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“Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer

“Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer

c.2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
256 pages



The painting you hung on the wall near your desk relaxes you.

Looking at it reminds you of a happy memory, and you wonder how the artist managed to create such a vivid emotion with colored goo.  It’s pretty amazing, and it makes you wish you could paint like that.

You’re a hands-on person. You do, you don’t make. Still, you wonder if it’s possible to tap into some innate, unknown talent, maybe even one with a brush.

Better yet, how do you free your employees and co-workers to use their imaginations?  In the new book “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer, you’ll find out how Pixar, 3M, Google, Bob Dylan, and others do it.

Every creative moment starts with a problem.

Think, for instance, about the last time you had an equipment breakdown. It happened on a weekend, of course, and it frustrated you beyond all measure. You tinkered around until you were about to break down yourself when an exquisite “AHA!” moment dawned.

Aha! An unconventional, get-you-through-the-weekend fix.

Lehrer says that the most creative moments arrive when you’ve stopped searching for answers, when you “sleep on it,” or when you’ve decided that the situation isn’t fixable. That’s because, like a petulant toddler, your left brain struggles and gets frustrated. When it’s done having its tantrum, your right brain – the calmer, Zen side that excels at insight– takes over with a fresh angle and a solution.

As it turns out, says Lehrer, a “relaxed state of mind” is essential for creative juices to flow. By not focusing on the problem or by distracting ourselves with something else entirely, the right brain begins to look inward: a subconscious tickle, a niggling detail unforgotten, a mere word remembered, and voila!

But that doesn’t mean you should stop concentrating on the task. Paying attention can hone creativity by helping cut away extra ideas that won’t work.

So what can you do to create a creative workplace?

First of all, allow your employees to circulate: collaboration becomes most efficient if departments aren’t compartments. Stop “brainstorming” and start critiquing instead. Encourage screw-ups. Relinquish the idea of perfection. Encourage daydreaming and offer new, different challenges.

Looking for a little quirk in your work?  Then imagine yourself reading “Imagine” and see what kind of spark you get.

By using examples from Silicon Valley, Madison Avenue, Woodstock, and elsewhere, author Jonah Lehrer shows readers how creativity works; how it’s used to invent, solve, and beautify; and how you can jump-start your brain to achieve its highest creative potential. Lehrer makes his subject sound lively and fun but what I liked best is that, in essence, he gives us abundant permission to go wild with our thoughts. Even the dumbest notions can become great, which is the most appealing idea of all.

This is one of those rare books that can be used by anyone in any business, no matter what the size or type. If you’re ready to solve, invent, and boost your productivity, grab “Imagine: How Creativity Works” and picture yourself inspired.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.