Leaders: Don’t Fail Because You Fail to Reimagine

by Alli Polin on September 1, 2015

leaders cultivate the ability to reimagine

When I picked up the phone, I heard the strain in her voice.

“I hate to ask, can you watch Matt? It’s my back. The PT is going to squeeze me in if I can get there in 20 minutes.”

Matt is her two-year-old son; she would take her newborn with her to the appointment. No client calls scheduled until the afternoon, I quickly agreed.

When Matt came in my house, he knew to look for the good stuff. He walked over to our snack bin to make a selection and asked for juice. Next stop? Toys.

My son is on the edge of outgrowing his matchbox cars, so we have them all packed away in drawers, out of sight, but still within reach for times like these. I opened the bin and Matt looked like he had gone to heaven. Cars, airplanes, trucks and trains all to himself.

On the top of the pile was a portable car track that my son once enjoyed, but had not seen the light in well over a year. I pulled it out for Matt and tried to put it together. All it required were flaps jammed into slots, but I couldn’t figure it out. Matt didn’t care; he played with it anyway.

Broken track became opportunities to fly.

Missing loops transformed into jumps.

Out of service elevator mutated into a storage facility.

Deadly shark morphed into a car wash.

He played with abandon, and I watched with curiosity.

Matt didn’t throw the toy aside as junk because it wasn’t all hooked up as intended; he reimagined.

Matt didn’t get frustrated about the parts that weren’t working; he worked with them in new ways.

Matt didn’t give up trying to get it to work. He’d periodically move parts around to try and make never before seen connections.

Given that I’m an adult and wanted to get it working the way it should, true to the design, I decided to give the repair another go. Magically, this time I figured it out. Launcher led to loop, perfect.

He played with the new set up but even more interesting, he didn’t let go of his new vision. It had become something entirely new – more than the original design and more than broken pieces filled in with visions of what could be. He reimagined. 

Kids use their imagination all the time. My friend’s son, when looking at the shark garage, he saw something that was invisible to my adult eye. To him, it was larger than life. He wasn’t sitting on the floor of my living room zooming cars; he was in another world where imagination reigned. The fact that the toy didn’t work was an opportunity to reimagine. I told him it was one thing, and he created another, brilliant. 

The greatest failure is giving up at the first sign of challenge instead of cultivating the ability to reimagine. It’s not a showstopper if your circumstances don’t make things easy, or every time you try, you fail in a new way. The only failure is never stopping to reimagine and set a new course. Learn from where you’ve been and take it with you where you’re going.


What is reimagination and how does it differ from imagination?

I turned to my favorite source for definitions, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary.

Imagine: to think of or create (something that is not real) in your mind

Reimagine: to imagine again or anew; especially : to form a new conception of

There are innovators who do not see beyond their big idea.

There are dreamers who give up when their vision has cracks.

There are idealists who can only picture one path.

If you are an innovator, dreamer or idealist, don’t stop with imagination… continue to reimagine and move beyond your original vision.

I’ve worked as a coach for months with people who never fully embraced what two-year-old Matt did in twenty minutes.

Broken is a time to reimagine.

Broken can be a gift. If the toy was set up correctly initially, there was one clear way to play with it. If I showed Matt cars jumping off the edge, he’d tell me “that’s not how it works” or “that’s not how you do it.” The broken toy still had potential that would have gone untapped if it was smooth going to start. 


Don’t give up on a fix.

He was happy playing with the toy as-is but when it was restored to the original design, he had more than the original design. Workarounds can inspire elegant solutions that would otherwise go undiscovered. Take two paths – 1) Use what you’ve got 2) Repair and restore.


Let your vision encompass AND and not only BUT.

When you use the word “but,” you shut down possibility. If you’re ready to capitalize on what’s present and build, adopt “and” thinking. Matt started with a broken toy, reimagined, AND carried his new ideas with him even when whole again. He created something entirely new and you can too.

When was the last time you reimagined instead of moving on?

PS. If you’re feeling stuck and ready to reimagine your path forward, the eCourse Get Unstuck and Choose to Move is for you. 

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Chan September 1, 2015 at 7:18 am

Hey Alli!

How are you? Came across this on Triberr and too good not to share!

I totally agree with this “When things don’t go your way, it’s a time to reimagine, not give up.”

Reminds me of something that happened to me recently. When thing doesn’t go your way, take a step back and think what went wrong. Learn from it and stand back up.

Don’t ever give up. Seriously! Life is just too good to ‘waste’ it 🙂


Alli Polin September 1, 2015 at 8:35 am

Hey there, Reginald! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

I have to admit, I’m curious about what happened to you and happy to hear that instead of letting it become a setback, you reimagined. I’m all for taking a step back because that time is critical to moving forward again with purpose instead of wildly trying to figure out what’ next.

Appreciate your words here. Thanks 🙂


John Bennett September 1, 2015 at 10:15 am

The curiosity and creativity of youngsters is absolutely amazing. I remember a particular day when the family was at our house for a cookout – including our five grandchildren, who were probably 7 and younger at the time. They were playing on our patio, digging a hole with grandma’s gardening tools (something our daughters – their mothers – were not allowed to do). They came over to me, so very excited, saying ‘Papa, there’s a man trapped underground and we need to get him out.’ Turns out, the ‘man’ was a stone and Papa helped get ‘him’ out. The creative role-playing was incredible. They had a whole history for this ‘man.’

But then, the curiosity clicked in!!! ‘Papa, the dirt isn’t the same as other dirt we’ve played in… Why is it different?’ It was clay, put there intentionally to firm up the patio. We spent quite a while that afternoon exploring and addressing their curiosity. I’ve remembered it to this day as I know some of them at least have as well; the oldest recently graduated from high school!!!

To me, this curiosity and creativity needs to be nurtured, not squashed as so often happened and still happens in school. That’s why art, maker spaces, creative writing must be a focus in school, especially in the youngest grades! It must be encouraged at home and in the community centers!

As you said, reimagining is so superior to getting frustrated and giving up!!! The youngsters come by it naturally and we older citizens must retool our approach to bring it into our problem solving…


Alli Polin September 2, 2015 at 8:40 am

Love that story, John! A rock that needed immediate attention! Makes so much sense 🙂

It really is beautiful how children immerse themselves in imagination and when something doesn’t fit… the reimagine. I wonder when as adults we learned to give up so easily on possibility.

Problem solving has become something that’s usually not one and done. We live in a time of the bandaid and either we need to dig deeper for more creative solutions or count on doing it again and again.

Thanks so much for sharing your story!

~ Alli


Terri Klass September 1, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Outstanding post, Alli!

I love how you help us see the difference between imagine and reimagine. I never thought about how powerful reimagining could be. Of course children don’t put obstacles in their way when they play- they just do it. As adults we need to see the red flags that are stopping us.

I was having challenges with my marketing strategies and my daughter just wrote up a script for me and said- just call them. Her fearlessness serves her well in her career and mentored me to try a new approach.

Thanks Alli!


Alli Polin September 2, 2015 at 8:45 am

Oh my gosh! I can’t wait to hear how it goes with the script. Talk about reimagining your marketing! Perfect example of doing something totally out of your comfort zone to get unstuck.

PS. A friend of mine once made hundreds of cold calls for her (now thriving) executive coaching business. She said that initially each one was a challenge to get over her mental hurdle. Once she got into it, she found more flow and great success.

I wish you all the best!


Jon Mertz September 1, 2015 at 10:27 pm


It is interesting on how our skill for re-imagining fades as we age. Responsibility may dull our re-imagining how we can can a new, different path to get unstuck. We, at times, fail to realize it is our responsibility to re-imagine. Being fulfilled at what we do makes for happier families and neighbors. So we need to re-imagine and engage a more happy life!




Alli Polin September 2, 2015 at 8:47 am

Love your last sentence… reimagine and engage. It’s not enough to think about it but to do it!

Also, I’m reminded that reimagining does not mean ditching the past but blending our life experience into our future.

Thanks so much for adding your thoughts here!

~ Alli


LaRae Quy September 1, 2015 at 11:27 pm

Love your definition of reimagine: “Reimagine: to imagine again or anew.”

Reimagine requires that we experiment with what works, and what doesn’t. To start over without being deflected in our enthusiasm.


Alli Polin September 2, 2015 at 8:52 am

Great add, LaRae. Experimentation implies not only envisioning and doing something new but also the learning debrief. It’s a great way to think about change too. When a leap feels too big or too bold, try an interim experiment to understand where you’re heading and adjust course. Feels great to get into action too.

Thanks so much!


Karin Hurt September 2, 2015 at 12:20 am

So beautiful. I’ve been hanging around a company recently that’s full of folks who’ve reimagined their lives.. and are hanging out together making magic. Amazing potential is released when we can look through the disappointment and see that although the situation’s not perfect, it’s full of possibility.


Alli Polin September 2, 2015 at 8:54 am

Even just reading your comment, the energy of the people you’re describing sounds incredible and hits me. Perfection is an illusion but there’s always more possibility to call us forth.

Thanks for sharing!


Cynthia Bazin September 2, 2015 at 7:33 am

Another awesome post Alli! A great reminder for all of us to look at maybe things that have become to comfortable in our lives and how we need to reimagine. Thank you so much. I will be sharing!


Alli Polin September 2, 2015 at 8:55 am

Thanks a ton for your support and connection, Cindy! Grateful!


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