Monday, October 29, 2012

Book - Imagine: How Creativity Works

I have loved reading Jonah Lehrer's book Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Not too concerned
I'm not too concerned about recent controversy concerning a Bob Dylan quote. When I read, I don't take everything on face value. I look for the bits of truth that ring true.

I agree with Roy Peter Clark that it's worth reading despite the problems.
Rather than abandon it in its disgrace, you find yourself engaged and turning the pages, and suddenly your hand grabs for the highlighter to mark up this excellent paragraph about the origins of creativity, and then that one.
Okay, so Lehrer made up a quote and then lied about it. Not good, but doesn't taint the whole.

So he reworked some earlier work—big deal. If it's good, give it to me.

He simplifies neuroscience. Thank goodness, because I can understand it enough to urge me to further reading and study. (I searched out Geoffrey West and listened to his hour discussion about the dimensionality of cities.)

I've been able to apply what Lehrer writes about to my life.

Here are a few examples, that I found interesting and true, in my experience:

On relaxing and indulging in distractions:
"Occasionally, focus can backfire and make us fixated on the wrong answers. It's not until you let yourself relax and indulge in distractions that you discover the answer; the insight arrives only after you stop looking for it." (p. 36)
This happens to me so often, it is ingrained in my work process. I stop, take a break, put it aside to work on something else, or just turn away from the computer for a few minutes. When I return, the answer (or the problem with the design) is obvious. Walks work, weekends work, vacations work even better. I always come back with a new perspective and a fresh look at the work.

On horizontal sharing and conceptual blending:
"The benefit of horizontal interactions—people sharing knowledge across fields—is that it encourages conceptual blending, which is extremely important part of the insight process...our breakthroughs often arrive when we apply old solutions to new situations." (p. 37-38)
This is why the best designers have a wide range of varied interests and a lot of different life experiences. They are better able to draw from ideas from these areas and recombine them in interesting and creative ways. The talented designers I know have full interesting lives with unexpected backgrounds and un-design-related talents.

On cities and creativity:

"It is the sheer density of the city—the proximity of all those overlapping minds—that makes it such an inexhaustible source of creativity." (p. 183)

I love going into Philadelphia because I always think new thoughts, talk to new people and find unexpected art. It's a scavenger hunt for new food, boutique shop finds, and interesting interactions...gluten-free peanut butter and chocolate "cake", brightly-colored rustic figurines from Peru, and a discussion with a parking attendant about the mural in his lot.

Other interesting truths
The stumped phase of creativity, the struggle, forces us to try something new. Because we feel frustrated, we start to look at problems from a new perspective. It's a normal part of the creative process. (p. 16, 17)

Imagination is unleashed by constraints. You break out of the box by stepping into shackles. (p. 23)

A relaxed state of mind allows us to look inward toward the stream of remote associations in our right brain...insights come in the shower, when we are in a positive mood, when we are not looking for an insight.  (p. 31-33)

Taking an idea, really seeing it, drawing it, making it real requires attention, focus and hard work. (p. 68-72)

Milton Glaser: Design is the conscious imposition of meaningful order. (p. 71)

Let go of the part of the mind that judges, the worry about doing it "wrong", so we don't constrain our own creativity. (p. 104)

Sleeping is the height of genius. [Love this one! It's the ultimate letting go, associations are free wheeling and the mind is relaxed.] (p. 107)

Travel: when you escape from the place you spend all your time, the mind is suddenly made aware of all those errant ideas previously suppressed. You start thinking about obscure possibilities. (p. 126)

Office conversations are so powerful that simply increasing their quantity can dramatically increase creative production; people have more new ideas when they talk with more people. (p. 153)

The most creative ideas, it turns out, don't occur when we're alone. Rather they emerge from our social circles, from collections of acquaintances who inspire novel thoughts. Sometimes the most important people in life are the people we barely know. (p. 204)

Worth the read
The publishers have pulled the book from the shelves, but if you get your hands on one, it's worth the read. Only if to wonder what all the fuss is about.

And, I agree with Roy...I'm busy learning. Tell me where the mistakes are in the book, and let me get on with it.

Other learnings
Critical insights into creativity

More about the controversy:
Controversy about a Bob Dylan quote
JL resigns from the New Yorker
Another false quotation found
A cautionary tale for today's overachiever

Videos, interviews
Captivating, accessible, never dull
How Creativity Works
How Creativity Works, an interview
The best way to learn at college: Be an outsider
The science of insight creation


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