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Imagine: How Creativity Works [Kindle Edition]

Jonah Lehrer
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (209 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2012: Combining cutting-edge neurological research with the age-old mystery of how and when inspiration strikes, Jonah Lehrer's Imagine: How Creativity Works is a fun, engaging study of creativity. Lehrer uses case studies like 3M's and Pixar's innovative corporate cultures and Bob Dylan's songwriting habits to frame scientific findings about the brain and where creativity comes from. You won't find exercises to help you think more creatively or ways to avoid creative blocks in this book. Instead, you'll learn how and why creativity is stimulated by certain activities—like looking at the color blue, traveling, or daydreaming productively—and how these activities stimulate creativity in everyone, not just in 'creative' people. Lehrer's focus is as wide and fascinating as his topic itself and there's something to engage every reader, no matter where you rate yourself on the creativity spectrum. --Malissa Kent


"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."

Product Details

  • File Size: 755 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (March 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005MZN1HC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,441 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
749 of 800 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just Contradictory Anecdotes April 8, 2012
By Tintin
I'm intrigued by the subject matter, so having read several positive reviews and finding myself stuck in an airport, I paid list price for Jonah Lehrer's Imagine: How Creativity Works. I'd read Lehrer's How We Decide a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it. My anticipation, boosted by a recent NPR interview and one in The Economist, steadily disassembled as I read the book itself.

Lehrer does not cite the scientific literature well - there is no list of sources in the back and many claims have no clear references at all. He seems a little gullible (or sensational) in regard to some other studies. One showed that red backgrounds increase test-takers' accuracy and attention to detail, while blue backgrounds double their creativity. Were it so easy. And a neurologist can anticipate a puzzle solver's breakthrough 8 seconds in advance. And, he tells us that all the easy problems of the world have been solved, and that cultivation of athletes in the Unites States should be used as a model for cultivating creativity. Here's my favorite, from a footnote: "Urban areas and the human cortex rely on extremely similar structural patterns to maximize the flow of information and traffic through the system." (p183) There was no reference.

But my main criticism is that the book relies almost exclusively on anecdote. He trots out case after case of well-known successes (masking tape, Bob Dylan, 3M, Pixar, etc.), and some unknown ones (a surfer, a bartender) --always in retrospect -- and draws out what he presents as yet another insight into creativity. But many of these are contradictory. For example, does creativity come out of isolation (p 19) or from teamwork (p120); from breaking convention (p 20) or submitting to its constraints (p 23)?
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309 of 344 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deserves a fuller examination of mental processes January 31, 2012
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
`Imagine' is a light treatment on the creative process. Anyone familiar with Lehrer's previous work or that of other pop science writers will feel right at home with this book. Lehrer's writing is clear and his use of New Journalism to convey complex scientific ideas through stories makes what could be daunting material very accessible. As a result, the book spurs ideas on a number of levels--cognitive, artistic, and social. Of course, the style also means that the text is rather superficial and leaves the reader begging for a more penetrating study.

This is not due to the book's scope. It is aimed at explaining `how creativity works'--an awesome concept to be sure--but Lehrer does not provide a central thesis to this end. He surveys a number of fascinating aspects of the creative process--insight, novelty, hard work, team work, environment, and others--but seems to shuffle through them without truly grasping their essence. As a result, the various themes feel disparate and disconnected.

One example stands out: In the first chapter, Lehrer talks about the necessary condition one must be in for insight to arise and innovation to occur--a stress-free, relaxing environment. Then, in the third chapter, he talks about how this isn't necessary and how stimulants and other drugs help to narrow focus and thus lend to productivity. Some people are creative because they treat themselves to relaxation; some are creative because they plunge themselves into a stressful, energetic environment. As such, the reader has nothing to hold onto and so does not feel any closer to understanding.
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59 of 68 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Scandalous Creativity Book December 12, 2012
It's very rare that a publisher removes a book from the shelves. And this what happened with Imagine, after the author was unmasked as a fabricator (i.e. liar) and was fired from his two jobs at Wired and the New Yorker. As it turns out, the author created his own reality by inventing quotes, pretending he had met people in person, and plagiarizing other people works. Ouch.

If you want to know the details, simply google "Jonah Lehrer scandal."

So this book is interesting because it's a reflection of our society as a whole. Our desire for fast solutions, our thirst for scientific breakthroughs, our need to follow a know-it-all guru.

And Imagine delivers perfectly on this--it's all there: the science, the sound bites, the eye opening realizations. But there a catch: some of it is fake.

The other major problem is to look at creativity from the "science" angle. It can't be done (duh!)--imagine scientist explaining "love" by analyzing chemical responses . . . sounds silly, right? Same thing with creativity.

I think there are way better book on the subject: Dan PInk, Tyla Tharp, and my new favorite: You Are a Circle: A Visual Meditation for the Creative Mind

I still will keep my copy of Imagine as a reminder of what not to do.
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46 of 55 people found the following review helpful
By zvido
According to the New York Times 07/30/12 Mr. Lehrer made up quotes in this book attributed to Bob Dylan and as such had to resign from his position at the New Yorker. God only knows what else in this book he made up.

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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great insight.
Published 16 days ago by Joann
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good. Lots of stories are used to bring home ...
Very good. Lots of stories are used to bring home the points the author is making
Published 3 months ago by Justin Driggers
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Must reading
Published 5 months ago by Nancy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great seller and items.
Published 6 months ago by Kiwi
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read about How Creativity and the Mind work.
Imagine is an in depth look into creativity and how it seems that some of us are more creative than others. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Amy L. Yingling
3.0 out of 5 stars Selective brilliance
Lehrer is best when discussing interesting and relevant examples of his research. Too often dives into dense scientific study and elaboration that serves as classic "skim so I... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Dennis
1.0 out of 5 stars Untrustworthy! Dont trust Lehrer or Simon & Schuster
I began reading this book, fascinated by some of the ideas, and not knowing much about Dylan's history or creative process, or the medical research Lerher describes. Read more
Published 9 months ago by J. K. Fuller
2.0 out of 5 stars Inventing a Patent
The author repeatedly refers to inventing a patent in the book. One does not invent a patent, one patents an invention. Read more
Published 9 months ago by C. S. Cooper
4.0 out of 5 stars I still enjoyed this book
Despite Lehrer now being shamed and some of the anecdotes being made up, I still enjoyed this book.
Published 11 months ago by Derek
5.0 out of 5 stars Did I read this?
Oh man, I can't remember whether I read this or not. It must have been good or I would remember the unpleasant experience.
Published 11 months ago by Good Time Davy
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More About the Author

Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired and the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist. He graduated from Columbia University and studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He's written for The New Yorker, Nature, Seed, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. He's also a Contributing Editor at Scientific American Mind and National Public Radio's Radio Lab.

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