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Imagine: How Creativity Works

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  25,776 Ratings  ·  1,727 Reviews
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
ebook, 256 pages
Published March 1st 2012 by Houghton Mifflin
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Anne Kariapa It doesn't give specifics, but Wikipedia has this:

Amazon has this:

It doesn't give specifics, but Wikipedia has this:

Amazon has this:

But then, there is also this:

Overall I thought the book was pretty good but there is no doubt in my mind that Lehrer promotes the use of drugs and stimulants as a valid form of creativity. A big and obvious no-no in my book. Came off as rather cocky to me... However, some of his observations seemed to be valid, so... one has to further investigate whatever Lehrer wrote to make sure it is truly valid and not wishful thinking.

I think for publishing companies et al, to post such strong language about the book and actually pull it from the shelves means that he broke the accepted rules of publishing that the world adheres to. I guess there are consequences for that. Everyone has to obey the same rules.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Rating details
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May 10, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, 2012
The short version: Lehrer draws together some interesting ideas, but I feel like his rhetorical flourish sometimes gets in the way of the point he's trying to make. His main point here is that creativity and innovation arises when we freely mingle within diverse ideas, but sometimes it seems like he's too busy boosting for entrepreneurs and big cities, and he lets that get in the way of his central thesis. (Side note: I waffled between 2-stars and 3-stars.)


In Imagine: How Creativity Works, J
Hilarious. I've had pointed out to me that the author just got sacked from The New Yorker for making up the Dylan comments in this book.

Story here:

Jonah Lehrer, a staff writer for the New Yorker, has resigned after admitting to falsifying quotes.

After earlier disputing claims made by a magazine writer, Lehrer admitted on Monday that he had been guilty of making up and misattributing quotes about Bob Dylan in his best-selling book, Imagine: How Creativity W
Jul 31, 2012 marked it as noway-josé  ·  review of another edition
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm more than half-way through and maybe it's just my left-brain (even though tests show I'm sort of more right-brained?) getting in the way but I'm rather frustrated about how every chapter seems to say no, it's not just what we said in the previous chapter, it's this! Like relaxation is essential unless you're productive when you're under stress. Then stress! ADHD sufferers excel, except here, take some amphetamines and focus intently, except, hey, you lost all that right-brained disparate inp ...more
Apr 03, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
July 31 update: Lehrer is exposed as a big fat liar and this book is removed from the shelves! (because of fake Dylan quotes). see NY Times article:

What is sad is that no one in the publishing world seems to have a high enough degree of scientific literacy to tell that Lehrer has just been b--sh---ing the whole time. Dylan quotes--someone is an expert on that. But science--we'll just believe whatever the cute dork says.
Original review below.

This is an e
Jun 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Elizabeth Theiss
Shelves: psychology, business
While this is a fun book, much of it seems to be quite obvious, and covered in numerous other books. This is especially true for the first half of the book, which is titled "Alone". I did not need to read, for the umpteenth time, how an engineer at 3M invented post-it notes. Likewise, it is so obvious that some of the most creative people are those whose expertise spans multiple areas.

The second half of the book, titled "Together", was more interesting to me. For example, I did not know that the
Mar 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I heard the author interviewed on Fresh Air ( and was utterly fascinated! He told so many interesting stories, such as every researcher at 3M gets an hour a day (of their workday) to do whatever they want ... take a nap, go for a walk, play a game, etc. 3M knows that that time creates creativity!

He also told the story of how Swiffer was invented. Interesting!
Kylie Sparks
May 13, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

well...I did think this book was great. Until I found out that he fabricated quotes in the Bob Dylan chapter and then lied to cover it up. It seems likely (the investigation is still ongoing) that more of the book is fabricated. He's creative all right but I really have no respect for him anymore--he's a journalist after all and his behavior violates the basic ethics of journalism.
Cheryl Dickemper
Jun 20, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
In light of recent developments, I feel the need to rewrite my initially positive review. Fabricating sources to support your thesis is plagiarism of the worst sort and something I struggled against while teaching composition to undergrads. I did enjoy the book, but now that the quotes are in question, as a reader, I have to wonder what else was invented or ripped from context to support Lehrer's ideas. The book was still thought-provoking, though, and perhaps Lehrer can reinvent himself as spea ...more
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: listened
FASCINATING!!! Well researched and well written. Some things seem like 'well duh' but they really aren't. If you are creative, if you aren't creative check this book out. It will enhance your creative powers, and validate HOW you get to your creative state. If you aren't creative, or don't THINK you are creative, you may quite possibly be surprised.
May 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This audiobook kept me rapt en route to school and home again for about two weeks. Lehrer does a fascinating job of discussing, presenting, and analyzing creativity in many forms, and his information and insights have value for us personally, as communities, and, of course, as teachers. I am thinking of recommending this book to my department as a summer read--highly recommended.

Two quibbles, one audio-related, one not. Audio: Lehrer is not a great reader. While regional accents are terrific, h
Dec 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-books
I have a friend whose husband is a book rep - she passes me the books that she thinks I'll find most interesting, so I lucked into a galley copy of this book. I consider myself a creative type and have often wondered why sometimes the ideas flow easily and other times it feels like trying to squeeze a hammer through a tube of toothpaste. Lehrer gives a good, scientific basis for why the brain works the way it does. Interesting, but I can't really do anything about how my brain works, can I?

The g
Jun 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't say I agree with everything presented in here but I do think this book is interesting and worth reading. Jonah Lehrer is a good writer, though his prose gets a bit overwrought at times when he's talking about literature. It's funny. His writing mimics the subject matter he's talking about. When he's talking about science, his writing is direct, clear and succinct. But add the element of art, especially literature, and his prose gets more florid and he begins to add more clauses; in other ...more
James Q. Golden
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just answered a question on Quora and recommended this book, and because I didn't want to feel stupid for recommending it, because it has a low score and is quite controversial, I started reading some of the negative reviews, and all I can say is this: I get it.

It's almost certain that the man misquoted Bob Dylan, and that some of the stories and paradigms in this book Do drag on before they actually make a point, and there's a whole desert of things in this book that after you've read it and
Brian Clegg
Very much of the journalism-based, story telling, popular science style, there is no doubt that this is a very readable book from an enthusiastic writer. As someone who has trained people in business creativity for over 15 years, it was also very interesting seeing a degree of scientific basis for what we've known pragmatically for a long time about ways of being creative. As often is the case with brain-based popular science, the scientific backup is primarily through studies of how the brain a ...more
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lehrer does something fascinating here. He talks about creativity from a personal and medical perspective (what your brain does when it’s stuck). Then he molds this creativity model to an organizational structure, showing us how the same process works for business. Finally, he fits the same findings to to a social structure.

I recently read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, which used the same idea - going from personal to business to social - but seemed flimsy. So how does Lehrer succeed? He
Melissa Rochelle
07/30/12 -- I forgave Lehrer for basically recycling his own works. But then to find out he MADE STUFF UP in this book...not OK. So my four star rating is going down to a three for now. It might go lower if we learn that more than just the Bob Dylan quotes were fabrications.

07/11/12 -- I feel like I should begin by saying I started listening to this after listening to Scott Brick narrate The Passage and SB is pretty much the greatest narrator on the planet (or so I've been told). When I started
Chad Post
I have such mixed feelings about this book. I'm a sucker for neuroscience books, and for Jonah Lehrer, and there are a lot of interesting bits in here (the part of the brain that inhibits improvisation, the unique schools described at the end, the suckery of brainstorming sessions, etc.), but it's also a deeply flawed book.

First off, there's not as much scientific research on creativity like there is on decision making. (Which is what Lehrer's last book is about.) So nothing really adds up and
Joshum Harpy
I was desperately looking forward to reading this book. I am an avid musician of 20 years, a working Illustrator and I do rehab work with adults with traumatic brain injuries. The subjects of neurology and creativity are dear to my heart and some of the most profound and moving mysteries with which I consistently find myself preoccupied. Unfortunately, however interesting the subjects and studies referenced in this book may be, it is a disturbingly heartless book about "creativity" that reads mo ...more
Probably actually between 3.5-4.0. While the writing is fairly pedestrian, it is easy to follow. Lehrer is communicating sometimes complex information about the creative process in a simplified form that makes it reader-friendly.

Creativity often seems mysterious, a gift some people have and some just don't. Lehrer argues that creativity is far more common than we may believe, it just flourishes under some conditions more than under others.

For example, cities stimulate creativity because of the c
Mal Warwick
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
“At any given moment, the brain is automatically forming new associations, continually connecting an everyday x to an unexpected y. This book is about how that happens. It is the story of how we imagine.”

That’s how Jonah Lehrer frames his wide-ranging romp through the world of creativity, touching down briefly on practitioners as diverse as Bob Dylan, the 3M Corporation, Broadway producers, Shakespeare, and Procter and Gamble. By examining the ways and means of the creative “geniuses” who produc
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the mid-80s I stepped out of the shower and wrote the basic structure Bette Ammon and I used for the handbooks and guides we wrote for teachers and librarians over the next 15 years. I met with a lawyer the next day and Beyond Basals, Inc. was launched. Since then I’ve been surprised over and over again when a really good idea seems to fall from the sky or when I’m suddenly aware of an art piece that took on its own life.

Needless to say, I was eager to read Imagine when I first heard about it
Christine Edison
May 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How can people become more imaginative? Through numerous amusing anecdotes and analysis of plenty of scientific studies, Jonah Lehrer shows how people as diverse as Bob Dylan, the man who created the “Just Do It” slogan and the inventor of the bacon-infused Old Fashioned made creative breakthroughs. Learn why Steve Jobs put the only bathrooms at Pixar in the atrium to force people to bump into one another and how travel really does broaden your mind.
Here are just a few tips I picked up:
-- Move
Mary Beth
Jun 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! A mix of concrete examples and science exploration into how creativity works, this book has loads of implications for the classroom. There are tons of ideas and quotes that I've highlighted throughout this book, such as daydream walks, horizontal interactions, color coded paper based on the kind of tasks that we are asking them to do, collaboration. This book really got me thinking about how I will set up my classroom in the next year.
Here's a great quote:

"The mystery is this:
Ownbymom Ownby
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The University of Utah has adopted this book for the year, which I admit is what prompted me to read it. So glad I did. It's a fascinating examination of the creative process for individuals, and for groups. The one thing I will take away is the idea that we need to put ourselves in places where we will experience diversity in all of its richness. Those kinds of encounters, even if they are seemingly insignificant, are the ones which prompt us to think in new ways. Sometimes the nonexpert is the ...more
Jul 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, kindle
Thoroughly enjoyable and insightful exploration of creativity and the conditions necessary to produce it. Great read for writers, teachers, anyone interested in innovation and creativity.
Oct 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was a real pleasure reading this book. The way this young writer Jonah Lehrer, dealed with the subject fascinated me so much he’s well documented once treating every single idea.

However, the awe I was in when I finished this book started to disappear once I read that he made-up Bob Dylan’s quotes for his book and that he also lied about the context in which some non-existent quotes were given. I think the book could still have been good even if it wouldn’t have Bob Dylan as one of his multip
Really enjoyed this book - something interesting about putting conscious thought around what is often a subconscious process. Some of my favorite quotes...

-"The concept is only the start of the process. The hardest work always comes after, when you're trying to make the idea real."

-Frustration - the act of being stumped - is an essential part of the creative process. Before we can find the answer - before we probably even know the question - we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced a sol
Lehrer comes at this topic with a goal: to see what we can and should be doing to improve the innovation successes in the United States in the future. He tries to explain moments of inspiration and examples of ongoing innovation and uses anecdotes to illustrate. He has an easy style, tackles a very big subject, and comes at it from many angles. It’s interesting. Best of all, his work can be discussed, refuted, and improved upon. That’s where he was leading us all along.

There is something very se
Jay Connor
Apr 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evonne Goolagong, a stand-out women’s Grand Slam tennis player from Australia in the early 1970’s, was held back from greatness, by her own accounting, by her all too frequent mid-match “walk-abouts.” She used this Australian colloquialism to refer to her loosing concentration when the match was on the line. Like Evonne, Jonah Lehrer, despite my five stars, could have achieved even more with his wonderful “Imagine.” Unfortunately, in the middle of the first third of the book he went on a walk-ab ...more
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“We need to be willing to risk embarrassment, ask silly questions, surround ourselves with people who don't know what we're talking about. We need to leave behind the safety of our expertise.” 41 likes
“And so we keep on thinking, because the next thought might be the answer.” 24 likes
More quotes…