Rayrumtum's Reviews > Imagine: How Creativity Works

Imagine by Jonah Lehrer
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May 06, 12

bookshelves: creativity
Read in April, 2012

I recommend the new book "Imagine" by Jonah Lehrer on creativity. It is jammed pack with anecdotes and research results that could provide grist for classes on creativity. The book is organized into two segments: the first chapters are about individual creativity and the latter are about group creativity.

The alone part goes into how the brain functions. It is a little more complex than mere right brain vs. left brain issues. It also explains why so many creative people are hopped up on drugs or suffer from bipolar disorder. While we don't want to encourage those behaviors, the book uses that information to show how we can accomplish many of the same results without giving in.

Another interesting point was the observation that blue walls encourage right brain thinking (get out the paint can) and red walls encourage left brain thinking.. Also, for those who didn't already know it, naps and travel are also good to encourage creativity.

The chapters on group creativity were more useful. According to research there is a sweet spot for the make-up of teams for creativity. A scholar analyzed collaborative groups for Broadway musicals back to the 1880s looking at the creative teams. He found that that creative teams--choreography, music, direction, etc--who never worked together before were most likely to create a flop. Teams that worked together constantly performed better. The most successful teams were those where there was a partial core but new blood was added. West Side Story was cited as an example with the addition of Steven Sondheim to the existing team.

Togetherness plays a big part in group creativity. Pixar places all of the bathrooms in the middle of the building to encourage people running in to each other even when they are not working on the same project. One reason Silicon valley is a center of creativity, according to the author, is that California law greatly limits no compete contracts, so people flow around freely between companies.

His comments on brainstorming were interesting. He presents data that suggests the absence of criticism leads to poorer results than allowing criticism. I think his view of brainstorming ignores the converging phase. We all know brainstorms without a convergence phase just leaves you with a handful of stickies. He cites Pixar's criticism meetings as an example, but by that point I think Pixar is beyond the brainstorming phase and into a different phase of creativity.

A final comment, the author notes that an off the wall response in the early stage of brainstorming makes the technique more effective. If one free associates off the word "blue" everyone will say the obvious, e.g. sky etc. If someone comes in with aqua or something unexpected, that will widen the groups range of thought.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg for this book.
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