Imagine: How Creativity Works

Jonah Lehrer makes his contribution to the oeuvre of books studying human behaviour.


(Photo: Natalie Castellino)

IMAGINE: How Creativity Works
(Allen Lane)
Jonah Lehrer

The publishing zeitgeist over the past decade has favoured any treatise purporting to unravel the mysteries of human behaviour. Think Freakonomics, Tipping Point or Blink. Jonah Lehrer’s contribution to that oeuvre, Imagine: How Creativity Works, fits comfortably into the mould—though with a similar tendency to oversimplify.

Imagine is loaded with examples of creativity at work—from Proctor & Gamble (which, by observing people in their natural cleaning habitat, developed the Swiffer mop) to 3M (which encourages workers to use 15% of work hours pursuing speculative ideas; this initiative gave us the Post-it note). Even Bob Dylan is held up as a model. After a particularly frustrating year, Dylan decided to abandon music and move to upstate New York; days after hitting the wall, he penned “Like a Rolling Stone.” Getting stumped, Lehrer shows us, is one of creativity’s wellsprings.

The caveat, of course, is that these are necessary but not sufficient conditions for creativity. Many businesses will observe customers in situ (like P&G) and miss the aha moment. Many workers will chase half-baked ideas at work and never produce anything of value. And very few of us indeed will ever be able to answer the question “How does it feel?” to be Bob Dylan.