Looking for ways to spark your creativity? Want to understand how our brains are able to imagine something that does not yet exist? Wondering why inspiration so often comes just after we have “given up?” Check out Imagine: How Creativity Works, where Jonah Lehrer explores exactly these issues. Lehrer (a contributing editor at Wired and author of How We Decide and Proust Was A Neuroscientist) examines how the creative process works. From cutting edge neurological research to keen observation of creatives (from Yo Yo Ma to David Byrne to Pixar employees) Lehrer explores and demystifies the creative process.
Why is this so wonderful? Because if we are not relying on chance, mystery, and the muse but instead can figure out how to prime ourselves to experience inspiration, we’ll be better able to discover and create solutions to all sorts of complicated problems we face. Yes! In his compelling story-telling way, Lehrer explains how the human brain works (chemistry! neurons!) when it is facing a problem (a creative opportunity), and how our emotions and choices during the creative process fold into this. And once he’s illuminated the micro-process of how creativity works for us individually, Lehrer moves to the macro-process of how people, and groups of people, spark creativity within each other.
Lehrer provides concrete examples throughout the book about how to best set ourselves up for creative inspiration. For instance, coming at a problem as an outsider or someone with no preconceived notion of what “should” work often yields much more “Aha!” creativity than an expert would generate. Turning away from a problem and relaxing (having a beer, taking a shower, taking a nap) often triggers an epiphany. Adding a new person to an already existing team sparks creativity. Working in a city, where one is exposed to more people, ideas and situations where “creative collisions” occur, leads exponentially to inspiration and innovation.
Ultimately, Lehrer advocates for setting up education and work systems that foster creative genius. He accurately points out that when it comes to athletics, we’ve figured out how to grow superstars. Now it’s time to devote resources to systems that grow creative superstars because the world needs them. And in Imagine, Lehrer provides templates for how best to make that happen for us personally, and when working together.