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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 1 May 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As the author states, creativity is often associated with some form of artistic expression, whether it is in the traditional arts or one of the more modern ones such as design. However, creativity can exist within very different environments including business and can there include seeking innovative solutions to existing problems.

The author uses several examples to illustrate where and when similar creative solutions were used to beneficial effect but has unfortunately fallen foul of the truth in repeatedly misrepresenting facts. Whether that was due to his own failings and poor research or by being fed invalid or incomplete data by others, I do not know. The book is full of references to different companies including Apple and Pixar amongst those many will recognise and uses particular examples as illustrations. History isn't forgotten and even Shakespeare is used to illustrate a point, but also with some errors of analysis.

This is a book which attempted to explain the creative process. It succeeds sometimes and fails with others. A reasonably good effort but one which misses its intended target by rather more than a whisker.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 May 2012
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Since I enjoy (rather bad) keyboard improvisation and (slightly better) painting, I have an interest in anything to do with the workings of creativity, and have several books on the subject; but all are directed to particular types of creativity, and thus somewhat narrow in scope. This book examines creativity in the widest possible context, from an examination of why certain periods in certain restricted locations have produced "concentrations of genius" (ancient Greece, Silicon Vally and 16th century London, for example), to advanced scientific research into, and scrutiny of, brain activity during the actual process of creation.

Many interesting conclusions are drawn, not least that copyright and patent law are amongst the most stifling of influences upon creativity within the community; the music pirates and plagiarists in effect have their case argued for them, although I doubt this book will change anything in that respect....

It is a well written, easy and entertaining read, packed with fascinating facts and novel notions. The text is larded with pointed and often penetrating quotations from the illustrious and the less so, many worth remembering; and the comprehensive index has more names in it than other kinds of entry, from Aristotle to Mike Myers and Bob Dylan (the first chapter is entitled "Bob Dylan's brain"). Some of what it tells us about promoting our own creativity will be familiar to anyone who has already given much thought to the matter, and in a few cases is common sense - of which we do need to be reminded from time to time, or at least I do... On the other hand, I had not realised that, before starting any improvisation, I need to disable my dorsolateral medial prefrontal cortex. This may explain my failings.

In sum, a much enjoyed and illuminating read.

Three whole pages at the end are devoted to acknowledgements. Reading through these, one is led to wonder what on earth was left for the author to contribute. If you lose the dust jacket, by the way, you'll never find the book on your shelves again - unless you remember its title is printed white on a white cover...
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 10 July 2012
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As someone who has worked for a long time in the creative arts, I have to admit that I have never really delved that often into books dealing with the subject of the creative process; I`ve not been oblivious, of course, to discussing with others how I - and they - set about our activities, so this was an interesting read, if perhaps a little less illuminating than I'd hoped.
Lehrer divides his book into two parts, examining individual creativity in part one, then the application of co-operative efforts in part two. Naturally, as an artist the first section was the most relevant to me; my experience with working with others hasn't been that positive - trying to organise visual artists and makers in any way is, frankly, like trying to herd cats, so the wonderfully co-operative scenarios presented by Lehrer - though I don`t doubt that they work for those groups - aren't recognisable to me. Commercial creativity - so it seems to me - is a very different thing from the purely artistic; although film making, musicals and the Pixar company cited as examples in various chapters all represent artistic endeavours, they ultimately have a group interest at their heart. From my own experience anything involving individual creative ambition + financial competition = community meltdown.
Much of Lehrer's text proceeds on assumptions he either doesn't elaborate on or expects the reader to just accept; for example, writing about Shakespeare's earliest historical trilogy; "If these plays were all that were known of Shakespeare, then today we wouldn't know him. His writing wouldn't deserve to be remembered." Well... that's an interesting point of view...

For me, the book has been useful in verifying strategies and processes I already use in my work and has highlighted the alternative means that may be employed by others; in my small role in art education this provides me with a useful reference. The negative points of the book are the sweeping nature of some of the author's statements which I found at times either inaccurate or unconvincing; the references are also quite Americentric and as others have noted, much use is made of anecdotal material.

In summation; it's an accessible book, but I found the sum of parts to be greater than the whole; there's useful information for the creative individual, but you'll have to decide for yourself if the corporate material is of value - it just wasn't that relevant to me.

- -
Oh dear; since I wrote this review Lehrer has admitted to fabrications in his primary sources. Clearly much of his text must now be open to question and his findings even more suspect than I originally believed. It remains an interesting read, but I can no longer recommend it, beyond the few points of interest I stated in my review.
When it appears in the bargain buckets you may still want to give it a look, but I must lower my rating; its value is irreparably diminished.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 July 2012
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This is the sort of psychology based American pseudo text that grinds my gears. If my students pick up this book and start quoting its conclusions and speculation as fact in their coursework they would lose marks.

The book makes a number of apparently erroneous sweeping statements such as "in other words, [Bob] Dylan was sick of his music" - the majority view of psychologists actually read it a different way: Bob Dylan was more likely to have been "sick of" the sycophants and hangers on who surrounded him and who turned up everywhere - back stage, in his hotel room to have a "party", they even turned up at his home and when he was being interviewed. It was only when he was ill that the self-appointed entourage was kept away and he was allowed to be on his own. It was probably during this time that he decided to retire from the limelight. There is nothing in any of the information or interviews with Bob Dylan to suggest that he was "sick of his music".

The book also claims that New York is the patent capital of the world, statistically correct, but it doesn't take into account that people in the countryside, and in other cities, may want their patent registered in New York as a preference - the University I attended had a preference for patenting their inventions, designs and discoveries in London, even though there is a patent office in the city were it is based. Nor does it consider that that since the New York Patent Office is famous that people may not realise that there are patent offices in other cities.

The author further claims that poet WH Auden had been "bored with bad metaphors [and] substandard stanzas", but with what proof? None is given but the authors own assumption of boredom. Perhaps it is Mr Lehrer whose perception is "boredom" in the works of other people.

As I read one of the anecdotes, which fill the book, I wasn't sure if to laugh or groan. On page 173 Mr Lehrer quotes an advertising executive, Dan Wieden, "they dragged Gary Gilmore out in front of the firing squad" - no Gilmore had campaigned to be executed by firing squad, and witnesses to the execution reported that he walked calmly to the point of execution, definitely not "dragged".

The book seems to be a collection of tales of the rich and famous and the author's own assumptions about the mind set of the "famous" people he has used to pad out the book, but without the supporting facts.

The ideas and theories behind the concept of creativity can be both interesting and exciting - this, unfortunately, misses the mark(s).
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VINE VOICEon 27 August 2012
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This is a fascinating study into the world of creativity. It is split into two sections, Alone and Together. Subjects covered in the first section include Bob Dylan, 3M, Auden and Yo-Yo Ma. In the second section we learn about Broadway, Pixar, urban living and the circumstances necessary for the creation of many genii. Lehrer explains the brain processes surrounding creativity, but in a way that is accessible to readers who aren't experts.

This scientific approach is complemented by practical advice. You can draw strategies in this book into your life. I was particularly intrigued by the lessons on Broadway, where it is optimal to have a mix of old friends and fresh blood. You get the dual benefits of a shared understanding from the former and innovation from the latter. There is also a lesson to be learned by adopting the position of 'the outsider' which suggests that we are more likely to excel in the arts and science if we are prepared to challenge accepted thinking (whether through courage or ignorance).

Sadly, my enjoyment of this book was tempered when I read about the allegations of fabricated quotes in the chapters dealing with Penn and Teller and Dylan. That these quotes were incorrect does not necessarily negate all the findings of the book, but it does sow a seed of doubt. This is a shame because I found much to enjoy here.
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on 11 November 2012
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I read through this book and must admit to thinking about a two maybe three star rating. It's a pleasant enough read but hardly full of any interesting insights or revelations. Then I found out the author has taken a leaf out of his own book and been rather creative himself by inventing quotes and 'facts,' so I can't give it more than one star on principle alone.

To be honest though, if you can't get hold of this book [it's apparently been withdrawn from sale] you're not missing a great deal. There's an interesting chapter on 'urban friction' but again, nothing ground breaking in its analysis of creativity at all. Probably a perfect symbol of our age when you think about it- all hype, little substance and a fair bit of fakery. And to be fair to Mr Lehrer, probably his only real mistake was getting caught, as this no doubt goes on all the time these days.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 November 2012
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I'm going to go with the grain of a number of reviewers here - regardless of the merits of the writing (which are not insignificant) and the overall thrust of the argument (which is at least occasionally convincing), I cannot possibly recommend a book where the author has been pretty conclusively shown to have faked quotations[1]. What is worst about the whole incident I think is how blatantly lazy it is - there are hundreds of people who have had interesting things to say about creativity, and many of them have said what Lehrer has faked Dylan as saying. That simple sin taints the entire book for me - if an author has wittingly lied about something that was discovered, I have no reason to trust there aren't other lies and fabrications in the rest of the text. Perhaps there aren't, but nobody can be expected to show good faith in this regard.

[1] [...]
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on 5 July 2012
This book entices the reader with a number of catchy taglines and the promise of insight into the creative processes of largely American group of people and corporations. It doesn't deliver. This book is very frustrating read; mostly descriptive, repetitive and lacking in depth.
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on 25 June 2012
*A full executive-style summary of this book is now available at newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com.

When we are lucky enough to be struck with a particularly imaginative thought or creative idea, it often feels as though it is coming from outside of us--as though we are but the vehicle for its transmission. As a reflection of this, in the past artistic creativity was thought of as a force that was sent down from above, a gift from the gods that the artist was required to wait patiently for; the artist being but a vessel through which the force could act. The moment of epiphany is so sudden, so seemingly without precedent or cause, that it may seem to defy logical explanation, and hence be outside of the bounds of scientific study. However, according to journalist and author Jonah Lehrer, science is beginning to understand how creativity works, and how it can be fostered, and it is this understanding that he brings to the table in his new book `Imagine: How Creativity Works'.

By taking us on a tour of very creative individuals, organizations, cities and cultures--and drawing on the latest in neuroscience and social psychology--Lehrer hopes to help us understand the stuff of creativity, and to help us cultivate it in our ourselves, and the organizations, cities, and cultures of which we are a part. The book itself is split into two parts, with the first part focusing in on creativity in individuals, and the second part concentrating on creativity in groups.

When it comes to creativity in individuals, we learn that imaginative epiphanies originate in the right hemisphere of the brain--whose role it is to pull together disparate and seemingly unrelated ideas. What's more, we learn that creativity is associated with a particular kind of brain wave (called an alpha wave), and that these brain waves are often best encouraged by way of turning away from the problem that we are trying to solve, and simply relaxing and distracting ourselves in order to allow them to emerge on their own.

Creative ideas rarely come in finished form, however, and therefore, perfecting these ideas requires deep persistence and hard work. The attention to detail and focus that this process requires can be aided by certain substances and states of mind that are not always healthy (such as narcotics and depression), but it cannot be avoided; genius requires hard work. Nothing good is easy.

At times, and indeed more and more nowadays, difficult problems require the creative efforts of more than just one person: they require a collective effort. However, getting groups to be creative is not an easy task, as it requires the right mix of people, and the right approach. For instance, the most creative and productive groups tend to be those where the members are mostly well-acquainted with one another, and have worked together before, but who are also joined by a healthy measure of new and unfamiliar talent. In addition, the best approach for groups to have seems to be one where the members practice a kind of constructive criticism, and collective responsibility.

Beyond certain groups being more creative than others, even some cities have an edge over others when it comes to creativity, and here again there are some essential features that separate the more creative from the less-so. According to Lehrer, the key to creative cities is density, diversity and maximizing interactions, and there are ways that we can (and should) design and organize our cities that optimizes all of these.

Finally, we learn that even some cultures are more creative than others, as is evidenced in particular by the fact that geniuses tend to cluster in certain times and places, such as ancient Athens circa 400 BC, Florence, Italy circa 1500 AD, and Shakespeare's London of the 16th century. Once again, there are certain factors that make some cultures more creative than others, and Lehrer argues that our institutions and laws can be designed in such a way that encourages this creativity. In particular, we must follow a specific approach to education and immigration, and we must also find the right balance between protecting intellectual property rights, and allowing established ideas to be borrowed for the purposes of new innovations.

Lehrer's book is filled with important and enlightening insights on imagination and creativity and is very easy to read. On the negative side, the book relies very heavily on anecdotes (and occasionally speculation), and at times this stands in the way of a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Nevertheless the anecdotes themselves are often very informative (and interesting), and a satisfactory effort is made to tie these in with the science. A full and comprehensive summary of the main arguments of the book, as well as many of the juicier details and anecdotes to be found therein, is available on the website newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com, the information in the article is also available in a condensed version as a podcast.
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on 1 May 2012
I learned a lot from reading this book - and on that basis would recommend it strongly. But my recommendation is tempered by my reaction to the style in which the book is written. It's interesting and persuasive, but too reliant on journalistic anecdote to quite carry the day in a way that a book like Thinking Fast and Slow does.

The first part of the book deals with individual creativity. The first message is that creativity comes in more than one type. There's the kind that requires relaxation and alpha waves and is stimulated by the colour blue - think of Archimedes in his bath. Then there's the more concentrated kind of intellectual refining territory where you feel you are getting closer and closer to a solution - think, apparently, WH Auden on amphetamines. Then there's opening yourself up to creativity, adopting a child's eye view or that of a foreigner (foreign travel helps). Sometimes you need to spend all your waking life on something - if you are going to a surfing champion, it seems. Sometimes, it helps to be a relative newcomer to a field - if you are going to mix great cocktails. Creativity is always about making surprising connections - sometimes deeply surprising (alpha waves), sometimes much less so (frontal brain work) and sometimes it's just about ideas generation that Lehrer is writing.

Then there's creativity in groups. A group needs to be connected to its other members, but not too closely and not too distantly - think the teams that created Broadway musicals in the 1930s or West Side Story later. Brainstorming doesn't work in groups - debate, where criticism is allowed, works better. Some productive environments, such as Pixar treated at great length anecdotally, are vigorously critical. Cities are creative places - at least David Byrne thinks so. You need to run into other people with the right, 'weak' connections to you. As to why there are particularly creative epochs, such as Elizabethan England, we don't know - but we do think Shakespeare had, unusually, 'read everything'.

So: if you'd like these insights filled out, and treated at length with anecdotes in a highly journalistic style, I'd recommend this quite strongly. It certainly made me think. On the other hand, the highly journalist style based on plenty of anecdote can get a bit wearing - and ultimately, it's the science here that's convincing and that we do with more of, not the stories.
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