One of my favourite books of late is IMAGINE. How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. In it he explores the mechanisms by which new ideas come about and speculates about how people can tap into their creative potential.
Since I think all of us can benefit from his ideas I will share some of them here:
- The 15% rule: one should spend at least 15% of his or her work time doing things unrelated to work. For example, when one is desperately looking for an answer to some question and is feeling stuck, one should take a walk, take a nap, go out for a drink, etc. Daydreaming in general is found to be a great way to bring in new ideas and answers. In other words, relaxing your mind paves a way for insights and "AHA! moments".
- Grit: However, as much as creativity feeds on inspiration, it also requires a great deal of perspiration to execute the new idea. Lehrer calls this quality grit - the ability to keep beating on your craft and to come back to the same problem failure after failure. Beethoven is known to have revised a single phrase of his sonatas dozens and dozens of times before he finalized his compositions.
- Cities! My favourite chapter! Cities attract all kinds of people, hence, the level of diversity is extremely high. Cities is where the most improbable collisions and meetings happen and, as a result, the most creative and unexpected ideas are born and carried out. The bigger the population, the faster the average speed of walking of people, the more conversations they have and - DING! - more creativity! (No wonder I love Toronto and New York so much!!! You just never know who/what you will see/meet next!)
- Travel! It is important to experience difference! People who travel live in an acute state of ambiguity. They realize that ways of life can be and are different in various parts of the world. Clashes of culture raise questions and lead to an open state of mind.
- Outsiders: Bringing in an outsider's perspective to the problem at hand may be very beneficial since an expert may be jaded about the question and stuck in the ways he or she thinks about it. Surprisingly, the lack of indepth knowledge of the problem can be a positive thing, since such naivete may lead to a more open-minded approach to the problem.
These are just a few of the points that Lehrer makes in his book. He also speculates about the flaws of the current education system and discusses the ways to raise geniuses in our society. Overall, I found this book very compelling. If you have no interest in reading the whole book you can listen to Lehrer's speech below.