Sunday, March 10, 2013

Treasure Map: Unfortunately… the next book was by Jonah Lehrer

Those who may not be aware should know that the next book in this series, Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine has many problems.    Jonah plagiarized, reused large sections of earlier magazine articles he had written, over simplified the science and fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan and others.  Imagine:How Creativity Works describes a number of people and organizations known for creativity and ties these examples into the science of creativity.  I listened to this whilst driving and doing housework so I don’t remember as much of it as I would like.  Getting a physical copy of it is difficult since only 200,000 copies were sold before the publisher pulled the remainders out of the book stores.  Don’t worry though because the point of the book can be captured without reading the whole thing.

Lehrer’s ethical failure destroys the book as a viable work on the subject of the science of creativity.  There are other resources on the web about this topic worth checking out.  I’ll post links at the bottom of this entry. Despite its problems, the book impacted me and got me thinking about creativity.

Neuroscience and psychology are building a solid case that creativity is not about “talent.”  There are many anecdotes from the world of film, art, and music which support this. Creativity is a function of the human brain and it can be stimulated intentionally.  Anyone with normal brain function can create.  This concept offers anyone who is blocked by Resistance (the concept from The War of Art) a tool to overcome that Resistance.  Often Resistance takes the form of self doubt and fear.  The fear our ideas aren’t creative enough.  The fear we can never produce any truly creative  song, story, drawing  or screen play gives us pause.  We figure, “I’m not creative.  Why bother when I’ll just fail anyway.”  When we find out creativity is a birthright… that’s magic.  

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the book.  Since its main concept is sound, I'm not expending the energy needed to determine what is fact and what is fabrication.  I’ll stick with generalities.  “Creativity” is a cognitive process natural to human beings.  We all create all the time.  Creativity doesn’t come from muses, angels or other supernatural beings.  To be creative is to be human.  It is not something that only special unique people have.  It is something we all do and can do well. 

You may recall from the first “Treasure Map” post that Dan Gilbert of Harvard considers the thing that makes us human is our ability to simulate an event in our mind before it happens.  We can imagine what cod liver ice cream might taste like and decide not to eat any.  We can imagine what it might be like to win the lottery or lose a child to cancer.  This is creativity.  We are creating, in our minds, an image or experience without actually having the experience.  Creativity is our nature.  Also remember that Dan Gilbert mentioned we are really bad at predicting what we’ll feel like in the future. Cognitive behavior therapists point put we can create non-adaptive negative mental images surrounding certain activities.   Our self manufactured fears negatively effect our relationships and work.  Understand, creativity can be our enemy as well as our ally.

Creativity can be enhanced.  Imagine details a number of people and organizations known for creativity.  Lehrer fabricated some elements of these stories and muddled the value of others.  One he did not fabricate was the success of Pixar and the role of the Pixar office facility in that success.  In the film making business, it is an axiom that no one can predict whether a film will be a hit or a bust.  Every Pixar movie has made money.  Some of them have made a lot of money.  Part of Pixar's success come from the chance interactions between its employees.  Pixar's main campus building is a well known study in the notion that the place you work has an effect on the results of your work.

Pixar’s main building was designed so that everyone will have chance interactions with people they don’t work with directly.  Steve Jobs obsessed over the design and construction of that building.  At its center is a huge atrium.  Jobs put the mailboxes, bathrooms, meeting rooms and cafeteria in the atrium space.  Because everyone in the building had to go into that area, chance encounters were going to happen.  He believed that these spontaneous meetings and encounters would create innovation.  Neuroscience, it turns out, suggests that this is true.  Here are a couple of articles about this.  The second one is a scientific paper that suggests when two people exchange ideas other new ideas occur.  

From this example, we can create a heuristic to enhance our creativity.  
Talk with other people, face to face.  Join a book group.  Throw a party and tell your guests to bring a friend that you don’t know.  Join or create a discussion group.  Go to conventions or seminars.  Take a cooking class.  Go to a coffee house and strike up a conversation with a stranger.  The broader your interactions the better.

I’m bringing up a single creativity enhancing technique.  There are many more.  This brings me to why Imagine, despite its problems, was an important book for me.  It was up lifting.  I suppose scams often are up lifting. No matter.  As I finished the book, I felt if I worked at being creative and applied techniques suggested by the author, I too could create.  The feeling that a thing is possible and it is is within your power to do that thing provides encouragement.  Sitting down to “do your work” as Steven Pressfield has written many times no longer seems like a waste of time or energy.  When you understand the process will eventually return a positive result, if you keep at it, makes it worth doing that work.  Keep in mind that painting your room blue, interacting in a coffee house and playing ambient noise at a medium volume level won’t turn you into Picasso.  There may be some degree of genius that will elude most of us.  The point is; We can, if we apply certain techniques and work, we can do far more than most of us would have thought possible.   

The last book in this “treasure map” series is about how “talent” is not quite as important to success as we might assume.

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