indigozeal (indigozeal) wrote in 50bookchallenge,


ImagineWell, here's a bit better pop psychology book than my last pick.  In Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer takes a look at several disparate case studies  -  the invention of the Swiffer; Bob Dylan's changeover to electric instruments; Pixar's recent run of hits  -  to examine how creative ideas are spawned and whether creativity is a learnable trait.  Each case study examines one possible contributor to creativity: 3M, for example, allots employees a certain part of their day to work on personal projects, which has yielded products like Post-It Notes; the origins of Barbie, meanwhile, illustrate how crucial framing a problem is to creativity  -  something produced in one context might have unconsidered wide-ranging applications to another.  (Barbie's creator modeled her on a risque doll for adults she found in a German shop; having no knowledge of German, she was unaware of its original purpose and saw only its potential (with modifications, of course) for a child market.)  Lehrer argues that Elizabethan England was in a unique position needed to produce a Shakespeare, with the newfound popularity of the theater, relative freedom of speech (which encouraged satire), and nearly nonexistent copyright laws (which enabled playwrights to steal and hone storylines, as Shakespeare often did)  -  not only the right kind of person but the right setting is needed to produce a certain kind of genius.  (And, hey, the lack of domestic violence laws couldn't have hurt when it came to "The Taming of the Shrew."  Sorry.)   

Lehrer examines the "Q factor", which quantifies how well the members of a group know each other; if the coworkers are complete strangers, they'll have trouble with synergy, but if they're too buddy-buddy, they'll withhold needed criticism and fall into a comfortable rut, producing no challenging, breakthrough work.  (Think the past few years of Tim Burton-Johnny Depp.)  Lehrer is also a big fan of cross-pollination; he asserts that cities foster creativity far better than the countryside because one is exposed to a far wider range of influences in the former setting.  I can see that to a great extent, but as an introvert, I find the peace and isolation of the countryside essential to productivity.  See, I'm not sure I agree with of all of Lehrer's conclusions  -  he asserts that group free-for-alls are the best way to winnow and adapt ideas, but my experience has taught me that people listen to the strongest personalities, not the strongest ideas.  And his conclusions are, at times, contradictory, as the lead review on Amazon states  -  he'll go back and forth on whether you need to continually work on a problem for success or step away for a bit and wait for the Muses.  But his formatting is strong and lucid, he tells engaging stories with each chapter, and his curiosity is refreshing.  You can't swallow it hook, line, and sinker, but it's a neat conversation-starter.
Tags: non-fiction

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