Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Imagine: How Creativity Works

Rate this book
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.


279 pages, Hardcover

First published March 19, 2012

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Jonah Lehrer

17 books712 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
18,333 (39%)
4 stars
14,086 (30%)
3 stars
9,458 (20%)
2 stars
2,956 (6%)
1 star
2,016 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,762 reviews
Profile Image for Rob.
Author 2 books377 followers
August 11, 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, Jonah Lehrer presents a series of experimental findings and narratives, and draws them together to into an optimistic thesis on creativity and innovation. But there are two books here: there's the successful book, the book where Lehrer is a capable wordsmith with a knack for describing and synthesizing these scientific findings and their implications in a way that is accessible to a lay-audience; and then there is the mediocre book, the book where Lehrer substitutes anecdotes for evidence, where he lets latter points undermine positions formerly established, where he allows his rhetorical flourish to obfuscate the point he is trying to make. And it is with that in mind that I closed the covers with mixed feelings.

Lehrer's optimistic thesis in a nutshell: Creative Genius [1] is not some rare gift that only a remarkable and privileged few are born with; instead, Creative Genius is the product of exposure to diverse ideas, [2] the synthesis of those diverse ideas to form novel innovations, and the diligent pursuit of those novel innovations in the face of challenges, setbacks, and outright failures.

For most of us, this is fantastic news. We don't have to win the genetic lottery to be Creative Geniuses. We're still at the mercy of other privileges (e.g., we still need to be situated such that we can be exposed to diverse ideas; we still have to have the financial and emotional resources to withstand the failures that stand between our ideas and seeing them to fruition; we still need to live in a culture or society, and live under the aegis of a government that does not have draconian intellectual property laws and/or censorship laws and/or lots of other apparatuses set up for maintaining the status quo at all costs) but assuming all those other things line up, we may all be poised to become Creative Geniuses and change the world.

Imagine contains a lot of evidence (anecdotal, scientific, and in between) to support this thesis. Lehrer talks about the research that went into the development of the Swiffer, and about the almost-random inspiration that led to its conceptions. He talks about how a burnt-out Bob Dylan retreated to Woodstock, NY, with the intention of never again picking up a guitar, only to write the best music of his career literally days later. He writes about how 3M has been doing "that Google thing" [3] with their engineers for over 70 years. He writes about Broadway productions and what the right mix of "old friends" and "new blood" is necessary to make a hit. He talks about when to take a project and put it in the drawer for a year. He surveys studies (some shrewd, some dubious) from neuroscientists, and on the next pages there are yarns spun through interviews with advertising professionals, urban planners, musicians, magicians, graphic artists, and everyone in between. And all the while, Lehrer's narrative style weaves this all together, and makes it easy for just about anyone to comprehend. But...

An accessible narrative style, the style required to reach a broad lay-audience, too often becomes... reductionist? Overly simplified? That kind of style can muddle some of the nuance that is otherwise necessary for a meticulous scientific discussion. [4] Some have argued that Lehrer is drawing conclusions that simply aren't there, [5] but I don't know if I fully agree with that. It's more subtle than that. It isn't that he doesn't have a point, or that his conclusions are unfounded or banal, or even that he is interleaving scientific evidence and colloquial anecdotes with equal significance. That's not the problem.

The problem is that he keeps slipping (ever so slightly) and undermining his own prior arguments as he enthusiastically works himself up to support whatever argument he is shaping in that chapter and on that page. The problem is that he tends to contradict himself. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the book's penultimate chapter. Lehrer fetishizes big-city-living [6] so much that he begins to celebrate this concept more than anything else [7] [8] and in doing so, he comes close to compromising many of the points he made before. In the preceding chapter, he beats the drum of travel as the critical path to gaining diverse experiences and gaining exposure to diverse ideas, but when he gets around to talking about big cities... Well, you may as well just move to New York City and call it a day; who needs to travel when you can just live in the place where everyone is going to (or through) anyway? Granted, this is not explicitly stated, but therein lies one of my gripes--that this seems to be such an obvious conclusion and such a clear cognitive path between the two discussions, that I am led to believe that he did not fully explore the implications of some (many? most?) of these critical concepts he was exploring to benefit his thesis. If he did not make the link between those two points, then what else did he miss? what else did he gloss over? what other connections were not made? [9] [10] Worse, there is a clear case of reverse causality happening here. Given the research cited, there is clearly an intriguing feedback mechanism taking place in these large and vibrant metropolises, but to say that the city itself causes the creativity is spurious and misleading.

These criticisms aside however, Lehrer's thesis remains strong, and it is refreshing to see someone grapple with the subject matter in such an optimistic fashion. It seems that we too often treat the "creativity" of "innovators" as this scarce natural resource. There is romance in the mystery of Creative Geniuses, but it is not a helpful romance. You need not be born "that way"; being a Creative Genius (or even just Sufficiently Innovative) is something that you can work toward. All we need is the right climate:

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.

The right kind of stubborn temperament helps, too:

In fact, most of us see perseverance as a distinctly uncreative approach, the sort of strategy that people with mediocre ideas are forced to rely on.

Lastly: Lehrer isolated this brilliant quote from Yo-Yo Ma:

If you are only worried about not making a mistake, then you will communicate nothing.

...which just about sums up everything in the book, and everything I feel about the book.

Update: (7/31/2012) on Jonah Lehrer's resignation.


[1] "Creative Genius" being a phrase that I do not recall being called out (nor Initially Capitalized) explicitly in the text, but it was used rather prominently in Matthew Francis' review on Ars Technica, so I've decided to incorporate it similarly here.

[2] And we use "ideas" here in a very broad sense. "Ideas" are challenges, concepts, customs, dilemmas, facts, hypotheses, memes, problems, stories, superstitions, suspicions, theories, traditions, words, and every other thing that you might pick up from interacting with another person.

[3] "That Google thing" being that their engineers get (by anecdotal accounts, at least; I couldn't find anything official) upwards of 20% of their time to spend working on pet projects.

[4] Granted: I was raised in a household where scientific rigor was de rigueur... And as such, my bias tends to lean toward "more rigor and less rhetoric". Take that as "full disclosure"; take that for what you will. I just always assume that everyone else is looking for that same kind of exactness in the text.

[5] I'm thinking in particular of Isaac Chotiner's piece, "The Curse of Knowledge" (The New Republic), which features lines like this:
More worryingly, Lehrer’s weightier confusions cast doubt on his glib interpretations of brain experiments.
And the comment thread is filled with similar indictments. (Though you're not missing much if you skip the comment thread on the Chotiner article.)

[6] He really enjoyed using the word "superlinear".

[7] Why else would they positioned in the text as they are? if not to culminate with entrepreneurs in big cities?

[8] There is also some fetishization of entrepreneurs going on in that chapter, which made me bristle a bit--but I can't say that that undermined his point. There was plenty of room left-over for engineers and artists.

[9] At which I note: there is some embedded irony there.

[10] Yes, I should have kept better track of these contradictions. But by the time I'd gotten to this point, I wasn't about to go back and start cataloging them for the sake of this lowly document.


See also:
The Curse of Knowledge by Isaac Chotiner (New Republic)
Defending Jonah Lehrer by Bradley Voytek
"Imagine" a society that fosters creativity by Matthew Francis (Ars Technica) -- maybe a little bit flip, but fairly even-handed (and short) review in its own right
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,026 reviews1,182 followers
July 31, 2012
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 Works.

Never get in the way of an obsessed Dylan fan, Lehrer. I hope you are no relation to the great man....

The big issue here is not even that the prat made up some Dylan, in an ignorant and arrogant way thinking he'd get away with it.

The problem is that it makes everything he does unreliable. It's easy to discover that he has made up the Dylan bits, but what about all his other 'sources'. They are completely discredited now as well.

Where does that leave his book? Maybe somebody who has read it can answer that for me.
Profile Image for Andy.
1,377 reviews465 followers
July 31, 2012
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 entertaining book because its ideas are counterintuitive. The problem is that the reason the ideas are counterintuitive is that they are wrong.

Take for example, the chapter on how "brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea." (This is the chapter that was probably most mentioned in reviews.)

The reader would be much better served watching a short Nightline video on the design firm IDEO to see how brainstorming does work in the real world to produce many of the real products that surround us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M66ZU2.... Lehrer's book does not mention IDEO--let alone explain how he deals with this inconvenient contradiction to his thesis. This is a suspiciously conspicuous hole. The fact that a giant design firm not only uses brainstorming but actively evangelizes for it is sort of a problem for the case that brainstorming is a myth. Lehrer himself acknowledges the success of IDEO in his New Yorker article on this same topic.

Lehrer's evidence for his surprising claim bashing brainstorming is a psychology study with groups of 4 or 5 undergrads, and no facilitator or special tools, working on an assigned topic they probably don't care about. This is a biased, unfair test of brainstorming because: the group is too small, there is a certain skill to managing a brainstorming session so that people follow the rules and kids just being told to do it will not have this expertise, and the point is to share ideas about a problem that people want/need to solve. Despite these monkey-wrenches, the "brainstorming" group still did do better than the controls! A third group did even better by "debating" but this is another straw-man argument because in practice the idea generation of brainstorming is always followed by some kind of winnowing process. Nobody anywhere is proposing that one should implement all of the hundreds of ideas generated by a brainstorming session. Nor would one reject new good ideas that come up during the winnowing.

The value of brainstorming is as a means of sharing ideas in environments where that does not happen spontaneously. If your workplace consists of geniuses casually wandering around and chatting with each other about all their brilliant thoughts, then brainstorming is probably not necessary. But for everyone else, it can be extremely powerful.

To baselessly bash something useful just so one can come up with something surprising to say is irresponsible.

Profile Image for Marzie.
1,128 reviews91 followers
May 6, 2012
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 input. Perhaps it's a sign of just how complicated the subject matter is but, it's rather frustrating picking through this book and saying, "but wait a minute, back here you said this, and now your saying not-this?"

In the end, I've enjoyed it, but I feel as if it is living testimony to how little we understand about imagination, innovation's spark in the mind, and how one person's creatively stifling situation is another's crucible of innovation and insight.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
804 reviews2,536 followers
June 26, 2014
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 area of San Jose was highly innovatives long before the inventions of electronics. Even when the area was agricultural, for the past hundred years it scored high in terms of the number of patents per capita. I'm not sure this can be explained; unfortunately, the book does not really explore the reason for this.

On the other hand, the book does explain why Silicon Valley became innovative after the development of electronics. There are a couple of reasons, all having to do with the sharing of information among engineers there. They tend to have after-work drinks at a small number of watering holes. Non-compete clauses are not enforced there. And, there is a high rate of turnover among the technically skilled engineers.

While it seems obvious, it is worthwhile mentioning that creative people feel less inhibited to take risks. And, with risks comes frequent failures. So, it appears that creative people are less afraid to fail, and they are persistent in the face of a string of failures.

The style of this book is similar to that of of Malcolm Gladwell. It is packed with plenty of interesting anecdotes, which then are used as a springboard for speculation. This makes it a fun, feel-good book--it's just not a definitive work.
153 reviews
March 22, 2012
I heard the author interviewed on Fresh Air (http://www.npr.org/2012/03/21/1486071...) 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!
Profile Image for James Q. Golden.
21 reviews109 followers
November 11, 2017
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 try to recall them they just slip down your fingers like dust. That's all true, I concur.

BUT (and this is a big but for me because I've actually experienced what I'm going to tell you) there's a tiny gem in this book, which is backed-up by neuroscience, a fact which makes it shine Even brighter, and for the man or woman--or better, for the kids who'd love to enhance or polish or retrieve their lost creativity, this tiny gem is a true treasure.

This tiny and Bright and so talked-up gem, ladies and gentlemen, is nothing else but Depression .

Now, I know this may sound odd at first, but depression—although a scary and depressing word in itself—is a wonderful feeling, *WHEN* used as a tool for creativity.

The root of every emotion is its opposite and, for me, the opposite of Spontaneous, child-like, out-of-this-world, innovative, wild-colors-on-ever-changing-canvas creativity, is dark, gloom, I-want-to-kill-myself-with-all-my-heart-but-I-won’t-actually-do-it-because-I’m-not-stupid, depression.

Of course, you don’t have to take it that far; I’m just pointing out the extremes here, but, yes, if you want to tread the journey named creativity, the carrot is not sufficient; you have to add the stick too, unfortunately.

The good news however is that you do these things willingly, so at the end of the road, when you look back, you can know and Feel that it was a *FUN FUN FUN* ride. And this is something I've experienced first-hand, all because of this book, because it made me, at a period of my life in which I was really depressed, to realize the OPPORTUNITY of using this depression and turning it into CREATIVITY.

I have so many things written on my notebook--seeds that were planted during that period--that you wouldn't believe, and which, after years of being content and happy with my life, never cease to amaze me, for I know for a fact that I would never come up with this crazy stuff feeling as I'm feeling right now without using Depression as a tool first.

So, anyway, my point is, as a Dragon once pointed out, to not confuse the moon with the finger pointing at the moon. Yes, the writing isn't perfect and the writer isn't perfect either, as we all aren't, but the gem remains.

Why don't you allow yourself to Focus on that and go GRAB IT!
Profile Image for Kylie.
1,071 reviews10 followers
May 14, 2012

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.
Profile Image for Beth.
443 reviews9 followers
June 23, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Cheryl Dickemper.
43 reviews2 followers
July 31, 2012
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 speaker on intellectual honesty to college and high school students and to outline how a well-respected, smart guy gets sucked into thinking that it's acceptable to make stuff up and pass it off as factually true in a published book. And on Bob Dylan, no less. Wow. No one's going to catch that.

Profile Image for Rebecca.
1,059 reviews27 followers
May 6, 2012
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, his repeated pronunciation of "shouldn't" and "couldn't" as "shoon't" and "coon't" just seems like something that an editor or he himself should have addressed.

Secondly, and more damningly, the book is so male-oriented that it inspired the kind of frustration I haven't felt since the bad old days of teachers "jokingly" telling the girls they couldn't do or be something or other. Virtually every creative person, virtually every researcher Lehrer cites is male. Two particular examples: Lehrer mentions the upsurge of creativity in Elizabethan England due to a particular alignment of events and laws (read and find out), but except for a passing mention that the sons of all kinds of work class families could now learn to read, he never even notes the loss of the potential creativity of thousands of sisters, daughters, wives, all left uneducated. Since a subtext of his book is that we need creativity now more than ever and should seek it out and encourage it, that blindness seemed a huge flaw.

My second example is funnier. When I had just begin to notice that unflagging emphasis on "he, he, he," I finally heard a "she"! A woman had invented something creative and enduring! My ears pricked up. Yes! She persevered! She kept urging her husband (okay) to follow the idea she'd come up with from watching her kids (okay, fine. . . )--but the joke was on me: this one major example concerned the woman who invented--you got it--Barbie.

I wish some editor could've noticed this fault, because it certainly undermines the book's message that we need to "think different," that we need to see our world through a different lense in order to really inspire and benefit from creativity. I'd love to hear comments from other readers--maybe we could encourage a second edition, or maybe you'll all tell me to get over myself. However, read the book--it's fascinating, despite its flaws.
Profile Image for Murat Dural.
Author 14 books557 followers
November 15, 2020
Naçizane yazma çabasının bir garip çabadarı olmam vesilesi ile okuma kombolarımda muhakkak bir kuramsal eser bulundurmaya gayret ediyorum; yazı, senaryo, oyun, roman, öykü yazımı, hayal gücü ya da üretmek üzerine inceleme, araştırma okuyorum. Hiç şüphesiz "Hayal Gücü" bu anlamda uzun süredir rastladığım en iyi kitap. Kitap içinde de kendine yer bulduğu üzere farklı dallardaki yaratıcı fikirlerin kesişim kümesini alıyor ve ilham olarak size sunuyor. Yazmak mı istiyorsunuz; buyurun, resim, dans, tiyatro mu yapmak istiyorsunuz; bu eser sizler içinde faydalı. Yatırım, işletme, satış personeli misiniz? Bu eserde sizler için de çok şey var. Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Yayını eser kesinlikle içinizdeki potansiyeli harika bir dille size tanımlıyor. Çok keyif aldım, siz de alın :)
Profile Image for CJ.
421 reviews
December 1, 2011
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 genius of this book is the way he explains how other people are creative. How Bob Dylan dropped out and experienced some of the most creative times of his life. Why cities are such hotbeds for new ideas. How the Pixar team created a space where people have chances everyday to "run into" their co-workers and discuss the work. Why Elizabethan England gave us so many great playwrights. Is 3M one of the most creative companies because they give their employees the time and space to "make connections"? By looking at how others are creative, Lehrer provides a kind of road map on how you could make more creative space in your own life.

Imagine gave me hope that I don't have to wait for a muse to hit me over the head. I can take steps that will open the tap of creativity in my head and keep it flowing. That it's not just a matter of talent but a mixture of planning, work, and perseverance that will allow me to create the life I want to live - both professionally and personally.

This is another of those books that you can't speed read through. I read it a chapter at a time and let it sink in. I almost handed the book to my boss, he needs to read the chapter on the "Q" factor (the idea that you have to bring in new people every now and again to juice up everyone on the team). I can think of several other people who will get something out of Imagine - they'll be getting copies as well. Well worth reading.
Profile Image for Emily.
121 reviews2 followers
April 22, 2013
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 words, the prose heats up a bit. I found that inflamed prose a little annoying. It sounded out of place, like the unmitigated fervor of an undergraduate paper. I found it distracting. His ending thesis, especially, recalled the harried dash for the end of an undergraduate paper: WE NEED TO FOSTER THE MAGIC OF CREATIVITY OR WE ARE DOOMED. The end.

Pretty good read, though single minded and a bit repetitive. I dislike that one piece of scientific research on which Lehrer heavily leans gives the measure of creativity and productivity as the number of patents and trademarks submitted. There's no mention in that study of purely artistic creativity or productivity. F that.

Anyway, I'd still recommend reading this book.
Profile Image for Brian Clegg.
Author 205 books2,571 followers
April 6, 2012
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 acts using fMRI and EEG.

So far, so good. But I do have some issues. For me the 'practical' creative aspects of the book work much better than the 'arty' side. In the end, to an extent, this is inevitable because the arty side is so subjective. Jonah Lehrer (any relation to the very creative Tom? the bio doesn't say) positively drools over how wonderful and creative Bob Dylan is. I find Dylan boring, pretentious and anything but creative. So that's a whole chunk of the book that turns me off. You can't argue about the creativity of a new product or invention - you certainly can about art.

There are, nonetheless, some very interesting observations - and it's certainly not all as commonplace as 'it helps to go and have a walk if you're trying to come up with an idea'. (This may seem trivial, but it's one of the most powerful aids to creativity.) I was really interested in the aspects of the influence of cities over productivity, and how electronic versions don't deliver the same effect.

Unfortunately, Lehrer does get one thing totally wrong. He slags off the great Alex Osborn, because his idea 'brainstorming' doesn't really deliver. This is a classic misunderstanding that tends to come if you don't actually read Osborn's books. He never intended brainstorming to be used in isolation to generate ideas. It's an idea collection technique, not a generation technique - it's supposed to be used alongside a generation technique, which Lehrer doesn't mention. He also collapses the creative process, usually at its best consisting of at least four stages, into a single event and so totally fails to understand it.

Despite this, though, there a fair amount of useful material in a book that is generally an easy read. It just isn't the masterpiece that it seems to think it is.

Review first published on www.popularscience.co.uk and reproduced with permission.
Profile Image for Schmacko.
246 reviews65 followers
April 12, 2012
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 constantly refers back to his earlier writing, either in mythological examples or in scientific fact. There is a clear sense of connectivity from the ideas of the individual to the organization to the social. The bridge is strong enough to see the comparisons between all three types of creativity.

His surveys are always fascinating, though I wondered how “true” they were; he never quite offers statistics to show that his ideas are universal. He offered single stories. However, his examples are awesome:

- A murderer facing a firing squad helped an advertiser come up with Nike’s slogan “Just Do It.”

- The company 3M – the inventors of masking tape Scotch tape, and Post-It Notes - shows how mixing experts from different fields is important. Yet, letting problem solvers have time alone to figure out the details is also vital.

- Pixar shows how ineffective brainstorming – only accepting positive ideas without criticism – can be. They initiate a critical plan where they also offer solutions to problems they see.

- My theater friends will love this: Lehrer talks about the Q effect, a mathematical equation that says that the right mix of compatriots and strangers working together can guarantee a Broadway hit. Too many strangers and the thing fails because of conflict. Too many people always working with the same team means the dissenting voice or the new idea is never introduced.

- A company found that offering rewards on the Internet solved a lot of scientific problems their multi-million-dollar labs full of “experts” were stumped by. Often the outsider has the most powerful solution to a problem, because the outsider isn’t locked into “how it should be done.”

I would love to see more statistical – instead of just incidental – work done on this. But I still think this was a fascinating read!
Profile Image for Melissa Rochelle.
1,238 reviews144 followers
July 30, 2012
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 listening, I was not pleased. Jonah Lehrer narrates his own book, which can be a lot of fun. However, Mr. Lehrer is not a professional narrator like Mr. Brick, so I'm trying not to be too harsh. But here's the thing, at times it felt like maybe he had a cold or forgot to swallow so he simply had excess saliva in his mouth. Eventually I got past that because the content really was interesting.

My favorite chapter was definitely the one about excess genius (which we DO NOT have in Phoenix), Shakespeare (a genius that had opportunity to be a genius), and patents/copyright (Shakespeare didn't have to worry about no freakin' Mickey Mouse law). Perhaps I enjoyed this chapter so much because I despise our current copyright situation and it was nice to hear someone who agrees that it's stifling creativity. Or perhaps because it got me thinking about "excess genius" in certain fields of study. Honestly, I think it just brought the entire book together for me. This definitely fits right in with the other nonfiction with a side of self-help books I've listened to lately. So if you enjoyed Quiet or The Power of Habit then I think you'll enjoy this one, too.

(And the last bit in the acknowledgments made me tear up a little...I'm such a sap.)
Profile Image for Joshum Harpy.
64 reviews16 followers
May 27, 2012
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 more like a workplace productivity seminar than anything with the slightest shade of depth. Lehrer is a technophile, not a neurologist, who writes about the creative process as the golden ticket to "success" today, and the Disneyland tomorrow where the whole fucking world is paved and stuffed to the brim with novelty and gadgets to keep us distracted from our hollow, empty lives.

I'd suggest reading Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut instead. Vonnegut certainly knew a great deal more about creativity than this jackass and the book is a top notch satire about how stuffed-shirt stooges like Jonah Lehrer took over the whole fucking world.

Sound angry? Lemme tell ya, the only thing that got me through the second half of this book was sheer contempt. BAAAAAARRRRFFFF.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,475 reviews372 followers
December 24, 2017
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 close proximity and constant interaction with other people. Creativity seems to be a process that, contrary to popular ideas, that is sparked by even trivial interactions with others. It is a communal process, often a collaboration. Ideas are spread and elaborated upon, which leads to the explosion of new ideas.

For this to happen, Lehrer argues that there are some meta-ideas, prevailing societal conditions that lead to more creativity. Richness of language, horizontal connections rather than vertical (e.g., across companies rather than within one) are two conditions.

Lehrer presents a strong case against brainstorming and for criticism which spurs on more thinking, refinement of ideas, a challenge that leads to new and better thinking. Just affirmation isn't enough, critical reception appears to be vital.

Sadly, many of Lehrer's suggestions are counter to what is happening currently in our society (outside of, for example, Silicon Valley or Pixar Studios). Education is particularly flawed. The one thing we know people will increasingly need in our complex world is creativity. Yet schools have turned away from encouraging creative thinking to reward answering questions on a standardized test, responding to questions with canned answers. This is particularly sad and ominous in preschools that are focusing more and more on "sit down and study" curriculum and curtailing free play. But research has consistently showed that a young child's "play" leads to stronger critical thinking, social skills, and self-regulation than a curriculum focused on skill acquisition.

Reading this book made me feel both optimistic about our potential (including my own) to become more creative while also finding the many suggestions overwhelming. The lesson I learned from this book was that while there is no simple way to increase creativity, there are some simple methods that lead to being more creative as well as societal structures that also support the process.

An interesting, thoughtful work.
Profile Image for Aslı Can.
707 reviews206 followers
February 22, 2021
Beklediğim gibi bir kitap çıkmadı. Yaratıcılığı ''ıslak mendil''in, ''post-it'' in nasıl icat edildiği, 3M gibi şirketlerin çalışanların yaratıcılığını beslemek için nasıl politikalar izlediklerini anlatarak ele alıyor. Benim aksiliğime denk geldi ve bir noktada koptum kitaptan, devam etsem belki daha verimli olurdu.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 29 books404 followers
April 6, 2017
“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 produced “Blowin’ in the Wind,” the Post-It Note, West Side Story, Hamlet, the Swiffer (mop), and numerous other examples of successful innovations, Lehrer illuminates the principles he draws from extensive reading of scholarly research papers on neuroscience and his interviews with their authors and lays the groundwork for a set of observations about how a company or organization, or a government, can foster creativity.

For example, Lehrer notes that creativity is by and large a product of cities — places where people are typically forced to encounter those who have different values, represent different cultures, or simply have different ideas. It’s the interplay of ideas in unexpected ways that give rise to creative breakthroughs.

Interestingly, Lehrer points out that a city’s productivity (as measured by the number of patent applications) grows with size. The bigger the city, the more it serves as a springboard for creativity. But the same is not true of corporations. “Companies exhibit the opposite trend,” he writes — basically because nobody’s really in charge in a city (certainly not the mayor!), so there’s no one who can suppress dissent, but in a large corporation, hierarchical management and the self-preserving habits of bureaucrats so often prevent innovation.

One of the book’s most interesting points is that “human geniuses aren’t scattered randomly across time and space. Instead, they tend to arrive in tight, local clusters.” Lehrer gives the examples of Athens from 440 B.C. to 380 B.C., home of “Plato, Socrates, Pericles, Thucydides, Herodotus, Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Xenophon” — astonishing, isn’t it? — and of little Florence between 1450 and 1490. “In those few decades, a city of less than fifty thousand people gave rise to a staggering number of immortal artists, including Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Ghiberti, Botticelli, and Donatello.” Then he turns to the late 15th Century in England under Elizabeth I, featuring not just Shakespeare but also Christopher Marlowe, “Ben Jonson, John Milton, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Fletcher, Edmund Spenser, Thomas Kyd, Philip Sidney, Thomas Nash, John Donne, and Francis Bacon.” This last list is not quite so impressive as the others, but it helps make the point.

Examining the ways and means of genius and the bunching together of brilliant minds under particular circumstances, Lehrer spotlights the policies and procedures he believes can be put to work in schools, in corporations, and in city government to produce new generations of creative minds to solve the ever-more difficult problems humanity faces as the 21st century unfolds.

Jonah Lehrer, 31, is a Columbia University graduate and Rhodes Scholar who writes about psychology and the intersection of science and the humanities. Imagine is his third book, a best-seller just like its predecessor, How We Decide.

(From www.malwarwickonbooks.com)
Profile Image for Chad Post.
242 reviews243 followers
April 1, 2012
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 synthesizes the way it does in How We Decide. Instead, there are a ton of (sometimes trite) anecdotes serving as "evidence" of how creativity functions and discoveries are made. These ideas tend to be rather contradictory and, in some ways, not useful at all, in spite of the overarching self-help-y tone that the book has as a whole.

And that's the other big issue I have with this: It's like Lehrer sold out and became a corporate shill. I can see big companies giving this to all their execs to use in helping become more efficient in innovating and encouraging their employees to become more creative. And that just doesn't sit right with me.

This all said, I read this book in combination with Ender's Game. Not that I thought the two went together in any way, I just wanted to read both, and tend to have three or so books going at the same time. Anyway, what's interesting is that all of the things Ender does to try and improve at the game--devising the small toons and giving them a lot of freedom to act, getting Bean to do as much stupid shit as possible to try and devise new strategies--all of it matches all of the techniques Lehrer depicts in this book. It's both weird and entertaining when coincidences like this happen . . .
Profile Image for Gale.
103 reviews1 follower
June 21, 2012
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. How does creativity work? Well, long warm showers are a known stimulus, but so is some daydreaming, working across disciplines, travelling, taking risks, being serious about education, and any other number of things.

Lehrer brings together the modern neurological research and the case histories of the industrial engineer developing Post-It-Notes, what happens at Pixar’s studio, Bob Dylan’s songwriting, the playing by Yo-Yo Ma, the drinks an amateur bartender creates in NYC, the Silicon Valley folks, etc. They are as diverse a group as you can get with only one thing in come- they are creative!

There is no formula for stimulating creativity, but Lehrer makes it clear we can all be as creative as the people he writes about. This is a wonderful book for parents, teachers… for everyone to create a better world.
Profile Image for Christine Edison.
Author 1 book2 followers
August 19, 2012
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 to a large city to boost your creative productivity 15 percent on average. This is due to the increased number of random encounters with all kinds of people.
-- If you need a flash of insight, try a hot shower or a walk. This gives your brain a chance to make new connections and get into the alpha wave state, priming you for insight.
-- If you think you’re getting close to a solution for a nagging problem, knuckle down and concentrate. Sometimes you have to work hard to get through the problem, but the brain has the ability to sense when you're getting close, like when the word you need is on the tip of your tongue.
I have read that some of Lehrer's quotes were fabricated, so take what you read with a grain of salt. But I still found the book entertaining.
Profile Image for Mary Beth Revesz.
279 reviews3 followers
June 25, 2012
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: although the imagination is inspired by the everyday world- by its flaws and beauties- we are able to see beyond our sources, to imagine things that exist only in the mind. We notice an incompleteness and we can complete it: the cracks in things become a source of light. And so the mop gets turned into the Swiffer, and TIn Pan Alley gives rise to Bob Dylan, and a hackneyed tragedy becomes Hamlet. Every creative story is different. And every creative story is the same. There was nothing. Now there is something. It's almost like magic."
Profile Image for Ownbymom Ownby.
173 reviews5 followers
August 2, 2012
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 person who can make a creative breakthrough because he looks at the problem in an entirely different way. And, it's much more stimulating to share ideas with many people, rather than hoarding them in the privacy of one's brain.

UPDATE: So very sad that Lehrer has resigned and admitted that parts of this book were made up, in particular quotes from Bob Dylan. Difficult to know what else is made up in the book. My rating still stands, because the diversity/creativity relationship rings true to me. But the luster is off.
Profile Image for Kristi Holmes Espineira.
200 reviews8 followers
July 2, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Laura Povilaitytė.
19 reviews5 followers
January 24, 2021
* Pragaras - tai vieta, kur niekas su niekuo nesisieja (-Dantė)
* Visos kūrybinės paieškos prasideda nuo problemos. Jos kyla iš nevilties, iš buko skausmo ieškant sprendimo.
* Atsitiktinumas dažniausiai aplanko pasirengusį protą.
* Kai esame ramūs ir per smegenis vilnija alfa bangos, lengviau susikoncentruojame į vidų ir turime dešiniojo pusrutulio siunčiamas atokias asociacijas.
* Kartais atrodo, kad idėja jau išsemta ir nieko prie jos nepridursi, bet kai netyčia užsimeni apie ją žmogui, dirbančiam visai kitoje srityje, ji įkvėpia kitą išradimą, o šis - dar vieną.
* Imorovizuoti įmanoma tik tada, kai jau turi žinių bagažą.
* Už kiekvieną protinį gebėjimą tenka mokėti. Išmokę valdyti impulsus, suvaržome improvizacinius gebėjimus. Todėl nepaprastai svarbu išmokti atsipalaiduoti.
* Nors neišmanymas yra akivaizdus trūkumas, jame slypi kūrybinė galia: būtent dėl šios priežasties begalėje sričių, pradedant fizija ir baigiant pankroku, ledus pralaužia jaunausieji atstovai. Jaunikliai žino mažiau, todėl daugiau kuria.
* Mūsų protas veikia savotiškai: kuo arčiau problemos esame, tuo siauriau apie ją galvojame.
* Jei nesidalysime mintimis su kitais, gyvensime tarp neišsprendžiamų problemų. Galime dirbti drauge arba žlugti pavieniui.
* Žmonems būdingas troškimas dirbti draugų rate, nes taip jie jaučiasi saugesni. Bet būtent taip daryti nereikia. Jei norite sukurti ką nors didingo, jums teks pakviesti ir keletą nepažistamų žmonių.
* Mūsų požiūri keičia netikėti minčių mainai su pirmąkart sutiktais žmonėmis.
* Atlikti darbą be trūkumų galime tik kalbedamiesi apie trūkumus.
* Dvasinės krizės visada bus skausmingos, bet jos reiškia, kad mes įtemptai stengiamės, kad vis vien rizikuojame ir siekiame ištaisyti savo klaidas.
* “Aš irgi taip galiu, nes mačiau, kaip tai daro kiti.”
* Kažkuriuo metu profesinis ugdymas tapo keiksmažodžiu. Pasidarė nebemadinga mokyti vaikus rankdarbių, pasigaminti ką nors savomis rankomis. Vietoj to mokykla užvertė vaikus faktais ir testais. Kai mus užvaldo visokie testai ir imame ugdyti vaikus taip, kaip tai darome dabar, mes iškreipiame jų suvokimą. Galima sakyti, kad bandome jiems įteigti, jog kūrybingumas nieko vertas. Jog tai tik laiko švaistymas. Sunku ir sugalvoti, kaip galima dar labiau iškreipti esmę.
* Mokslininkai tyrinėjo atkaklumo ir kūrybinių laimėjimų ryšį. Jie nustatė, kad vienas svarbiausių sėkmės pranašų yra žmogaus gebėjimas nemesti pradėto darbo - techniškai šis būdo bruožas vadinamas ištverme.
* “Supratimas atsiranda per veiksmą” -J.Dewey
28 reviews4 followers
November 6, 2012
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 multiple examples.

But that’s not the point of my review, the book still deserves to be read and enjoyed.

So this book demonstrates that our best ideas doesn’t come from somewhere else. It’s all in our head. All we need is to know how creativity works to make it work for us. The book starts by stressing on the fact that every creative journey starts with a feeling of frustration, when we give up trying and stop searching for the answer. Jonah Lehrer says that at this specific stage, the insight comes. But how? To answer this question, he resorts to neuroscientist explanations. Like when he explains that the right-hemisphere has a crucial role in creativity or why sometimes the epiphany comes after taking a hot shower or daydreaming.

I also found it beneficial when he talked about the letting go and that when we are worried and stressed, we are less involved in what we do and all we communicate to our surrounding is just nothing. Here is a quote from the ingenious cellist Yo-Yo Ma which once I read it I was sure I would always think about it every time I have a stage fright:

"People always ask me how I stay loose before a performance," Ma says. "The first thing I tell them is that everybody gets nervous. You can't help it. But what I do before I walk onstage is I pretend that I m the host of a big dinner party, and everybody in the audience is in my living room. And one of the worst things you can do as a host is to show you’re worried. Is the fish overcooked? Is the wine too warm? Is the beef too rare? If you show that you’re worried, then everybody feels uncomfortable. This is what I learned from Julia Child. You know she would drop her roast chicken on the floor, but did she scream? Did she cry or panic? No, she just calmly picked the chicken off the floor and managed to keep her smile. Playing the cello is the same way. I will make a mistake on stage. And you know what? I welcome that first mistake. Because then I can shrug it off and keep smiling. Then I can get on with the performance and turn off that part of the mind that judges everything. I’m not thinking or worrying anymore. And it's when I’m least conscious of what I'm doing, when I'm just lost in the emotion of the music, that I'm performing at my best."

It was also very lightening when he showed how can social intimacy makes a big difference when it comes to the performance of a group and how random conversations can be a constant source of good ideas (and that’s when he would talk about the key of success of Pixar). And then there were chapters on how social networks can affect the imagination and why some places became such a center of geniuses while others didn’t.

This is a very fascinating book. For the first time in human history, we can now learn how imagination actually works which is very useful since it allows us to see if we’re thinking in the right way but especially would encourage us every time we would feel down and depressed because it turns out that our feelings (good or bad) have a big influence on our ability to generate great ideas. I learned from this book, that we all can be creative and artists, the question is whether we choose to be or not.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,762 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.