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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-03-19
- Reviewer: Staff
Journalist and pop-science phenom Lehrer (How We Decide) muses on the development of "our most important mental talent: the ability to imagine what has never existed." Arguing that "the standard definition of creativity is completely wrong," he reveals the ways in which innovative thinking is a profusion of processes rather than a singular element of cognition. Stories of groundbreaking artists, ideas, and inventions are interwoven with discoveries from the forefront of modern neuroscience to support the notion that moments of great insight are always preceded by long slogs of hard work. The science offers new ways to understand the various methods humans have used to prepare their minds when confronted by seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Conditions that we've long understood to enhance creativity (e.g., urban mingling, drug consumption, travel), but whose mechanisms escaped us, are explored in detail, on both the individual and group level. Other seldom-acknowledged elements come into play, too, like possessing an amateur's ignorance, letting go of the fear of failure, or the benefits of a "drowsy brain." Along the way Lehrer also debunks the myth of brainstorming, and demonstraties how companies like 3M and Pixar have become so successful. He concludes with a discussion of several "meta-idea"—such as intellectual property, education, and a willingness to take risks—which Lehrer deems crucial to fostering a culture of imaginative innovation. (Mar. 19)BookPage Reviews
The science of creativity
Although Jonah Lehrer discusses brain functions and their connections to different forms of creativity in Imagine: How Creativity Works, the real delights and revelations here are his stories of individuals, companies and cities that fostered new ways of looking at problems and new ways of solving them.
Creativitywhether it manifests itself as a Bob Dylan song, a W.H. Auden poem or a new kind of mopis almost always more than the torrential activity of an isolated mind. Dylan spun songs out of older forms, literary conventions and melodies, but with such particularity of insight that he made them his own. Auden found inspiration in New York City nightlife and the stamina to keep writing through massive consumption of caffeine, nicotine and Benzedrine. Procter and Gambles Swiffer mop, which replaced a permanent mop head with a disposable one, took the company and an outside research team three years to conceive and develop.
Companies known for their innovations have contrived ways to cross-pollinate their employees best ideas, Lehrer observes. 3M has an annual Tech Forum at which all the companys scientists present their latest research. When Steve Jobs took over Pixar, he consolidated everything under one roof and then shifted the meeting rooms, cafeteria, coffee shop and even the restrooms to the center of the buildingall this to ensure that everyone, regardless of his or her job, would at least bump into everyone else. Theres now even a Pixar University with a curriculum of 110 classesfrom juggling to comic improvisationthats open to all employees.
But the granddaddy of creativity, Lehrer asserts, is the big city, where one is awash in other ideas and cultures whether one wants to be or not. Accommodating these irritating but provocative influences is the grain of sand that produces a pearl. Once people started living in dense clumps, Lehrer continues, they created a kind of settlement capable of reinventing itself, so a city founded on the fur trade could one day give birth to Wall Street, and an island in the Seine chosen for its military advantages might eventually become a place full of avant-garde artists.
This is not a how-to book, and it is obvious that there is no single wellspring of creativity equally accessible to and nourishing for all. But theres plenty here to think aboutwhich is a good place for creativity to start.