One of my family’s favorite summer vacation destinations is a small ranch in Missouri that rents out cabins and allows us to dock our boat on a pier in the adjacent river. We spend the days out on the river, but at night, we frequent the ranch office/game room/pool. While my siblings and family friends enjoy endless games of Bejeweled and competitive amateur ping pong tournaments, I discovered long ago that I like to wander over to the book shelf/magazine rack, pick out a copy of The Smithsonian I haven’t read yet, and get comfy.
They made fun of me, naturally. But I loved all of the interesting things I was able to learn by pouring over the pages of those magazines–things about exotic plants or the most recent archeological finds. I am not what I would call a science person, but the stories pulled me in and explained things in a way that fascinated me. When I started hearing about Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works, I was a little hesitant. I am, after all, no psychologist, or neurologist, or any other sort of -ologist that deals with the brain. I am, though, a preservice teacher who hopes to foster creativity, so I figured I owed it to my future students to give it a shot.
I’m glad I did. What I found were stories of creative minds across disciplines, anecdotes that Lehrer uses to illustrate his explanations, and they pulled me in just as quickly as those old copies of The Smithsonian. Lehrer divides the book into two sections, “Alone” and “Together,” effectively covering both individual and collaborative creative work. He takes it down to the neuroscience level, yes, but you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to understand what he’s trying to say. As he gives us peeks into the minds of Bob Dylan, Yo-Yo Ma, and the employees at Pixar (among others), Lehrer also prompts his readers to think about their own creative process and works at convincing us that creativity isn’t something bestowed upon a select few, but rather a skill we all have, if we take the time to nurture it. He talks about the value of warm showers, intense focus, and first mistakes, as well as the importance of maintaining a fresh perspective and working across disciplines.
As a teacher, I know I’ll be able to apply concepts I learned from this book in my classroom, but I’m also glad I gave in and picked it up, just for me. Because this is the sort of cross-discipline information sharing that makes me think a little differently, not unlike the articles I discovered in The Smithsonian years ago.