2012 Reading

Reading 2012: Imagine

April 25, 2012

People have been long in search of finding out “how creativity works,” and how to enhance their own. In Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer connects the dots and examines some of the common factors and surprising insights into highly creative people and businesses.

The book consists of 8 chapters, and is divided into 2 main sections: Alone (chapters 1-5) and Together (chapters 6-8).

  • 1. Bob Dylan’s Brain
  • 2. Alpha Waves (Condition Blue)
  • 3. The Unconcealing
  • 4. The Letting Go
  • 5. The Outsider
  • 6. The Power of Q
  • 7. Urban Friction
  • 8. The Shakespeare Paradox

This book is another of many recent “new science” books, this one specifically looking at creativity. In the book, Jonah Lehrer examines individuals such as Bob Dylan and corporations such as Apple and Pixar. He also focuses on how urban living and cities make for more creative people.

The Excess Genius Problem Solved

One area that I found fascinating was “The Shakespeare Paradox,” which looks at what Duke University statistician, David Banks, wrote about in his study entitled “The Problem of Excess Genius,” which is a better way of saying that genius in certain areas is not usually neatly distributed throughout time and region, but seems to develop in clusters of genius. Take for example, the great Greek philosophers, the Italian artists,  and the Shakespearean era playwrights and writers. (And while not examined in this book, I also thought of the Reformation era theologians and some of the classical composers.)

While Banks thought the cause for this fascinating phenomenon was a mystery, Jonah Lehrer examines Shakespeare specifically and concludes that much of this mystery came from the influence that these talented “geniuses” had on each other. Much of Shakespeare’s early writing and inspiration came from Marlowe — even to the point that he would likely have been accused of plagiarism by today’s standards. But it was that writing that made him great. This chapter is in itself a fascinating study (and delves much further into the explanation that I portray here), but one of many fascinating insights into the science of creativity.

To Pixar and Beyond

Readers who have enjoyed the biography Steve Jobs will have helpful background into Lehrer’s examination of Pixar’s success in catalyzing the company’s creativity through various means, including criticism sessions (as opposed to the normal business practice of “brainstorming”) and making sure that everyone in the company rubbed shoulders, with the CEO sometimes taking professional improvement classes alongside the janitor.

Other fascinating insights include looking at how cities and urban areas contribute to a greater wealth of creativity, as well as why businesses would do well to give their employees time to relax and exercise, why some ideas are best birthed with stimulants and why others are more prone to develop during times of relaxation, taking frequent breaks, and restfulness. It has application for just about anyone who doesn’t wish to live life robotically, and certainly particular application for those who study and work in fields of childhood development, for CEOs and janitors, for parents and people in relationships, and for freelancers and entrepreneurs.

As with any “new science” book, there will always be newer science. Still, I think this is a fascinating and helpful book. Reading it might not make you a more creative person, but then again…it might just give you the inspiration you want and the ideas for change you need.

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