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757 of 808 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2012
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)? Does it help to be in a positive mood (p32) or a depressed one (p76) or an angry state (161) or a relaxed one (50); does caffeine and other stimulants make the epiphanies less likely (33) or more likely (57)? Should stealing others' ideas should be encouraged (247) or discouraged (244)? Does broadening one's set of skills and interests increase creativity (41) or should one concentrate on a single goal (95)? Does relaxation stimulate creativity (p 45) or does difficulty do it better (54)? Does creativity drive toward perfection (p 63) or is it a celebration of errors? (87). Does insight come in a flash (p 17) or is it revealed slowly, after great effort (56)? Must a good poem be "pulled out of us, like a splinter," (p 56) or is it best "vomited." (19)

All of these, apparently.

The book boils down in the end to four vague conclusions which he calls "meta-ideas."
1. Education is necessary
2. Human mixing stimulates creativity
3. Creativity requires willingness to take risks
4. Society must manage the rewards of innovation

For me, the best revelation is on p 159: Brainstorming sessions, in which "there are no bad ideas" do not often result in good ideas, because criticism is essential. This is the key to the growth of knowledge, good government, and much more -- and a theme that is developed thoroughly in David Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity. That's a much more stimulating and challenging read, which explains creativity (and much else) far better than this one does.
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310 of 345 people found the following review helpful
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.

This is reconciled to some degree in the fourth chapter when Lehrer explains how natural conditions such as mania and depression (and manic depressive syndrome) contribute to an organic push/pull of creativity. While it is certainly an interesting thought, the proof isn't quite complete.

More importantly, the theme deserves a more comprehensive foundation on the science of mental processes. While Lehrer does an admirable job of explaining psychological phenomena with physiological causes, the basics are left rather untouched. We know that the right hemisphere emits alpha waves to spark insight and that amphetamines increase the amount of dopamine transferred between neurons, but we don't know what a thought is, how we learn, and what is going on in the brain when we imagine something.

As an avid reader of popular neurology, I can say that most of this is far from being understood. But, if it is not understood, it would still help to acknowledge this fact and simply formulate the theory around that contingency. As it is, Lehrer makes it seem as though this foundation is irrelevant.

It must be said that this book is valuable for simply spurring these questions. It is clear that Lehrer has access to some of the best insight in popular science today. Read this book for that insight, and then use it to come up with your own theories on the creative process.
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65 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on 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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47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2012
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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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
The writing style is fast paced; it's an easy read. Unfortunately, it's also not a challenging read. And worse, it becomes annoying. I got annoyed at the sweeping general statements like the number of patents awarded in New York City being higher than elsewhere, showing the creativity level of cities to be so much higher than towns or countryside. The simple (unstated) fact is IBM gets almost as many patents as pretty much everyone else combined every year. And IBM is everywhere. However, its patent attorneys are in New York, so guess where the patents get filed? It's not that New Yorkers are madly patenting everything in sight; it's that the corporate lawyers take over from the scientists in California and Texas and upstate New York. Furthermore, the business of the density of cities being such a boost to creativity is totally bogus. If it were true, then Mexico City would be a hotbed. Djakarta would be a positive blur, and Gaza would be paradise. But the simple fact is, it's New York. New York is the most livable, most highly functioning, productive - and yes creative - city in the world. And you cannot generalize from New York. It's unique.
The whole business of improv being a groupthink creativity machine is also way too general. Had Lehrer spent any time with the real masters of the art - Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams - his chapter would have looked a lot different. Individuals can be at least as creative as groups. There is no silver bullet, no yellow brick road. Lehrer has not discovered anything here.
The farther I read, the faster I read, because the content got to be repetitive and predictable - and less, shall we say - creative.
So it's not the best thing since sliced bread, but it is entertaining. There are lots of stories of artists and scientists. And it is fast paced.
A mixed bag is the best I can say.
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52 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2012
This is basically just a series of anecdotes, from which the author tries to draw sweeping conclusions (which are logically flawed).

Example 1 - He says that people in urban areas are more creative. His only support for this claim is that he looked at a chart of where the most patent applications come from. For companies, patents are typically filed by lawyers, on behalf of the engineers and scientists that come up with them. The conclusion that lawyers live in cities is arguably valid, but the conclusion he draws is not.

Example 2 - Another sweeping statement is that "Every creative journey begins with a problem. It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find the answer. We have worked hard, but we've hit the wall. We have no idea what to do next."
His support for the claim that every creative journey begins this way is a single anecdote about how Bob Dylan wrote his best music after being frustrated about performing music he wasn't happy with.

These are just two examples, but I often found myself thinking "How can you SAY that!?"

I gave it a second star for the book jacket, which was shiny enough to lure me into purchasing it. Kudos on that.
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120 of 153 people found the following review helpful
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is an excellent treatise on creativity and the brain. It is filled with fascinating anecdotes, just enough neuroscience to keep it interesting for the layperson, and enough everyday application to make it worth your time. I am the first to admit that I have a weakness for applied psychology books that are heavy on stories, but this is one of the best.

What separates this book from other books on creativity is the carefully examined science behind the creative magic. There are other books that focus on creativity and you can learn more techniques from them, but if you want to learn why they really work then this book is a great place to start. The author is a great writer (he could put most modern fiction writers to shame), but the real value is the story and the science behind the imagination.

Some of my favorites parts of the book include:

* Chapter 1, "Bob Dylan's Brain" has the story of how Dylan wrote his most celebrated song. Favorite quote from Chapter 1: "It's often only at this point, after we've stopped searching for the answer, that the answer often arrives. (The imagination has a wicked sense of irony." And when a solution does appear, it doesn't come in dribs and crabs; the puzzle isn't solved one piece at a time. Rather, the solution is shocking in its completeness." (7)

* Chapter 2, "Alpha Waves (Condition Blue)" gives 3M's creative rules. First, the Flexible Attention Policy. Second, Horizontal Sharing. Great chapter, worth the price of the book if you manage a company of ten or more. Also: find out whether or not its best to edit your work in a blue or red room.

* Chapter 3, "The Unconcealing" explains why you should write when you are sad. (77)

* "Picasso once summarized the paradox this way: 'Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.'" (109)

* Chapter 6, "The Power of Q" has the fascinating story of Pixar and how they make movies. Explains the value of groups versus bringing in new people.

* Learn the science behind why you can think more creatively when you first wake up.

* Learn why an outside perspective is so important, and what inspired the Barbie Doll.

* Learn why Shakespeare was as much a product of his time as he was a genius.

* Pages 227-240 may be my favorite section in the book. The author explains how two different schools foster creativity in students and how we can replicate the results. Important reading for any parent.

This is a great book, and you are bound to learn something no matter what you have already studied on creativity. Highly Recommended.

Note: If you are interested in practical approaches to creative thinking and how to come up with great ideas after reading this, check out Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition) and Mindhacker: 60 Tips, Tricks, and Games to Take Your Mind to the Next Level. Thinkertoys is the best out there on actual technique by a long shot and Mindhacker is both an example of creative problem solving and a great source for practical techniques.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The title of this book makes a pretty heavy promise - to explain how creativity works. The book doesn't deliver.

It's just a series of anecdotes loosely connected around the theme of creativity. His conclusions are unscientific and based on very flawed ways of looking at data as other reviewers have stated.

I need to say that I'm disappointed with the fact that, first and foremost, the author never clearly defines creativity. Then makes some wild statements about what makes for more creative people. Some of it is interesting (hence the second star). I love Pixar, so I enjoyed reading about them.

What you won't find in here is a recipe for being more creative, or for fostering creativity in others. You'll not find a solid explanation of how creativity actually works. There is some interesting research to take you farther, but the book left me flat.
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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2012
To confirm what a previous commenter wrote, Lehrer has resigned his job at the New Yorker after having admitted to making up quotes in his book.

[...]

Personally, I am saddened and angry about this. It was an otherwise excellent book that I had purchased for many friends. It makes me wonder about the integrity of the rest of the writing and research. Dylan is a prominent figure, however, many of the people he quotes in the book are much less well known. Lehrer has lost credibility, which is a shame. I'll be contacting the publisher requesting a refund.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2012
As a teacher and a creative person, I enjoy reading about the process of developing creativity. But this book doesn't deliver. It doesn't live up to the cover or the marketing hype. It's all cover, no substance. As I read it, I kept feeling like I was re-reading the book. I realized that this is because many of the concepts and examples are already well-covered in Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" and "Outliers"--these were great reads: more engaging (concise and vivid) writing with more substantial evidence and better science. Isaacson's bio of Jobs was also better written than Lehrer's account of the same material (Lehrer probably got the info from the biography). Lehrer's use of brain research is sloppy and superficial; it's not tight enough to be believable, and you get the sense he doesn't really understand the science he's trying to use. Don't waste your money on Lehrer's regurgitation of others' ideas, research, and stories; there's nothing new in "Imagine," which would be okay if what is there is better than what came before--but it's not. This the first review I've ever been inspired to write--because I wish I could get my money back.
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