imagine | April 17, 2012

Creativity Meets Truthiness: Jonah Lehrer on The Colbert Report

“My guest, Jonah Lehrer, says most new ideas are actually old. Well that's original,” Stephen Colbert quipped on his show last night. The two sat down to talk about Lehrer's new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, which debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list earlier this month. Lehrer, a popular neuroscience speaker, says he wrote the book to debunk the myth that art is invented "out of thin air." He wanted to explain that most creativity comes from finding new connections between old ideas:

Stephen Colbert:
A creative act, then, would be seeing something that already exists and saying, “I wanna use that, in a different way.”

Jonah Lehrer: Exactly.

Colbert: That's also theft. “Hey, I like your car. I wanna use it, in a different, with me in it.”

Lehrer: It can sometimes be a fine line. But you make it you own, you reinvent it, and that's an important part of creativity. Which is why it's so important to create a culture where people can liberally borrow from the ideas of others.

Another “dangerous myth,” according to Lehrer, is the belief that not everyone is creative. "Creativity is actually a universal talent," he said. "It's something we all have, and that means we can all get better at it." Understanding how  imagination functions is paramount to making it “work a little better.”

Lehrer elaborates:

Let's say you're working with a really hard problem, a problem that probably requires a moment of insight. Although most people assume the way to solve that problem is to focus, focus, focus, to chug a cup of coffee, to chain yourself to your desk, to stare at your computer screen—that's exactly backwards. Instead, when you need a moment of insight, you need to find a way to get yourself relaxed.

Cheers erupted from the studio audience when Jonah Lehrer suggested that people who are very drunk “actually solve 30 per cent more of these very difficult creative puzzles” than their sober counterparts. “When you need a moment of insight, or you need a big breakthrough, you need to make time to waste time. Daydreaming turns out to be great for creativity.” 

(To watch the video in Canada, click here)

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