Imagine: How Creativity Works

Imagine: How Creativity Works

3.8 48
by Jonah Lehrer

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Did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms? That brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea? That the color blue can help you double your creative output?

From the New York Times best-selling author of How We Decide comes a sparkling and revelatory look at the new science of creativity. Shattering the myth of muses,

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Did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms? That brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea? That the color blue can help you double your creative output?

From the New York Times best-selling author of How We Decide comes a sparkling and revelatory look at the new science of creativity. Shattering the myth of muses, higher powers, even creative “types,” Jonah Lehrer demonstrates that creativity is not a single gift possessed by the lucky few. It’s a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively.

Lehrer reveals the importance of embracing the rut, thinking like a child, daydreaming productively, and adopting an outsider’s perspective (travel helps). He unveils the optimal mix of old and new partners in any creative collaboration, and explains why criticism is essential to the process. Then he zooms out to show how we can make our neighborhoods more vibrant, our companies more productive, and our schools more effective.

You’ll learn about Bob Dylan’s writing habits and the drug addictions of poets. You’ll meet a Manhattan bartender who thinks like a chemist, and an autistic surfer who invented an entirely new surfing move. You’ll see why Elizabethan England experienced a creative explosion, and how Pixar’s office space is designed to spark the next big leap in animation.

Collapsing the layers separating the neuron from the finished symphony, Imagine reveals the deep inventiveness of the human mind, and its essential role in our increasingly complex world. 

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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
…Mr. Lehrer…proves an engaging tour guide to the mysteries of the imagination and the science of innovation. Like Malcolm Gladwell…and Joshua Foer…Mr. Lehrer takes scientific concepts and makes them accessible to the lay reader while dispensing practical insights that verge on self-improvement tips along the way…Much as he did in his earlier books…Mr. Lehrer shows how adept he is at teasing out the social and economic implications of scientific theories while commuting easily among the realms of science, business and art.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
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)
From the Publisher

"Lehrer smoothly and engagingly blends scientific findings with stories about creative breakthroughs. IMAGINE is just plain fun to read, and the author’s neat prose dishes out valuable information."
— Science Magazine

"In IMAGINE, author Jonah Lehrer weaves all of these people, places, and things into a brilliant narrative about — well, simply put — brilliance.... IMAGINE, although intricate and detailed, is a comfortable read, a trip down the rabbit hole of the human mind's most enthralling success, the tiny spark of electricity demonstrated on a medical diagnostic machine that can change the world or just the way you read a book, enjoy a cocktail, or mop your floor."
—Philadelphia Inquirer

"Fascinating...clear and engaging"
—Financial Times

"Illuminating. . . . An engaging guide to the mysteries of the imagination and the science of innovation. With these suggestions, his book implies, you too might be able to maximize your creative output."
—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"Bob Dylan. W.H. Auden. The man who invented Post-it Notes. The people who work at Pixar. If only we all were as creative as those writers and innovators. As it turns out, we are.That’s just one of many messages in IMAGINE: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer’s terrific study of humans’ 'ability to imagine what never existed.'"
—Houston Chronicle

"Jonah Lehrer—who, in my opinion, has done more for the popular understanding of psychology and neuroscience than any other writer working today. . . what makes IMAGINE outstanding is that the book itself is an epitome of an increasingly important form of creativity—the ability to pull together perspectives, insights, and bits of information into a mashup narrative framework that illuminates a subject in an entirely new way."

"In IMAGINE, journalist Jonah Lehrer lays bare the magic trick. With the help of elegant experiments, mind-aching riddles and unlikely characters, he lets us peer inside our heads and see for ourselves what's going on when our best ideas come to us....IMAGINE should appeal to everyone, not just because of Lehrer's compelling writing style but also because it puts paid to the idea that creativity is a gift enjoyed only by the lucky few. We can all be more creative, we just need to know how. This book will show you."
—New Scientist

"Drawing from a wide array of scientific and sociological research—and everything from the poetry of W.H. Auden to the films of Pixar—he makes a convincing case that innovation cannot only be studied and measured, but also nurtured and encouraged. . . . This is an inspiring and engaging book that reveals creativity as less a sign of rare genius than a natural human potential."
—The Economist

"Not many writers can make plausible links among musicians Bob Dylan, Yo-Yo Ma and David Byrne, animators at Pixar, neuroscientists at MIT, an amateur bartender in New York, entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and Israeli army reservists. Not many reporters do research about an expert surfer who has Asperger’s, information theorists, industrial psychologists and artists. But Jonah Lehrer is such a writer-reporter, who weaves compelling and surprising connections based on detailed investigation and deep understanding. He says that working memory is an essential tool of the imagination, and his book is an excellent example of how a dynamic storehouse of captivating information feeds creative thinking and writing....IMAGINE doesn’t offer a prescription for how we are to become more imaginative, but it does emphasize some key ingredients of a creative culture: taking education seriously, increasing possibilities for human mixing and cultivating a willingness to take risks. Lehrer practices what he preaches, showing an appetite for learning, a determined effort to cross fields and disciplines, and a delight in exploring new possibilities. Reading his book exercises the imagination; the rest is up to us."
—Washington Post

"The author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist argues his case using examples ranging from the songs of Bob Dylan to the invention of the Swiffer, adding practical tips (the color blue stimulates imagination; brainstorming meetings don’t work) for better right-brain thinking."

"IMAGINE argues that modern science allows us to identify and harness the many different thought processes from which creativity emerges. The book’s strength lies in specific examples – detailed stories about 3M, Pixar, Bob Dylan and Don Lee, the computer programmer who became a master mixer of quirky cocktails. These insightful tales make IMAGINE well worth the read."
—Scientific American

"Who wouldn't love a book that validates what cubicle workers already know: Brainstorming meetings are a waste of time."
—USA Today

"Lehrer has initiated an intriguing and important dialogue on the science of creativity that isn't going to be finished anytime soon, and he gives his readers a solid foothold on the connection between neuroscience and creative expression."
—Portland Mercury

"With humor and energy, Lehrer draws unexpected lessons from organizations that are machines for creativity: 3M, Second City and Pixar. Telling good stories, moving gracefully from neurophysiology to sports, from the humanities to science, from business to poetry, he lets us eavesdrop on the creative processes of the obscure and the famous. He lets us look over the shoulders of Yo Yo Ma, Bob Dylan and Ruth Handler (who came up with Barbie) to see how others transform practice, frustration, insight and persistence into artistry and industry. IMAGINE is a wonderfully entertaining and useful book, exhilarating and instructive in equal parts."
—Cleveland Plain Dealer

"[an] upbeat, far-ranging study of how ideas emerge from brain impulses to become a work of art or a marketable new mop. Creativity begets creativity."
—SF Chronicle

"Flummoxed by an intractable problem? You probably just need to work harder, right? Actually, try taking a walk instead. Thanks to how we’re hardwired, insight tends to strike suddenly—after we’ve stopped looking. In this entertaining Gladwell-esque plunge into the science of creativity, Jonah Lehrer mingles with a wide cast of characters—inventors, educators, scientists, a Pixar cofounder, an autistic surfing savant—to deconstruct how we accomplish our great feats of imagination. Notable themes emerge: Failure is necessary. The more people you casually rub shoulders with—on and off the job—the more good ideas you’ll have. And societies that unduly restrict citizens’ ability to borrow from the ideas of others—see our broken patent system—do so at their peril."
—Mother Jones

"Jonah Lehrer’s new book confirms what his fans have known all along – that he knows more about science than a lot of scientists and more about writing than a lot of writers."
—Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Outliers

"Jonah Lehrer may be the most talented explainer of science that we've got. His engrossing investigation of creativity and its sources makes IMAGINE his best book yet."
—Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein

"Lehrer writes with verve, creating an informative, readable book that sparkles with ideas."

"IMAGINE is a great introduction for anyone curious about the nature and dynamics of creativity."

The Washington Post
Not many writers can make plausible links among musicians Bob Dylan, Yo-Yo Ma and David Byrne, animators at Pixar, neuroscientists at MIT, an amateur bartender in New York, entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and Israeli army reservists. Not many reporters do research about an expert surfer who has Asperger's, information theorists, industrial psychologists and artists. But Jonah Lehrer is such a writer-reporter, who weaves compelling and surprising connections based on detailed investigation and deep understanding. He says that working memory is an essential tool of the imagination, and his book is an excellent example of how a dynamic storehouse of captivating information feeds creative thinking and writing.
The Houston Chronicle
Jonah Lehrer's terrific study of humans' 'ability to imagine what never existed.
Library Journal
In his new book on creativity, Lehrer (How We Decide) presents captivating case studies of innovative minds, companies, and cities while tying in the latest in scientific research. He recounts the sometimes surprising origins of hugely successful inventions, brands, and ideas (e.g., the Swiffer mop, Barbie doll, Pixar animation) and reveals unexpected commonalities in the creative experiences (e.g., the color blue, distractedness, living abroad). The book combines individual case studies with broader psychology to provide new insights into creativity, much like Sheena Iyengar's The Art of Choosing. Many of Lehrer's insights are based on emerging scientific practices and are thus fresh and especially applicable to modern life. He emphasizes innovative companies and experimental approaches to education and includes historical factoids that reveal the backstories of everyday items. VERDICT Lehrer's findings can be used to inform the design of innovative programs or to structure a productive work environment at home or at the office. This book will appeal to educators, business administrators, and readers interested in applied psychology. [See Prepub Alert, 10/15/11.]—Ryan Nayler, Univ. of Toronto Lib., Ont.
Kirkus Reviews
Think you're not creative? Think again. The take-home message from this multifaceted inquiry is that creativity is hard-wired in the human brain and that we can enhance that quality in ourselves and in our society. Wired and Wall Street Journal contributor Lehrer (How We Decide, 2009, etc.) explores creativity from the inside out, looking at the mechanics of the brain and the effects of mental states from sadness to depression to dementia. He takes readers to laboratories where neuroscientists and psychologists are conducting controlled experiments on creativity, and he gets inside the talented minds of songwriter Bob Dylan, graphic artist Milton Glaser, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and engineer/inventor Arthur Fry. Lehrer examines how social interaction and collaboration promote creativity within a company, using Pixar studios as an example, and how these factors operate in communities, citing Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv as places that foster innovation by enabling people to interact, converse with strangers as well as colleagues and encounter new ideas. Shakespeare's London was just such a place, and the author presents factors that made it so, such as a critical density of population and an explosion of literacy. Lehrer also explores what he calls the outsider factor, showing how newcomers to a field or people working in tangential areas generate new approaches to old problems. America, he writes, can increase its collective creativity if it so chooses. The author points out that our schools already do so with athletes, encouraging and rewarding them from a young age, and the same steps can be taken to nourish our brightest, most imaginative children, as demonstrated by the success of schools like the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and San Diego's High Tech High. Further, Lehrer argues for policy changes to enhance our nation's creativity: immigration reform because immigrants account for a disproportionate number of patent applications in the United States, and patent reform, in order to reward and thereby promote innovation. Lehrer writes with verve, creating an informative, readable book that sparkles with ideas.

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Product Details

Canongate Books
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Procter and Gamble had a problem: it needed a new floor cleaner. In the 1980s, the company had pioneered one lucrative consumer product after another, from pull-up diapers to anti-dandruff shampoo. It had developed color-safe detergent and designed a quilted paper towel that could absorb 85 percent more liquid than other paper towels. These innovations weren’t lucky accidents: Procter and Gamble was deeply invested in research and development. At the time, the corporation had more scientists on staff than any other company in the world, more PhDs than the faculties of MIT, UC-Berkeley, and Harvard combined.

And yet, despite the best efforts of the chemists in the household- cleaning division, there were no new floor products in the pipeline. The company was still selling the same lemon-scented detergents and cloth mops; consumers were still sweeping up their kitchens using wooden brooms and metal dustpans. The reason for this creative failure was simple: it was extremely difficult to make a stronger floor cleaner that didn’t also damage the floor. Although Procter and Gamble had invested millions of dollars in a new generation of soaps, these products tended to fail during the rigorous testing phase, as they peeled off wood varnishes and irritated delicate skin. The chemists assumed that they had exhausted the chemical possibilities.

That’s when Procter and Gamble decided to try a new approach. The company outsourced its innovation needs to Continuum, a design firm with offices in Boston and Los Angeles. “I think P and G came to us because their scientists were telling them to give up,” says Harry West, a leader on the soap team and now Continuum’s CEO. “So they told us to think crazy, to try to come up with something that all those chemists couldn’t.”

But the Continuum designers didn’t begin with molecules. They didn’t spend time in the lab worrying about the chemistry of soap. Instead, they visited people’s homes and watched dozens of them engage in the tedious ritual of floor cleaning. The designers took detailed notes on the vacuuming of carpets and the sweeping of kitchens. When the notes weren’t enough, they set up video cameras in living rooms. “This is about the most boring footage you can imagine,” West says. “It’s movies of mopping, for God’s sake. And we had to watch hundreds of hours of it.” The videotapes may have been tedious, but they were also essential, since West and his team were trying to observe the act of floor cleaning without any preconceptions. “I wanted to forget everything I knew about mops and soaps and brooms,” he says. “I wanted to look at the problem as if I’d just stepped off a spaceship from Mars.”

After several months of observation — West refers to this as the anthropologist phase — the team members had their first insight. It came as they watched a woman clean her mop in the bathtub. “You’ve got this unwieldy pole,” West says. “And you are splashing around this filthy water trying to get the dirt out of a mop head that’s been expressly designed to attract dirt. It’s an extraordinarily unpleasant activity.” In fact, when the Continuum team analyzed the videotapes, they found that people spent more time cleaning their mops than they did cleaning the floors; the tool made the task more difficult. “Once I realized how bad mopping was, I became quite passionate about floor cleaning,” West says. “I became convinced that the world didn’t need an improved version of the mop. Instead, it needed a total replacement for the mop. It’s a hopeless piece of technology.”

   Unfortunately, the Continuum designers couldn’t think of a better cleaning method. It seemed like an impossible challenge. Perhaps floor cleaning was destined to be an inefficient chore. In desperation, the team returned to making house visits, hoping for some errant inspiration. One day, the designers were watching an elderly woman sweep some coffee grounds off the kitchen floor. She got out her hand broom and carefully brushed the grounds into a dustpan. But then something interesting happened. After the woman was done sweeping, she wet a paper towel and wiped it over the linoleum, picking up the last bits of spilled coffee. Although everyone on the Continuum team had done the same thing countless times before, this particular piece of dirty paper led to a revelation.

What the designers saw in that paper towel was the possibility of a disposable cleaning surface. “All of a sudden, we realized what needed to be done,” says Don Buchner, a Continuum vice president. “We needed to invent a spot cleaner that people could just throw away. No more cleaning mop heads, no more bending over in the bathtub, no more buckets of dirty water. That was our big idea.” A few weeks later, this epiphany gave rise to their first floor-cleaning prototype. It was a simple thing, just a slender plastic stick connected to a flat rectangle of Velcro to which disposable pieces of electrostatic tissue were attached. A spray mechanism was built into the device, allowing people to wet the floor with a mild soap before they applied the wipes. (The soap was mostly unnecessary, but it smelled nice.) “You know an idea has promise when it seems obvious in retrospect,” West says. “Why splash around dirty water when you can just wipe up the dirt? And why would you bother to clean this surface? Why not just throw it away, like a used paper towel?”

Procter and Gamble, however, wasn’t thrilled with the concept. The company had developed a billion-dollar market selling consumers the latest mops and soaps. They didn’t want to replace that business with an untested cleaning product. The first focus groups only reinforced the skepticism. When Procter and Gamble presented consumers with a sketch of the new cleaning device, the vast majority of people rejected the concept. They didn’t want to throw out their mops or have to rely on a tool that was little more than a tissue on a stick. They didn’t like the idea of disposable wipes, and they didn’t understand how all that dirt would get onto the moistened piece of paper. And so the idea was shelved; Procter and Gamble wasn’t going to risk market share on a radical new device that nobody wanted.

   But the designers at Continuum refused to give up — they were convinced they’d discovered the mop of the future. After a year of pleading, they persuaded Procter and Gamble to let them show their prototype to a focus group. Instead of just reading a description of the product, consumers could now play with an “experiential model” clad in roughly cut plastic. The prototype made all the difference: people were now enthralled by the cleaning tool, which they tested out on actual floors. In fact, the product scored higher in focus-group sessions than any other cleaning device Procter and Gamble had ever tested. “It was off the charts,” Buchner says. “The same people who hated the idea when it was just an idea now wanted to take the thing home with them.” Furthermore, tests by Procter and Gamble demonstrated that the new product cleaned the floor far better than sponge mops, string mops, or any other kinds of mops. According to the corporate scientists, the “tissue on a stick” was one of the most effective floor cleaners ever invented.

In 1997, nearly three years after West and his designers began making their videotapes, Procter and Gamble officially submitted an application for a U.S. patent. In the early spring of 1999, the new cleaning tool was introduced in supermarkets across the country. The product was an instant success: by the end of the year, it had generated more than $500 million in sales. Numerous imitators and spinoffs have since been introduced, but the original device continues to dominate the post-mop market, taking up an ever greater share of the supermarket aisle. Its name is the Swiffer.

The invention of the Swiffer is a tale of creativity. It’s the story of a few engineers coming up with an entirely new cleaning tool while watching someone sweep up some coffee grounds. In that flash of thought, Harry West and his team managed to think differently about something we all do every day. They were able to see the world as it was — a frustrating place filled with tedious chores — and then envision the world as it might be if only there were a better mop. That insight changed floor cleaning forever.

This book is about how such moments happen. It is about our most important mental talent: the ability to imagine what has never existed. We take this talent for granted, but our lives are defined by it. There is the pop song on the radio and the gadget in your pocket, the art on the wall and the air conditioner in the window. There is the medicine in the bathroom and the chair you are sitting in and this book in your hand.

And yet, although we are always surrounded by our creations, there is something profoundly mysterious about the creative process. For instance, why did Harry West come up with the Swiffer concept after watching that woman wipe the floor with the paper towel? After all, he’d done it himself on numerous occasions. “I can’t begin to explain why the idea arrived then,” he says. “I was too grateful to ask too many questions.” The sheer secrecy of creativity — the difficulty in understanding how it happens, even when it happens to us — means that we often associate breakthroughs with an external force. In fact, until the Enlightenment, the imagination was entirely synonymous with higher powers: being creative meant channeling the muses, giving voice to the ingenious gods. (Inspiration, after all, literally means “breathed upon.”) Because people couldn’t understand creativity, they assumed that their best ideas came from somewhere else. The imagination was outsourced.

The deep mysteriousness of creativity also intimidated scientists. It’s one thing to study nerve-reaction times or the mechanics of sight. But how does one measure the imagination? The daunting nature of the subject led researchers to mostly neglect it; a recent survey of psychology papers published between 1950 and 2000 revealed that less than 1 percent of them investigated aspects of the creative process. Even the evolution of this human talent was confounding. Most cognitive skills have elaborate biological histories, so their evolution can be traced over time. But not creativity — the human imagination has no clear precursors. There is no ingenuity module that got enlarged in the human cortex, or even a proto-creative impulse evident in other primates. Monkeys don’t paint; chimps don’t write poems; and it’s the rare animal (like the New Caledonian crow) that exhibits rudimentary signs of problem solving. The birth of creativity, in other words, arrived like any insight: out of nowhere.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the imagination can’t be rigorously studied. Until we understand the set of mental events that give rise to new thoughts, we will never understand what makes us so special. That’s why this book begins by returning us to the material source of the imagination: the three pounds of flesh inside the skull. William James described the creative process as a “seething cauldron of ideas, where everything is fizzling and bobbing about in a state of bewildering activity.” For the first time, we can see the cauldron itself, that massive network of electrical cells that allow individuals to form new connections between old ideas. We can take snapshots of thoughts in brain scanners and measure the excitement of neurons as they get closer to a solution. The imagination can seem like a magic trick of matter — new ideas emerging from thin air — but we are beginning to understand how the trick works. 

The first thing this new perspective makes clear is that the standard definition of creativity is completely wrong. Ever since the ancient Greeks, people have assumed that the imagination is separate from other kinds of cognition. But the latest science suggests that this assumption is false. Instead, creativity is a catchall term for a variety of distinct thought processes. (The brain is the ultimate category buster.) Just consider the profusion of creative methods that led to the invention of the Swiffer. First, there was the anthropologist phase, those nine months of careful observation and tedious videotaping. Although this phase didn’t generate any new ideas — the point was to clear the mind of old ones — it played an essential role in the creative process, allowing the team to better understand the problem. And then, when West watched the woman sweep up the coffee grounds, there was the classic moment of insight, a breakthrough appearing in a fraction of a second. But that epiphany wasn’t the end of the process. The engineers and designers still had to spend years fine-tuning the design, perfecting the spray nozzle and the electrostatic wipes. “The concept is only the start of the process,” West says. “The hardest work always comes after, when you’re trying to make the idea real.”

The point is that the Swiffer creative process involved multiple forms of creativity. This is where the tools of modern science prove essential, since they allow us to see how these various forms depend on different kinds of brain activity. The imagination is transformed from something metaphysical — a property of the gods — into a particular twitch of cortex. Furthermore, this new knowledge is useful: because we finally understand what creativity is, we can begin to construct a taxonomy of it, outlining the conditions under which each particular mental strategy is ideal. Some acts of imagination are best done in a crowded café sipping espresso, and some are helped by a cold beer on the couch. Sometimes we need to let go and improvise on our own, and sometimes we need the wisdom of others. Once we know how creativity works, we can make it work for us.

But just because we’ve begun to decipher the anatomy of the imagination doesn’t mean we’ve unlocked its secret. In fact, this is what makes the subject of creativity so interesting: it requires a description from multiple perspectives. The individual brain, after all, is always situated in a context and a culture, so we need to blend psychology and sociology, merging together the outside world and the inside of the mind. This is why, although Imagine begins with the fluttering of neurons, it will also explore the influence of the surrounding environment on creativity. Why are some Lehrer Imagine first pages cities such centers of innovation? What kind of classroom techniques increase the creativity of children? Is the Internet making us more or less imaginative? We’ll look at evidence showing that seemingly irrelevant factors — such as the color of paint on the wall, or the location of a restroom — can have a dramatic impact on creative production.

Furthermore, because the act of invention is often a collaborative process — we are inspired by other people — it’s essential that we learn to collaborate in the right way. The first half of this book focuses on individual creativity, while the second half shows what happens when people come together. Thanks to some fascinating new research, such as an analysis of the partnerships behind thousands of Broadway musicals and an investigation into the effectiveness of brainstorming, we can begin to understand why some teams and companies are so much more creative than others. Their success is not an accident. For most of human history, people have believed that the imagination is inherently inscrutable, an impenetrable biological gift. As a result, we cling to a series of false myths about what creativity is and where it comes from. These myths don’t just mislead — they also interfere with the imagination. In addition to looking at elegant experiments and scientific studies, we’ll examine creativity as it is experienced in the real world. We’ll learn about Bob Dylan’s writing method and the drug habits of poets. We’ll spend time with a bartender who thinks like a chemist, and an autistic surfer who invented a new surfing move. We’ll look at a website that helps solve seemingly impossible problems, and we’ll go behind the scenes at Pixar. We’ll watch Yo-Yo Ma improvise, and we’ll uncover the secrets of consistently innovative companies.

The point is to collapse the layers of description separating the nerve cell from the finished symphony, the cortical circuit from the successful product. Creativity shouldn’t be seen as something otherworldly. It shouldn’t be thought of as a process reserved for artists and inventors and other “creative types.” The human mind, after all, has the creative impulse built into its operating system, hard-wired into its most essential programming code. At any given moment, the brain is automatically forming new associations, continually connecting an everyday x to an unexpected y. This book is about how that happens. It is the story of how we imagine.

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Imagine: How Creativity Works 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
humbleSage More than 1 year ago
As an artist, teacher and entrepreneur, this book comes along to scream factually what many of my ilk believed all along - creativity is not some mysterious gift, it is the result of hard-work, perseverance, and socialization. Being creative is not a choice, and it is also not a privilege. Creativity is something we all possess and we all should seek to nurture. Many thanks to Jonah Lehrer for writing this book at a time when these words are so needed. I will be recommending this book as I expand my network, and hopefully my creativity. If you are a curious creative (artist, craftsman, engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, etc.), I highly recommend you read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well Researched Book Which Deserves A Thorough Reading. As a physician, I was drawn to this book and its analysis of human creativity. In medical school we're taught about neurons and how they function together to control body functions and generalized thought processes, but we're never really educated on what factors truly influence creativity. What did Mozart's brain have that other composers don't? Why do some people appreciate the visual arts more than others? And how is science currently utilized to maximize the creative process? We've been to the moon, had rovers on Mars, and can visualize worlds millions and billions of miles away. Yet the real unexplored frontier just may lie inside our own craniums. A fascinating book. Fans of Malcolm Gladwell will enjoy this book. For readers interested in the making of a doctor, I recommend Dr. Anthony Youn's "In Stitches." It's a great, light-hearted read that would be a nice companion to a more dense, scholarly book like "Imagine."
LinNC More than 1 year ago
The combination of research and stories makes this an easy but informative read and probably appealing to a wide audience of readers. Having dealt for years with the "Yeah, but I'm not creative." complaint/excuse/self-evaluation from colleagues and friends, I found the information Lehrer shares to be extremely helpful in countering similar comments in the future. The meta-ideas are excellent - maybe not necessarily astounding - but sometimes we need to take a closer look to discover those things that should or could have been obvious. Highly recommend this book for anyone who is struggling with how to tap into collective and individual creativity.
DelilahLions More than 1 year ago
This book is fascinating! The stories and research are compelling. i couldn't put the book down. I wish everyone I know could read it. This would be a great book for a discussion group as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you teach or create things, you need this book. If u are interested in how humans think, get this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ABookishGirlBlog More than 1 year ago
Imagine is an in depth look into creativity and how it seems that some of us are more creative than others. The book goes into great detail about various studies about creativity and their results without being boring and quickly shows how certain brain waves, areas of the brain, and different techniques not only show creativity but that they can make a person more creative, that you can change your mind into that of a creative person. A look at different creative people and the ways that drug and alcohol use made them more creative was a particularly interesting part of the story, almost like a tattler magazine. But the stories about Google and Pixar and the way that the whole environment from the layout to their work schedules promotes so much creativity. The book is broken into two parts: the creativity of the individual and the creativity of a group. I didn't focus to much attention on the creativity of a group part of the book but it was still chock full of ideas of how to promote and create creativity in groups of people. The individual creativity I found so interesting it is amazing how the brain works in regards to creativity and how you can retrain the brain to be more creative. If you are looking for more creativity in your life and would like to understand how creativity works than this is the book for you!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You guys he plagarized the bob dylan quotes and now it's getting pulled off the shelves :O Jonah Lehrer has also plagarized other articles. Don't read this book that's written by a plagarizing liar.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read Imagine in my high school chemistry class this summer and at first, I was reluctant. Even if it meant a generous amount of extra credit, I still could not push myself to open the book. Eventually, I gave in and just after the first chapter, I was hooked! Imagine opened my eyes to the difference between creativity and being smart and learned new things with every turn of a page. It's a quick read but some chapters are a little difficult to get through. Besides some dry parts, Imagine has expanded my creativity greatly. I, without a doubt, reccomend this to anybody who is looking for an intellectual view on creativity and how society and culture shapes it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first half of the book was just ok. Did not finish the last two chapters. Either i lost focus or the book did.
Michael_Willman More than 1 year ago
An excellently researched book, perhaps one of the best books to date on the mechanisms involved in creativity. The book argues creativity to be a product of society and personal choices rather than a genetic predisposition and goes through varied examples from scientific case studies to successful business management. The author's uses real world examples helps the reader understand the context of what is being said, but at times it feels like the book is an anthology of short stories rather than a single book. The ending of the book was also a great disappointment to me, as the author switches writing styles from that of a research paper to one trying to argue a political agenda. It was not that the agenda was disagreeable, just that it didn't belong in a primarily research based paper. If the author was arguing politics from the beginning his political views would not have detracted from my opinion of the book so much, but to sneak it in the last twenty pages seemed like the author was attempting to catch the reader off guard. Despite these flaws, the book is a must-read for anyone who enjoys creative new ideas, business management, or sciencey things.
watermelly More than 1 year ago
i feel personally like the first half of the book was what mostly interested me, as it concerned the individual... the second half talked mostly about groups, or cities, and how to have society more open to geniuses. Lehrer does a good job of weaving multiple inspirational examples and telling their stories very craftily to make his points. it's nice to me cause it covers a lot of material fast. good quick read, i finished half of it in the store.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very informative and enteraining, thought provoking too
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is worth reading. I bought it fior my husband who is in HR and then found out is being used as required reading for an Ed Leadership class I am taking this summer. Based on research that is univerally applicable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Extremely informative, easy reading. Each page is a pleasure to read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago