How do you measure the imagination? How do you quantify an epiphany? In Jonah Lehrer's book, we go in search of the epiphany. Shattering the myth of creative 'types', Lehrer shows how new research is deepening our understanding of the human imagination.
The whole business of improv being a groupthink creativity machine is also way too general. Had Lehrer spent any time with the real masters of the art - Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams - his chapter would have looked a lot different. Individuals can be at least as creative as groups. There is no silver bullet, no yellow brick road. Lehrer has not discovered anything here.
The farther I read, the faster I read, because the content got to be repetitive and predictable - and less, shall we say - creative.
So it's not the best thing since sliced bread, but it is entertaining. There are lots of stories of artists and scientists. And it is fast paced.
A mixed bag is the best I can say.
This little book takes a quick look at all of these and more. It’s not a book for the scientist or the scholar but a book for the everyday person who wants to know a little more about creativity.
As an everyday person, I took away a lot from this book. Use blue if you want a more creative environment. A creative answer often comes after one has given up seeking a solution and it comes in a mad tumble of completeness. Working with others, building on ideas as a group, is a good way of enhancing creativity. Urban environments generate more creativity than rural ones. To encourage creativity one must encourage risk.
That’s a nice little list of new information that I took from a two hour read.
As you’d expect from something as fickle as creativity, those conditions vary widely and even contradict each other. A relaxed, very early morning type of mind can synthesize its way to innovation, but that flash of insight may be based on observations made when the mind was focused, and focus may be needed later to perfect or implement the breakthrough. Then again, focused concentration isn’t the only way to gather creativity stimulating information, simply wandering around in the world, seeing things, hearing music, or talking to people can be just as fruitful. Some companies, including Pixar, have tried to recreate the conditions of cities where people are crowded together and constantly bumping into each other, because doing so facilitates the exchange of ideas between departments and leads to better products. In Pixar’s case it was Steve Jobs, on hiatus from Apple, who insisted that it would be a good idea to have everyone in the company use the same central bathrooms and snack bar.
There’s a very interesting section on brainstorming that was used as the basis for an article in the New Yorker. In the classic brainstorming session no ideas are ever criticized, the thinking is that criticism would frighten away good ideas, but it turns out it’s more productive to discuss, scrutinize and even challenge any ideas put on the table. This discussion can refine, perfect or combine half formed suggestions, transforming them from weak notions to strong proposals.
The ideas presented in Imagine are available in other books, some of which cite the scientific literature they are based on which Jonah Lehrer does not, but Imagine is engaging and readable, and its anecdotal style makes abstract concepts about creativity and brain function easy to comprehend.
UPDATE JULY 2012: It recently came to light that Lehrer fabricated parts of the book and all books are being pulled from the shelves. This saddens me because as a reader I trusted the author, but now it makes me re-think everything. Take it for what it's worth.
Using a combination of research and real life examples, Lehrer explores various aspects of creativity. We examine issues such as Bob Dylan's writing process, the invention of Scotch tape, the best way to organize a work place, and how some schools stifle, while others foster, creativity.
Lehrer's writing style is entertaining and easy to understand. This is the perfect book for anyone interested in the science behind creativity.
I finally picked it back up and finished it.
It's hard to rate and review. On one hand it's well written and the ideas, for the most part, are sound. You could take out the section on Dylan and this book would still hold it's own in a bookstore filled with thoughts on creativity.
But it's too hard to ignore that Lehrer lied about the quotes and that the book was ultimately pulled by the publisher.
Honestly, if I had finished the book before the scandal was out I would probably give the book 4 or 5 stars. But I just can't do it. I gave the book 3 stars because it was better than "ok".
But I finished reading it and it's good! Take it all with a grain of salt, but you can assume that when he interviews experts himself, he's probably telling the truth because otherwise they would have called him on misquoting them months ago. I feel like it would be really good for a small business to own and make all their employees read, because it has a lot of ways of helping people create creativity. And he's fun to read. So even with the sneaky Bob Dylan quotes, it's good.
Book Review by Kate Robinson
As a creative writer, I am perennially fascinated by imagination and the science behind it. Jonah Lehrer, the best-selling pop-science author of How We Decide, tackled the creative process in this rambling and diverse narrative. That Lehrer dabbled in some creative maneuvers in this volume by fabricating Bob Dylan quotes made reading this volume even more enticing. It must satisfy something on the creative writing side, the side that as some writers like to say, tells lies for a living.
Despite the self-plagiarism that derailed Lehrer's career recently, his work is peppered with nuggets of valid information, if not wisdom. Readers and writers are keenly aware that the unconscious mind experiences fiction as reality, and that scenes portrayed in literature and art do not have to be real to provoke profound insights about life. The confabulated quotes cited in the flurry of articles about Lehrer’s misdeeds are insignificant taken in context to the entire scope of his work. Lehrer accomplished a good bit of legitimate research for Imagine, and he sheds light on the process of creativity in the straightforward, accessible language of “new media” journalism. We need interpreters of science like him. Sadly, there isn’t much hard science in this book, though there is certainly enough to keep a humanities major like myself busy navigating the byways of neuroscience.
Lehrer’s greatest contribution to the study of creativity is his assurance that we are all creative, and that we can all learn to harness our imaginations more efficiently. Whether we experiment with seventy versions of a musical phrase like Beethoven, or produce only a handful of plodding revisions in an academic science paper or a short story, we all share the ability to focus upon and solve creative problems. As Lehrer points out, the extremes of the creative process – the transcendent generation phase coupled with the more attentive revision stage of the creative process - are somewhat like the vacillation between mania and depression in bipolar disorder. We must learn to navigate these changes of mental and emotional direction in order to harness our creative perceptions, surrendering logic and focus to find imaginative prowess.
There are many dimensions to the creative process, and Lehrer aptly previews many different types of creative problems that benefitted from various forms of creative intervention: a jaded musician seeking a new groove (Dylan), researchers seeking new ways to mop floors (Proctor and Gamble), a surfer grooving in the pipeline (Clay Marzo), a production team making a computer animated film (Pixar), and many other situations.
In conclusion, Lehrer points out that “the creative process begins with the brain, that fleshy source of possibility . . . but the brain is only the beginning. . . There was nothing. Now there is something. It’s almost like magic.” In this respect, Lehrer’s study of creativity is somewhat short on science, but certainly long enough on inspiration to make Imagination worth reading. We need science and we need the stuff of psycho-spiritual inquiry. As far as creativity goes, perhaps pondering the process from these two diverse viewpoints may be the wisest course of all.