper to this extent.
Sadly, however, that kind of imagination is drying up among us these days. The lack of imagination is the core problem of our times.
The culprit for Korea’s poor imagination is politics. Politicians have no productive imaginations, but they are full of shallow tactics and tricks.
The most serious problem with the president is not his words but the fact that his words do not have tangible content. That is because he has not thought seriously about a vision for the country with imagination.
The president is not alone. Leading contenders for the presidency have already been involved in rows about the right and wrong of past incidents. What is more important is whether they are imaginative enough to create a better future, not what they did in the past. They should be able to draw up plans for our economy with extraordinary imagination.
From now on, the presidential hopefuls should compete with imagination. They should fight a battle of imagination.
That is where the future of the country resides.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong