The old cliche of "you can't judge a book by its cover" is clearly irrelevant when it comes to Imagine: How Creativity Works, the much anticipated new book by Jonah Lehrer. The cover is one of the most riveting I've ever seen, and matches the compelling narrative beautifully.
I've been following Mr. Lehrer's work since 2007, when his first book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, caught my eye. His followup, How We Decide, was a bestseller. He is a contributing editor for Wired and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. He writes the "Head Case" column for The Wall Street Journal and regularly appears on WNYC's Radiolab. Not bad for 30.
In other parts of the world, the subtitle of the book is "The Science of Creativity," which is perhaps more accurate, because Imagine explains more how creativity happens than how it works, which Mr. Lehrer freely admitted when we spoke a few months ago that we still don't quite know, and may never know. In fact, he told me, "it should probably not even be 'creativity,' but 'creativities,' plural…it's more accurate."
While we may not know exactly how creativity works, we can, as Mr. Lehrer so brilliantly explains, pinpoint where and when creative moments happen–and that is quite frankly all we need to know.
Imagine will surprise you. It will destroy some old myths surrounding creativity in the business setting.
You will learn that creativity is not a single gift possessed by the lucky few, but rather a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively. "We are all hard-wired for creativity," says Mr. Lehrer.
You will learn the significance of Bob Dylan's brain, what's so especially important about the composition of his hit "Like a Rolling Stone," and what it reveals about creative blocks and the role of the brain's right hemisphere.
You will learn that daydreaming can often be the most productive thing we can do when it comes to solving difficult problems, along with why interrupting one's thought process is so important for creative ideas to emerge.
You will learn how mood affects our ability to have creative insights, and why there's a link between major depressive orders and artistic achievement.
You will learn not only about your "working memory" and the important role it plays in your creative process, but also the importance of the brain's prefrontal cortex, the impact of the more primitive mid-brain region on creativity, and discover the part of the brain that blocks your ability to "let go." Mr. Lehrer provides numerous ways to work around those obstacles.
You will discover what's behind the Israeli technology boom, the differences in creativity between the two well-known hotbeds of innovation: Route 128 in Massachusetts and Silicon Valley in California, and the importance of social circles, information sharing and face-to-face interaction.
You will learn about "the Shakespeare paradox," what factors played the biggest role in enabling his success, the role of culture and external elements in determining creative output, and why "For Shakespeare, the act of creation was inseparable from the act of connection."
You will learn how our traditional methods of education are impacting creativity, the power of schools like the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and High Tech High, what methods schools can implement in order to cultivate and support student creativity, and why Mr. Lehrer says "we need to innovate innovation."
My day job revolves around facilitating creative sessions, and all of these things revealed to me a new and deeper dimension to creativity, and thus greater understanding and insight. Mr. Lehrer's ability to sift through countless studies in what must be scores of scientific journals and distill them down into relevant and useful insights is unparalleled. I can't imagine (no quip intended) the enormous effort, not to mention the significant cost incurred (peer-reviewed scientific journals entail exorbitantly expensive subscriptions), required to curate this material, but the service provided and outcome produced by Mr. Lehrer is truly appreciated, and simply invaluable.
Malcolm Gladwell has it right when he claims that Lehrer "knows more about science than a lot of scientists and more about writing than a lot of writers.”
And I wholeheartedly agree with Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking With Einstein: “Jonah Lehrer is one of the most talented explainers of science that we’ve got. What a pleasure it is to follow his investigation of creativity and its sources. Imagine is his best book yet.”
Buy it. Devour it. Share it.