Imagine, How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer


Jonah Lehrer tells us: “For most of human history, people have believed that the imagination is inherently inscrutable, an impenetrable biological gift. As a result, we cling to a series of false myths about what creativity is and where it comes from.”

Lehrer tells us that the brain is hard wired with creative impulses and is constantly forming associations that lead to creativity. Using neuroscientists and psychologists research and interviews, he attempts to get inside the minds of Bob Dylan, Yo-Yo Ma, and others, as well as circumstances that are found in Silicon Valley, Shakespeare’s London, Pixar and others.

Shakespeare's London, according to Lehrer, was a place where some key things came together to spark creativity. The critical density of population and an explosion of literacy brought people together to collaborate, and the collective effort was an example of the brain seeking new connections.

Bob Dylan’s story explores his radical change in style from presenting, serious lyrics on serious topics, to an opposite approach, of celebrating vagueness.  Dylan changed and focused on finding a way to make something new from a list of varied influences. The exact word didn’t carry the message anymore, but instead it was his connection and focus between words.

Lehrer says that something very special happens when you when you concentrate talent in one area, as well as when you add new people with new backgrounds. Fresh viewpoints help spark those individuals that are stuck in their ways. He suggests changes in immigration laws to attract more people, and discussed and the fact that immigrants invent patents at double the rate of non-immigrants.

An introductory quote to this book is taken from T.S. Eliot’s, Introduction to Dante’s Inferno: “Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing”.  That message seems to define the book as an effort to see connections in everything and show how creativity happens.

Instead of being born with creativity skills and just being stuck with that, Lehrer shows that imagination is inspired by the everyday world, by its flaws and beauty, and that we are able to see beyond our own sources and to imagine things that exist only in the mind.”


“And so we keep on thinking, because the next thought might be the answer.” 

“...the imagination is unleashed by constraints. You break out of the box by stepping into shackles.” 

“Every creative story is different. And every creative story is the same “It doesn't matter if people are playing jazz or writing poetry -- if they want to be successful, they need to learn how to persist and persevere, how to keep on working until the work is done. Woody Allen famously declared that "eighty percent of success is showing up."

“Every creative story is different. And every creative story is the same. There was nothing. Now there is something. It's almost like magic.” 

“The great ages did not perhaps produce much more talent than ours,' [T.S.] Eliot wrote. 'But less talent was wasted.”