Imagine by Jonah Lehrer

Lucia A. Worthington


Bathrooms and cafés

Lehrer weaves a convincing picture to show how structural design changed human interaction and information-sharing at Pixar’s converted cannery headquarters in Oakland, California. Steve Jobs insisted that employee bathrooms become centralized and that café’s become friendly meeting hubs so that the inevitable daily trips to either places would generate continuous face time among different functional departments and employees at Pixar. It worked. People mixed and exchanged ideas as they interacted and blended to become part of the whole.

This mixing and connecting is further explored by showing how the density of vibrant cities such as New York, London and Tel Aviv requires closer human contact. Less space between people invites interactions, discussions and the sharing of ideas in trains, lecture halls or coffee houses. Close proximity can generate familiarity, friendship and trust.

The brain and behavior

Creativity and the brain are analyzed to show how brain activity can either block creativity or enhance it. For instance, overstimulation can to lead to burnout. A remedy for burnout, writes Lehrer, is daydreaming or, believe it or not, procrastinating, which can be therapeutic and restful to “un-conceal the process.” Some mental disorders such as ADHD, manic depressive disorders or Asperger’s Syndrome are examined by Lehrer to show how these states can also enhance creativity. Even sadness was critiqued to show how it can increase awareness and focus.

Public Policy

Lehrer gives examples of how Elizabethan London and the San Jose area in Silicon Valley facilitated idea sharing through the “benign neglect of rules” by allowing an unprecedented relaxation of censorship. In California, “thanks to a quirk in the California Civil Code, virtually all non-compete clauses are void in the state.” Idea sharing, and in some cases pilfering of ideas, was common in Shakespeare’s London and the Bard is known to have adopted hundreds of expressions and ideas from others – without footnotes.

The central message of “Imagine” is to avoid ruts that entrap the creative drive. Lehrer encourages better decision making by suggesting that we:

• Associate with others who have different skills and interests and to engage in rigorous debate-like discussions.

• Travel to notice and experience new things.

• Understand that like-minded people do not challenge our creative thinking. Instead, they reinforce what we already think.

• Beware of conventional brainstorming. It does not work. Old fashioned brainstorming is passive and avoids critiquing. It is important to challenge new ideas. Critiquing helps to fine-tune ideas. Without critiquing we become complacent and lazy in our thinking.

This book makes for interesting reading, but can get bogged down with technical language when the author explains the complexities of how the brain works. However, it is well worth the effort of staying with that particular chapter. Overall, a few more illustrations would have helped. The book requires a bit of sitzfleish (staying power) to reap the full benefits of how people, structural design and culture impact creativity and innovation.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in creating the future with zest and vibrancy.


Lucia Worthington teaches business and management practices. To recommend a book for review, email