- Hardcover: 279 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; 1st edition (2012)
- Language: English
- ASIN: B007QRI1UQ
- Package Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 224 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #197,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Imagine: How Creativity Works Hardcover – 2012
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This book was pulled from shelves when it came to light that the author fabricated many parts. ISBN is 9780547386072.
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The creative process always starts with an impasse, a problem that seems insoluble. This is the phase of the creative process that is most often glossed over, but is central to the way the brain produces creative insights.
The first chapter of the book is a description of this process using Bob Dylan as a focal point. The year is 1965 and Dylan is in the last week of a gruelling tour schedule. He is constantly bombarded by fans, thin from drugs and insomnia, and playing music almost mechanically. It was there that Dylan made the decision to quit music forever. When he turned to America, he rode off on his Triumph to a cabin in Woodstock, not even taking a guitar. He no longer wanted to be part of music making that was formulaic and predictable and commercial.
Dylan describes how the hit song, “Like a Rolling Stone” seemed to force its way out of him. It has no logic, it had no meaning - it was simply a pure outpouring of associative ideas.
In the nineties, Mark Beeman, a researcher at the National Institute of Health was studying patients with brain damage to their right hemisphere. At the time the importance of the right hemisphere was underestimated. The left hemisphere is where speech ability is located, where the meaning of words is understood, but the right hemisphere was vaguely associated with creativity. Beeman identified the role of the right hemisphere as the seat of connotations of words, of metaphors. It was not a question of left or right brain thinking, as described by the pop-psychologist, but how the two hemispheres build on each other and relate.
Brain researchers have been able to identify how the brain works because active brain cells consume more energy and oxygen and so they trigger a rush of blood to those areas. Using FMRI and EEG technologies, researchers can monitor what is going on in the brain as subjects are solving puzzles. They have been able to identify what parts are active before creative insights and even when a creative insight is about to happen.
The process begins with an intense search of left hemisphere and when this is exhausted (and so is the person,) it will shift to the right hemisphere if given the appropriate conditions. There will be a visible gamma wave rhythm before the answer erupts, the highest electrical frequency in the brain. The anterior superior temporal gyrus, a small lobe just above the ear on the outer side of the right hemisphere is the area where insight actually occurs.
Dylan’s breakthrough came when he could find no solution to his musical dilemma and had given up. His insights were to create from an uninhibited expression of the right hemisphere. All the music that came to define Dylan was this outpouring beginning with ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ itself a major musical achievement.
Imagine goes beyond simply describing the processes to describing how they have been applied in business. The fact that our brains work very differently when we are daydreaming, they are anything but idle, has been harnessed by the astonishingly creative 3M Company, producer of some fifty five thousand different products.
In the 1990’s, Eli Lily’s VP of research, Alpheus Bingham, was frustrated by the unpredictability of the drug development model in use in the company and the industry. Research was done in secret so competitors would be given no advantages, but Bingham decided to break with this by posting the hardest problems they faced on the internet in a system call Innocentive. A reward was offered to anyone who solved the posted problem. Answers poured in and 40% of problems were solved in six months and some in days.
The common premise has been that the hardest problems would only be solved by people with deep technical expertise. The Innocentive program proved the value of the insights of people on the edges of the discipline where perspectives are informed by other, very different areas of expertise. Functional fixedness caused by well-worn neural pathways is bypassed.
A problem that was posted concerned a polymer with unique and perplexing chemical properties. Five solutions were found and five prizes paid for a problem thought to be insurmountable. The importance of this example lies in the skillsets of the people who solved the problem: A researcher studying carbohydrates in Sweden, a small agribusiness, a retired aerospace engineer, a vet, and a transdermal drug delivery systems specialist. You will never find this group inside any company.
The book is a treasure trove of ideas that can be used in business as well as a well crafted review of the state of knowledge of creativity from various sciences, from neurology to sociology.
Readability Light ---+- Serious
Insights High +---- Low
Practical High -+--- Low
Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy
I found much to quarrel with in this book --- but very productively. That seems to me one of its great strengths and a principle reason for my recommendation. The opening treatment of Bob Dylan's creativity is both curious and smart (possibly what caught Hornby's attention) and provides a good lead-in. I am not qualified to critique the basic science in detail, but thought the discussion and summation of many stands of current study both informative and useful context for the exploration of the social elements of creativity that follow. Much of the book's second half is provocative (I pencilled-in a lot of quarrelsome notes in the final chapter on "The Shakespeare Paradox"), but makes a good case for techniques and practices that may facilitate creativity individually and in society. I could benefit from some of these, and I would bet that many readers could, as well. Some might even be good policies.
I agree that there is much glibness --- a la Malcom Gladwell (whose endorsing blurb is on the jacket)--- and also an inclination to over-statement of claims. But that said, I learned a good bit about conditions and practices under which creativity is likely to flourish (or not). Lehrer's writing style flows easily and he is excellent in his use of analogies, metaphors, and examples to explain sometimes complicated ideas. Writing clearly about science for intelligent layman evidently is Lehrer's forte, and it is on useful display.
In summary, I found "Imagine" an enjoyable and stimulating read. It does not (and, in fairness, does not claim) to explain what creativity is --- but it provides good information and much food for thought about our current understanding of how creativity "works." It is a shame that an otherwise intelligent and useful treatment should be stained by dishonesty in sourcing. I leave it to others to forgive or not Lehrer's transgressions. But read on its own merits, and with appropriate reservations about its not being gospel, the book is smart, entertaining and productively suggestive of further thinking on the subject of imagination and creativity.
Most recent customer reviews
So much inspiration can be gained from this book.
If you're looking to create and need a little motivation, read this book