Imagine : how creativity works

by Jonah Lehrer

Paper Book, 2012




Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.


"New York Times"-bestselling author Lehrer ("How We Decide") introduces readers to musicians, graphic artists, poets, and bartenders to show how they can use science to be more imaginative and make their cities, their companies, and their culture more creative.

Media reviews

The goal of “Imagine,” according to its subtitle, is to tell us “how creativity works” — to offer a scientific, mechanistic account of a seemingly ineffable phenomenon. And what distinguishes the scientific from other modes of thinking is not its technology, level of detail or even subject matter, but its ability to discover reliable cause-and-effect relationships. The clarity of physics and chemistry is rare in social science, but this is no license for presenting interesting speculations as settled truths. The best way to think about “Imagine” is as a collection of interesting stories and studies to ponder and research further. Use it as a source of inspiration, but make your own careful choices about whether to believe what it says about the science of creativity.

User reviews

LibraryThing member DavidWineberg
The writing style is fast paced; it's an easy read. Unfortunately, it's also not a challenging read. And worse, it becomes annoying. I got annoyed at the sweeping general statements like the number of patents awarded in New York City being higher than elsewhere, showing the creativity level of cities to be so much higher than towns or countryside. The simple (unstated) fact is IBM gets almost as many patents as pretty much everyone else combined every year. And IBM is everywhere. However, its patent attorneys are in New York, so guess where the patents get filed? It's not that New Yorkers are madly patenting everything in sight; it's that the corporate lawyers take over from the scientists in California and Texas and upstate New York. Furthermore, the business of the density of cities being such a boost to creativity is totally bogus. If it were true, then Mexico City would be a hotbed. Djakarta would be a positive blur, and Gaza would be paradise. But the simple fact is, it's New York. New York is the most livable, most highly functioning, productive - and yes creative - city in the world. And you cannot generalize from New York. It's unique.
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.
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LibraryThing member debnance
What is creativity? What makes people more or less creative? What brain processes are linked with creativity? How can we bring more creativity into the world?

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.
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LibraryThing member Jaylia3
Imagine is not a how-to book--it’s an entertaining, research backed exploration of creativity with fascinating anecdotes whose topics range from how Bob Dylan writes songs to how masking tape was invented—but reading it sent my mind into an idea-generating frenzy, and it’s filled with information about what environments and states of mind are most conducive to inspiration.

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.
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LibraryThing member lincics
Offers intriguing insights into the psychology of creativity based on an exploration of academic research and case studies of innovative individuals and companies, including Bob Dylan, Milton Glaser, David Byrne, 3M and Pixar. Lehrer succeeds in bringing together a wide assortment of information from disparate sources into a cohesive and easily comprehensible narrative. The book stops short of offering a formula for generating creativity, but provides evidence-based direction for those who seek to foster creative thinking in themselves and others. While not everyone may agree with some of his generalizations, he does a great service by bringing together evidence from hard-core research and illustrative examples that make the concepts he discusses accessible to a general audience.… (more)
LibraryThing member Brown
What would have been an outstanding book was damaged by the author's occasional use of language that is far below the dignity of most of his audience. This is a freshman writing error by someone who knows better.
LibraryThing member davidloertscher
There is a new genre of informative writing where the author introduces us to a fascinating person in various professions and then tours us through some research to draw a concluding. This is a different style than if we were introduced to a concept and then given illustrations from the lives of people. It grabs the attention through storytelling and then teaches us. Lehrer introduces us to creativity through genius creative minds and then tours us through neuroscience to discover ways we can become more creative or at least recognize the creativity in our own lives. You will be introduced to the front part of the brain where creativity happens and will learn how various people use and stimulate this part of the brain. This is not a how to teach creativity book and one recognizes that much more research will clarify and perhaps modify what Lehrer has to say, but it is an important book for everyone interested in how creativity happens; and, it is just a plain good and interesting read. Much could happen in education if we really understood creativity better. Righ now, we can unleash creativity by encouraging kids to create, curate, picture, play, imagine, and try to allow them to be as creative as possible without squashing so much out of them with the usual tactic of rubric-driven assignments. This book is a great mind changer and thus the recommendation to read it and think and change our own attitudes.… (more)
LibraryThing member buildingabookshelf
This is a fantastic book. It is the right mix of science and anecdotes to help you understand the concepts while keeping them interesting. It was a book that really made me think about the things that I've taken for granted in the past. Anyone who feels like they need to better understand creativity - in any form (not just art) - will find something useful in this book. And, if you are an aspiring writer, I think you would especially get something out of the book. Highly recommend.… (more)
LibraryThing member mawls
Full of anecdotal evidence, this book presents the reader with a variety of ways to think about creativity and what makes a person creative. If you're interested in neuroscience, parts of the book explain the science behind creative people and works. If you're interested in how people come up with good ideas, there are a lot of examples here as well.

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.
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LibraryThing member anawkwardreader
I liked this before I found out he made stuff up.
LibraryThing member akmargie
Facinating read about the creative process and how certain strategies can hinder or help creativity. I found the research about moments of discovery most interesting. At times the anecdotes that were used to illustrate a point we slightly redunant or not as interesting as the research. (Okay, I'm not a Dylan fan, sue me.) But it raised good questions about what it means to be creative and the importance of fostering creativity in our corporate climate today.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jessica_Olin
Despite the issues with this book (truth of his anecdotes and related issues), it was a thought provoking read. Glad I read it.
LibraryThing member Darcia
This is a fascinating look at how creativity works within our brains. Lehrer argues that there are no 'creative types'. Each of us, in the right circumstances, can be creative in our own way.

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.
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LibraryThing member wbc3
This book attempts to look at the creative process. For me, I read this largely through the prism of what I and my company should do to foster creativity in our workplace. Lehrer looks at creativity through individual examples, like Bob Dylan, as well as the latest in neuroscience and psychology to try and understand the creative process. One of the big takeaways for me is the importance of allowing the brain time to wander. This is related to the phenomenon of having great ideas in the shower. As the author himself would probably agree, I need to let the ideas in the book percolate a bit before deciding what to do with them. I would recommend this book to anyone involved in work that requires creativity and who is willing to think about the best way to maximize creativity. Arguably, pretty much everyone and job would be well served by more creativity!… (more)
LibraryThing member kbondelli
I read this before the revelation that Lehrer made up and falsified a number of things in the book. While upon original reading I would have given it a high rating, this revelation leads me to give it the lowest possible rating.
LibraryThing member damienfranco
I finally finished the book. I had added it to my Amazon wish list when it first came out. Then I ordered it when Amazon showed me it was on sale. Halfway through the book was when the scandal broke out about the Dylan quotes and I shelved the book.

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".
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LibraryThing member AmberTheHuman
So I heard the Fresh Air interview of this author. And he talked about improv, which I lurv, and so I said to myself, read this book! But the hold line was super long at the Los Angeles library, so I waited. I was like 63rd or some such. And then the call comes in and the book is mine! So I pick it up and then go get a pedicure, and start reading while there. I'm in the first chapter, the one about Bob Dylan, when I leave, and I get in the car - and now NPR is talking about the whole scandal, and how he's resigned, and the e-book is being pulled, and you can get a refund and I was like - REALLY?! I JUST GOT THIS!

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.
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LibraryThing member heike6
We understand creativity, but it is complex. Sometimes you need to relax and be open to new connections, and other times you need to hunker down and put in hard work. Having the right social atmosphere helps exponentially. Brainstorming doesn't work and criticism does. Sharing information is essential: ideas build off of one another. Some parts of the book read slower than others, but I'm glad I read it.… (more)
LibraryThing member JagRandhawa
Creativity is one the hardest subject to analyze and Jonah Lehrer did a good job of trying to make sense of where the creative ideas come from and how to foster creativity in your own thinking. That said, I don’t think I am any more creative after reading the book. May be I need to read it again.
LibraryThing member DeanClark
How imagination works. Quite interesting. Refutes some things I learned in school.
LibraryThing member KateRobinson
Jonah Lehrer. Imagine: How Creativity Works. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

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.
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LibraryThing member wishanem
I wish this book has examined more how an individual can foster creativity, and focused less on how businesses can encourage creativity in their employees. Other than focusing too much on corporate activities which I found uninteresting, I liked the book quite a bit.
LibraryThing member Pickiej
I liked it until I read that he had made up quotes from Bob Dylan and subsequently resigned from The New Yorker because of it. It makes me question much of the book.
LibraryThing member KamGeb
Interesting book ways creativity is increased in cities and companies. There were some really interesting point. In addition, there were some interesting tidbits about creativity such as stories about how Pixar works and about YoYo Ma. However, the book did drag in places. I think it might have been better if it were a bit shorter.… (more)
LibraryThing member larryerick
This book never excited me the way Lehrer's How We Decide did. It rarely was as concise or as powerful or as clear as the earlier book. On occasion, I felt he came to questionable conclusions on issues, primarily because I found it very easy to come up with alternative explanations for his findings. Moreover, I would change the subtitle from "How Creativity Works" to "How to Promote Innovation and Facilitate Problem-Solving", but maybe that's just my slant on what "creativity" means. Nevertheless, there are sections, especially during the later half of the book, that are well worth reading. Serious educators should read "The Shakespeare Paradox". For instance, he points out how American teachers show a preference for teaching students with less creative characteristics, because those with traits most closely aligned with creative thought were too hard to teach and under performed on standardized tests. He also points out how well we encourage talent in sports, but don't apply the same system for identifying and encouraging engineers or other non-sports talent.… (more)
LibraryThing member whatsmacksaid
"Imagine" was a hugely accessible and interesting read--as one of the blurbs on the cover says, Jonah Lehrer (for all his writerly faults) is both a scientist and a writer.


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