IMAGINE: How Creativity Works
By Jonah Lehrer Illustrated. 279 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $26.
In Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer (also author of How We Decide, 2009) writes about creativity, what it is, how it works and – probably most importantly – how possible it is for more of us to be more creative. This book took some major hits from the critics citing flawed technical information, over use of a clichéd formulaic format and, according to an August 8, 2012 article in the Boston Globe, the retreading of formerly used material as well as some outright fabrications. In, The Curse of Knowledge, June 7, 2012, The New Republic, reviewer Isaac Chotiner accuses Lehrer of jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions and poor judgment. The book was pulled from the Harvard book store in Cambridge. But the book sold some 200,000 copies and remained on the New York Times best seller list for 16 weeks. I think I know why.
Though, technically not a book about business, Lehrer has collected story after fascinating story about the big payoff of creativity in business. There’s no way to place a dollar amount on creativity, but according to Stewart Lyman writing for Xconomy on the cost of research and development (the other name for creativity in business) and using the the pharma and biotech industry by way of example, some $65 billion dollars was spent on R & D in 2008. Most small businesses can’t throw that kind of budget toward R & D, but, to remain competitive, have to find other entré to innovation and scalability. And that’s where Lehrer’s book not only comes in handy, it comes to the rescue.
See Lehrer, who is not a scientist, is able to present some important and complex psychological insight – like that of enhancing creativity - to the layperson, without a lot of jargon and couched in examples that make the information usable. Very cool as cross discipline approaches to problem solving is becoming as they say. In this case it is how psychology can support the interests of business. For example, in the chapter entitled “The Outsider” Lehrer shows how to make being an outsider an asset. Reframing is a quintessential psych maneuver. Being an outsider (translation: not privy to the usual cache of insider information, pots of money, top notch talent and so on) is the most often offered up explanation for stagnation and decline by the small business owner. As a business coach, “If only... ”, a c&w standard in a failing business, is a set a lyrics I hear dozens of times a week. But as an outsider, Lehrer points out happily, there are fewer rules and it is possible to see new and alternative. There are processes and rules to making this work, of course, but he lays these out.
And that’s why Lehrer’s book sold. Because even given its flaws and shortcomings - and I agree there are some – it manages the most valuable thing of all beyond data and scientific what all: it makes us aware of our potential. As stressors mounts on American small business from competitors on what is now a worldwide stage, uncontrollable variables such as political relations, rising costs in getting business done and the constant specter of the corporate takeover, small business owners need help like this to continue to retain ownership over their own destinies.