Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

Edit: This week, Jonah Lehrer admitted he fabricated some of the quotes from Dylan in his book.  This thoroughly disgusts me, as it might hint at a moral misgiving that could taint all Lehrer’s work.  While I still find his work engulfing, I feel it’s important to mention he did not come by this stature of prominence without moral misguidance.  I await his coming steps to see how his career unfolds next.


A left-brained approach to explaining how the right-brain works.  Interesting, huh?  This book was a very quick read, and resulted in tons of highlights and margin notes.  If you ever wondered why Bob Dylan, William Shakespeare, or Jack Kerouac were so good at what they did, this book hopes to explain.  Each chapter explores new or relevant brain research, but in enlightening ways.  The chapters begin with a story and a particularly creative individual.  Then, a tie is connected to brain research to hope to explain why these individuals were so creative.  This design made the book very easy to read.  Since I was reading on my Nook (on the iPad), I found myself looking up some obscure ideas and using Google Scholar to track down some of the research studies.  However, I always returned and kept reading, as I found the book riveting.

The brain research is sometimes complementary and other times seemingly contradictory.  To be creative you need to free your mind from distractions, but you also, at times, need intense focus.  The book raises as many new questions for research as it answers.  However, for me, this demonstrates the need for a balanced life, and a balanced approach as a teacher.

After reading this book, I have tried to allow myself time in the morning for relaxation and meditation, which is tough with small kids.  Once you read, you’ll understand why the mornings may be your most creative moments but are also likely your most rushed.  I also will attempt to limit my caffeine intake, as the intense focus is good for some tasks, but focuses your brain to specifics and ignores the unrelated insights, often which lead to creativity.

As an educator, I take away a few big ideas:

  1. Schools stifle creativity.  We need to allow time to encounter problems and work through them.  We need to present problems!  This can be done in a standards-based climate, but teachers need to be daring to do so.
  2. Creativity requires constructive criticism.  Simple brainstorming, or group discussions is not enough.  Pixar did not become great by brainstorming.  Rather, constructive, accountable talk breads new ideas and creates success.
  3. Divergent ideas (cross-curricular ideas) increase engagement and new approaches to problems.  The more we isolate ourselves as teachers, the less creative we (and our students) become.
  4. Organizations and hierarchies discourage creativity.  Public schools discourage creativity.  Fill your time in school with problems and different approaches to problems.  This may seem like wasted time in the beginning of the school year, but this approach will bread new ideas and better teaching and learning a month or so into the year.
  5. Social media introduces new ideas where others did not exist, however social media interactions do not replace a room full of creative thinkers sharing ideas.  Rather, social media needs to be used in conjunction with traditional approaches.  Social media has a place in the classroom.

Okay, once I figure out how, I will attach my notes from the book, which will likely be intriguing and barely useful to many of you.  I do encourage you to read this book.  As a student, teacher, or divergent thinker, this book will change your approach to how you live your life.


Here’s Lehrer’s promo for his book:

IMAGINE from Jonah Lehrer on Vimeo.

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