Thank You Sherlock Holmes

Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes once said this of Inspector Gregory: “See the value of imagination,” said Holmes to Doctor Watson, “It is the one quality which Gregory lacks. We imagined what might have happened, acted on the supposition, and find ourselves justified. Let us proceed.”

I lived this very moment yesterday in writing and researching my book on 96 hours of Abraham Lincoln. Upon reviewing some of my evidence, I found that a key story I had written may have been false, or at least wrongly cast by myself. But then I did two things.

First, I imagined what might have happened. In my mind I formulated a hypothesis, just as Holmes had done.

Then, second, I applied a type of analysis to my evidence that hadn't been used before in the telling of these 96 hours of Lincoln. With a combination of cross-referencing data and laying it over a visual sketch of the scene, the real picture became clear. It was like magic. My hypothesis was correct. The thing that I thought was false had an alternative. That alternative proved to be the truth, the thing that actually happened.

I only discovered this by doing what Holmes did–using imagination. The experience suggests the value of imagination in your leadership. You can't have a vision without imagination. Without imagination, the future becomes a series of goals. Goals are fine, to be sure, but they don't have the power of vision. And there will be a point when your followers need to know that a vision exists. Goals won't be enough.

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