Summary Written by Joel D Canfield
"[B]ecause we finally understand what creativity is, we can begin to construct a taxonomy of it, outlining the conditions under which each particular mental strategy is ideal."

- Imagine, page XVIII

The Big Idea

Every Creative Journey Begins with a Problem Hitting a Wall

"When we tell one another stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase of the creative process. We neglect to mention those days when we wanted to quit, when we believed that our problems were impossible to solve."- Imagine, page 6

As recently as 20 years ago, the right hemisphere of our brain was thought to be a pound and a half of wasted space. Researcher Mark Beeman, studying patients with damaged right hemispheres, saw widely varied cognitive problems which that view didn’t explain.

The immense variation in the kinds of challenges Beeman saw made it difficult to see a connection. Difficult to the extent that Beeman was at the point of giving up when he saw it: the right brain’s purpose was exactly what he was trying to do―make connections; the subtle connections between seemingly unrelated things.

When we hit a wall, our brain will shift from left to right hemisphere… if we allow it. When our structured logical brain gets out of the way, electric currents in the brain concentrate in the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG) located just above the right ear. This shift leads to those “Aha!” moments we’ve all had.

Our instinct as entrepreneurs is to push through the wall with logic; fact and reason. Persistence wins, after all. When that doesn’t work, our other reaction is to give up.

Knowing when to do which is powerful. Knowing there’s a third option is invaluable. Which brings us to insight #1.

Insight #1

The Compass to Choosing a Creative Method

"What's impressive about such estimates is that people were able to assess their closeness to the solution without knowing what the solution was."- Imagine, page 82

We’ve all done it: bumped into someone whose name we know, but can’t remember.

Think about that for a moment, though: we can know that the information is in our brain, even when we don’t know what the information is right now. You know that you know, even though you don’t know at the present moment.

When it comes to problems which don’t require that hemisphere-shifting-flash we call “insight”, our brain is remarkably accurate at assessing whether or not a problem can be solved, and even how close we are to solving it.

We can know whether this problem requires persistence, or insight.

We don’t always know how thick or hard a wall is. When you hit one, push. If persistence gains you some ground, if you feel yourself making progress, this is probably a wall you can break through with sheer determination. Bear in mind this doesn’t have to be visible or measurable progress; “feelings of knowing” are hardly measurable with a yardstick or scale.

If pushing harder brings feelings of frustration and hopelessness (okay, maybe we don’t go that far) then a better method is to walk away for a while. Take a break. Work on another project, or a hobby, or nothing at all. If you can, just look out the window at the beautiful scenery or have a chat with a friend about something entirely different from the problem at hand. Sleep on it.

Then try again. And watch for insight.

Join our newsletter

Sign up for the very best book summaries right to your inbox.
We care about your data in our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Insight #2

Embrace Critical Debate and Dissent Because Brainstorming Doesn't Work

"[B]rainstorming didn't unleash the potential of the group. Instead, the technique suppressed it, making each individual less creative."- Imagine, page 159

You know the brainstorming drill: everyone in the room, shouting ideas to be written down without judgment. Create a safe environment and let the free flow of ideas build into a storm of creativity. The time for debate and criticism comes later.

Wrong. All wrong. The entire concept was debunked shortly after the word “brainstorming” was coined in the 50s. Due to some twisted sense of fair play in the halls of business, the “no judgment, everyone has a voice” form of brainstorming is still haunting us a lifetime later.

Studies have repeatedly shown that individuals who come up with solutions, then come together to debate, to share constructive criticism, come up with not only more solutions, but more creative solutions. It’s core, in fact, to the runaway success of Pixar studios, the only movie studio in history to have every single film critically and publicly acclaimed.

Consensus breeds consensus, not creativity. When seeking a creative solution, allow all involved to study the challenge, then give them time alone to work on it. When the group reconvenes, embrace debate and criticism.

Begin with a moment of dissent. Inject surprise by offering an obviously incorrect solution or assessment of the situation. Disconnect participants from the default setting of pacific cooperation and create an atmosphere of congenial debate.

Most of us can’t afford to keep getting what we’ve been getting. Changing how we think is core to changing how we act, and to what comes into our life.

Read the book

Get Imagine on Amazon.

Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired and the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist. He graduated from Columbia University and studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He’s written for The New Yorker, Nature, Seed, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. He’s also a Contributing Editor at Scientific American Mind and National Public Radio’s Radio Lab.

Subscribe to digest
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.