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Reflections on imagine how creativity works by jonah lehrer

This past April, I had the pleasure of attending Switchpoint in Saxapahaw, North Carolina. The conference brought together people from all walks of life. American beat poets, global health workers, an African midwife and a Kenyan tech advocate all came together in one space for one day to see what would happen. It was pretty awesome.

One of the speakers of the day was Jonathan Opp. He spoke of branding and his experience at Red Hat and the Road Tour he helped develop. I got the chance to talk with him during the conference and how I was starting to try to draw more often. He mentioned a good book that he had recently read called, “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer and highly recommend I read it. I tend to listen when smart good folks tell me to do something, and most of the time they are right.

I read “Imagine” this past weekend. The book is filled with anecdotes from various creative folks. The book has been coined as creating multiple “Aha” moments. It’s like he is saying everything you already know, but forgot when thinking about the creativity. He speaks on the different techniques successful companies such as Pixar, 3M and Google use to foster their creative process. He mentions how the common term called “brainstorming” actually stifles us and keeps us from improving our projects with criticism and feedback. Towards the end he wrote:

“Here is the dis-quieting truth. Our creative problems keep getting more difficult… It’s time to create the kind of culture, that won’t hold us back.”

Now how did that apply to me?

Many years ago, I started out as a design student. I took basic typography classes, where we had to trace over hundreds of different styles of type each night. I’d then go to a drawing class where pre-fabricated still life were lined up perfectly for us to replicate. It was so completely boring.

I decided to take a printmaking class as one of my art electives. It was a perfect blend of science, art and physical activity. What a thrill from the mundane “design” world where it seemed perfection was key! I dove head first into printmaking and gave up design. And then, the computer lab started drawing my attention. This was the age of Napster, AIM and ease in connecting with friends all over the globe. I remember skipping my photography class so that I could spend more time in the computer lab. It was funny. I remember the design students constantly coming to me for help in figuring out how create a proper Quark layout (Yes, I said Quark.) At the time, there wasn’t a “web design” program. HTML/CSS were just starting to become something that folks were realizing anyone could do. You didn’t have to have a computer science degree in order to do it.

So, my curiosity stayed with computers. I hacked around on my Compaq Presario 2286 at home and the pretty Macs at school. It was great and it was fun. Both sides of my brain were being used simultaneously with printmaking and computers. My days and nights were filled with problem solving and my brain was happy.

I continued on with my printmaking, as well as computers. I even worked as a professional printmaker while living in Los Angeles. It was an amazing experience and I even got to help pull a print from one of my all time favorite artists, Ann Hamilton. I printed an edition for Richard Serra and even contributed my own work to an inside edition that the shop did. The halls echoed of Allen Ginsberg and I heard stories of Robert Rauschenberg coming to town. I was in art school geek heaven.

And then, the magic faded. I was living in a friend’s living room, barely able to pay my bills and have enough food to eat. The printmaking dream just wasn’t working out. So, art and I broke up. I stopped drawing and creating. I was disappointed. The break up was a bitter one.

That was almost 10 years ago. After the break up, I delved head first into the world of web programming. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the smartest and most creative people I have ever met. I’ve seen and learned a lot in the past 10 years, but something has always felt off balance: Something that has been at my core ever since I was a kid drawing comic books on the weekend, pure creativity.

And so, after reading “Imagine” and having many of those “Aha” moments, I am going to try to mend this part of me. Because creativity is key to each us. We all have it. Whether it’s the music you’ve been so close to making, the book you’ve started writing, but never finished, or a drawing you were too pissed off to jot down. Creativity is important. It’s vital to share, collaborate, adapt and create with those around you. Stop the inhibitions and the worry about making a mistake and just make.

So art? Let’s reconcile. I’ll start by placing a new link on my site called “Sketchbook” and let’s just see where we go from there.