The journalist Jonah Lehrer is getting some incredible advance publicity for his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. A few weeks ago, he had an extended article about group creativity in The New Yorker. And now, in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, his article “How to be creative” took up the entire front page of Section C and another full page inside the section (March 10-11, 2012).
I had a chance to read the pre-publication version of the book last month. Lehrer does a good job of getting the science right, and, he’s an excellent writer. My only mild criticism is that there’s nothing really new in it: much of the research he describes was summarized in my 2007 book Group Genius, or in Peter Sims’ 2011 book Little Bets. But still, I’m glad to see that Lehrer is helping to disseminate what scientists know about creativity.
Let’s take a look at Lehrer’s “10 Quick Creativity Hacks” from the WSJ article.
1. When you’re in a blue room, you’re more creative.
2. You’re more creative when you’re a bit groggy.
3. People who daydream more score higher on creativity tests.
4. If you imagine yourself as a 7-year-old, you have more ideas.
5. Watching a comedy video makes you more creative just afterwards.
6. If you think the creativity puzzles come from another country or state, rather than your own local university, you’re more creative.
7. Use more generic verbs to describe your challenge.
8. If you sit next to a box (but not in it) you’re more creative.
9. Students who’ve lived abroad are more creative.
10. When people move to a bigger city they become more creative.
It’s true that these 10 tips are based in research studies. But it’s good to be a bit skeptical, because most of the studies used paper-and-pencil creativity tests that have only a limited relationship to real-world creativity. It makes me think of a study published a couple of years ago that found that if you stare at the Apple logo, you score higher on a creativity test than people who stare at the IBM logo. Does anyone really believe that simply looking at an Apple will make you more creative in any meaningful way? Not me.
Successful creativity results from hard work over a long period of time, from a systematic and deliberate process that raises the ratio of success to failure. Lehrer knows this too, of course. And his book is a pleasure to read. If you like to read about creativity, you definitely need Imagine on your shelf.