Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, has been one of the most interesting books I’ve read all summer/fall. It is largely oriented around discussing how our brain actually works, and a lot of the time, these faculties aren’t under our control.
A few sections of this book caught me off guard, because I had just thought about it within a week or two previous to reading it in the book. For instance, I was in my work truck, and Nickelback started playing on the radio. I’m not a big fan of Nickelback (or the radio in general), so I began to think about why I didn’t like Nickelback as much as other artists. I came to the conclusion that it had something to do with how the instrumentals and lyrics seemed clichéd, over-used, and predictable (repetitive verses & power chords, featuring very structured lyrics about drinking and fighting on a Saturday night). Almost this very same topic was covered in the first chapter of the book, and discussed using Bob Dylan as an example – as he had almost quit music to stop himself from regurgitating the same clichéd folk songs. Dylan had retreated to a cabin to stop thinking about music and relax. That’s when it happened. Dylan started (and couldn’t stop) writing in the cabin. The right hemisphere of his brain was vomiting out a constant stream of less structured, and more metaphorical songs – from which emerged a song that launched a generation of music – Like a Rolling Stone.
This book covered a wide range of factors that influence creativity, from having warm showers or going on a walk (I’ve often had a Eureka! moment shortly after walking away from an exam of some sort when I’ve stopped thinking about it), to how many and what kind of people you surround yourself with in projects and general daily life. It talks about these factors, and why they happen to be factors. It talks about insight and puzzle solving, and how the right hemisphere of the brain is in charge of making more abstract connection between loosely connected ideas – thus helping on think outside the box – and how it can be influenced by having a warm shower, going for a walk, or even smoking a bit of marijuana. It talks about how typical classroom brainstorming where there’s no criticism and only pats on the back is largely a futile exercise, and demonstrates how corporations such as 3M, Pixar, and Google rely on the cross contamination of departmentalized groups (be them people, ideas, or resources), and how their “brainstorming” sessions involve constructive criticisms that groups thrive off of.
Imagine was an exceptionally interesting book to read, and I believe a lot of the information contained within could largely be utilized if kept in mind – and I tend to try. Knowing when to take a walk, or when to have a cup of coffee – understanding that I can thrive off of group work instead of only dreading it – have fantastic potential for myself as a budding engineer and current student. I think almost anyone could get something useful out of this book, but if not, at the very least, it’s always fascinating to come a few steps closer in understanding the underlying mechanisms of our brains.