Imagine: How Creativity Works

“How do you teach grit?”

“It’s a great question. We don’t have a good answer yet.”

It was the only question remaining at the end of his hour-long reading, and he couldn’t answer it (though he still provided a ten minute response about the concept of “grit”).

Last Wednesday, at the Chicago Public Library, New York Times’ best-selling author Jonah Lehrer hosted a reading of his latest book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. He spoke for nearly one hour, quoting large swaths of the book virtually from memory.

By providing an abundance of wonderfully inspiring, anecdotal stories and some not-too-heady data, the book does a great job of explaining how we can all learn to be more creative.

Jonah Lehrer on Charlie Rose

Did you know that Steve Jobs tore-up initial blueprints for Pixar’s headquarters? Their centralized bathrooms have become legendary for providing lightbulb moments. Did you know that brainstorming — the “new idea” creation technique pioneered by Alex F. Osborn, the “O” in BBDO — is a bad idea? Public debate and dissent or harsh criticism leads to more fruitful results. Did you know that the color blue can help you double your creative output? Me neither. Now, I want every room in my house to have a hue of robin’s egg.

This book is written in a crystal-clear voice. It provides a revelatory look at the new science of creativity and in a completely approachable manner. In it, Lehrer quashes the myth of muses, higher powers, and “creative types.” He demonstrates that creativity is not a single gift possessed by the lucky few. It’s a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively.

Additional advice includes, but isn’t limited to: embrace the rut, think like a child, daydream productively, and, through travel, adopt an outsider’s perspective.


In the past three weeks, I have shared this book with close friends and loved ones, and today, I would love to share it with you. At last week’s reading, I picked up an autographed copy which I’m happy to send to the reader who shares a book that inspired them.

The commenter who provides the best suggestion and reasons to read the book will receive one autographed copy of Jonah Leher’s Imagine: How Creativity Works. Note: this can be any book. Do not forget to provide your reasoning. Oh, and use your creativity.


If you have an hour, listen to the reading at the CPL.

I also enjoyed Lehrer’s interview on Slate’s podcast, The Afterword, hosted by June Thomas. It’s only thirty minutes.

Lehrer on The Colbert Report.


Best of luck with the giveaway. May the most creative entrant win.

Contest ends Monday.



  1. Jocelyn
    April 26, 2012

    The Blue Ocean Strategy is possibly the most inspiring book – it is fresh, thoughtful and built for creative thinkers. It teaches us to stop competing for space and instead define our own unique market space to dominate. I have nothing witty to share about this book and philosophy – but I believe it is a fabulous study. Taking case studies from LL Bean’s “Bean Team” (product development) & IDEO it showcases how to connect with your customer to understand needs to define issues. Thanks for the opportunity to share.

    Watch IDEO’s Deep Dive here:

  2. Fred Mullholland
    April 29, 2012

    The book that helped me most in my creative endeavors is The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. I am a musician and have not played more than three games of tennis in my life. However, the relation between tennis’ inner game, where there is a constant battle of positive and negative thoughts and judgements about every play/set/game/serve/backhand, etc. by the id, ego and superego is identical to those that everyone makes in every facet of their life, whether they play a sport, play an instrument, make pastries, write blogs, etc. It is this book that will teach you to simply notice and not judge, thereby making you freer in any of your creative endeavors.

  3. Jed
    April 30, 2012

    As a small business owner who desires to leave this world better than he found it, I find myself returning time and again to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s first book Let My People Go Surfing.

    In it, he talks about his business practices, the treatment of his employees, and the treatment of our earth. It’s a really inspiring read, and I was excited to learn in this weekend’s WSJ that he has a new book, The Responsible Company.

  4. Gina
    April 30, 2012

    I love Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

    “If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.” – Rilke

    The advice given does not just pertain to poets, but to anyone in the creative field. Work from the inside out.

  5. Max Wastler
    April 30, 2012

    Jocelyn, that looks like a great book. I’ve never heard of it. I will definitely check it out. Oddly enough, I attended the reading with someone who works at IDEO.

    Oh man, Fred, Gina. I love it. In college, we read Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for an acting class, and Letters to a Young Poet for a geology class. I learned more about the subject at hand by reading about other disciplines.

    And Jed, you’re a man after my own heart. I have bought LMPGS and given it as a gift several times since first learning of it about six years ago.

    Guys, you’re making this decision really tough. I wish I had autographed copies for all of you.

  6. Nici
    April 30, 2012

    “I like you” by Sandol Stoddard Warburg. Because it reminds me to let myself think like a child, to open mind and my heart. It is a short book, so my comment here is short. Oh, and it has great pictures. All good books should have pictures!

  7. Nicholas Pritchett
    April 30, 2012

    A few years ago, I read “Plain Talk” which was written by Ken Iverson and it truly changed the way I look at business. He was the chairman of Nucor and through his atypical management style the company became the lowest cost steel producer in the country while the workers became the best paid in the industry. His whole philosophy hinged on giving people a chance and then letting them use their creativity and ingenuity to meet the goals. Everyone had to work as a team, though, there was never a separation between “management” and “labor”–one of the things that had caused so many steel companies to fail in the past. The corporate office was kept very spartan and there were never any perks that a plant supervisor received that a person on the line couldn’t receive.

    He and his team approached their business in a completely different manner than other companies and because of their inventiveness and willingness to try new things and make mistakes, the company became a huge success. It changed the way I look at failure and risk-taking and was a great reminder that every job in a company is important.

  8. Max Wastler
    May 1, 2012

    Nici, Nicholas, these are both great selections! Thank you so much for your contributions.

    Nici, I don’t remember this book. Is it a popular one with your kids?

    And Nick, sounds like Iverson is an advocate of teamwork prevailing over any challenges. I certainly could use advice in this department. I have bookmarked this, and I’ll plan on reading it this summer.

  9. Nici
    May 1, 2012

    Max – no, it’s popular with me! It’s a sweet little book that my husband gave me before he was my husband – and which I have since gifted to my sister. You can find it on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble around Valentine’s Day – but it’s a great book to cheer you up all year. It says great things like

    I like you because if I am mad at you
    Then you are mad at me too
    It’s awful when the other person isn’t
    They are so nice and hoo-hoo you could just about punch them in the nose


    If we had some hats and some flags and some fire engines
    We could be a HOLIDAY
    We could be a CELEBRATION
    We could be a WHOLE PARADE

    It is on my required reading list.

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