A new study published at Harvard University claims that people who read a lot of fiction (especially stories that take readers inside people's lives and minds) are known to have stronger social skills than nonfiction readers or nonreaders. Fiction books (and I presume movies) exercise a part of the brain involved in empathy and imagination. 

When James Webb Young published A Technique for Producing Ideas in 1939, he suggested that the first step for producing many good new ideas is to fill your head with old ideas. 

However, the ideas you fill your head with don't really have to be old. Science fiction movies are "the art of the possible." Using camera tricks and computer graphics allows studios to generate things that defy nature, physics, and everything we know. Here is a thought: science fiction defies what we know today. They show what can become reality tomorrow. 

In the first episode of Start Trek (aired in 1966), Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer, has a small wireless communications device in her ear, which she uses to speak to the others. Little did the creators of Star Trek know that 33 years later, in 1999, the Bluetooth specifications will arrive, and such devices will become reality. 

Even though the first submarine was built in 1620, Jules Verne's Nautilus submarine appeared in his book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870 inspired the modern submarines. 

Science Fiction is not grounded in what we know today, but it is a great source to what can be real tomorrow. When I facilitate workshops, one of my favorite activities is to describe to a group of engineers something I saw in a science fiction movie, and ask them how would they implement it if they needed to. You'll be surprised how many time they had an answer...

Watch science fiction movies, and read science fiction books. Don't bother trying to figure out how everything was done. It wasn't. It's just a movie, remember? But ask yourself--what if that existed?

Think of the hoverboard in Back to the Future. The flip phone and the wireless ear-piece in Star Trek, and so many things that started in science fiction movies and became reality because someone figured out how to make them. 

Perhaps the strength of science fiction movies is how real they make everything feel. You can envision yourself using the technology shown there. Think of Science Fiction movies as seeing how a prototype works.

The next step is to actually build it. 

Published on: Mar 9, 2016
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.