Imagine: How Creativity Works review

Imagine: How Creativity WorksImagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book! It’s all about creativity, how it works, and how you can become more creative. It’s very much in the style I like, where they talk about a lot of different studies and case studies, and try to make sense of it all. So, some interesting things:

– Daydreaming is important for creativity – one important function seems to be to search for relationships and notice new connections. People who consistently daydream more score higher on measures of creativity. But the trick is to be aware that you’re daydreaming – if you unconsciously daydream, the creative thoughts will be lost.

– On the other hand, being able to be focused and persistent is important after you have an initial inspiration. Apparently having depression “helps” one persevere. And having bipolar disorder is doubly “helpful” – during the manic stages you can erupt with new ideas, and you can polish them during the depressions. In one study, ~40% of the successful creative people had bipolar disorder, which is twenty times higher than the general population.

– Some problems require a flash of insight to be solved (see: daydreaming), and others don’t and just require hard work. It’s important to know what kinds of problems are which, and it turns out we’re relatively good at telling whether we’re making progress or not.

– Like daydreams, dreams are also an important source of creativity. In one study they gave students a task to do, which had an elegant shortcut that required insight to see. 20 percent of the control group got the shortcut, even when given several hours thinking about it, but 60 percent of those who slept and went into REM sleep found the shortcut.

– Changing one’s environment seems to help creativity – traveling is especially good for this. But it doesn’t even take that much – in one study one group was told a particular task (listing as many modes of transportation as possible) was conceived by people at Indiana University (which they attended), while another was told it was from Indiana students studying abroad in Greece. The second group came up with significantly more possibilities!

– Brainstorming (having a group come up with ideas with no one allowed to criticize any) doesn’t really work to stimulate creativity. It’s even worse than just having one person come up with ideas on her own! Encouraging people to honestly discuss mistakes/bad ideas is the way to go. Another trick is to deliberately give a bad idea to get people out of their comfort zone.

– Urban environments are good for cross-pollinating ideas. And Austin is specifically called out as being more creative (at least in patents per capita) than Houston. Bam!

– “Weak ties” (i.e. not close friends) are essential for creativity – the more you have and the more diverse they are, the better. (advantage: extroverts?)

– There’s no substitute for face-to-face contact when it comes to generating ideas – in one study groups that met in person were able to solve a task quickly, while groups that were only allowed to communicate with email and IM weren’t able to solve it.

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