Saturday, May 5, 2012

How Creativity Works and Groucho: Two Books on Two Favorite Subjects

I read two books on some of my favorite subjects: creativity and Groucho Marx. I guess there is a connection there as Groucho was one of the most spontaneous and creative funny men in comedy. Even as I get older, I still look for ways to become more creative.

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer offers science, stories and practical tips on the creativity process. I've listed some take-aways below:

  • Creativity doesn't increase with experience. It tends to peak after a few years of work and then go into a long slow decline.
  • One needs to think like a young person, willing to embrace radical new ideas and new challenges.
  • To be creative, one needs to be willing to risk embarrassment, ask silly questions and leave behind the safety of one's expertise. One must escape the shackles of familiar thought.
  • Brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.
I also read Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House by Steven Stoliar that essentially covers the last years of Groucho Marx. In many ways this is a very sad book as Groucho battled old age, poor health and family squabbles around control of his wealth and affairs. Stoliar was a Groucho fan who as a young college student worked for Marx as a secretary and archivist. 

Even while battling strokes and poor health, Groucho still evidenced his quick wit and humor that Stoliar was able to capture. Stoliar also shared stories about various celebrities that he came in contact while working with Marx including Mae West, Steve Allen, Bob Hope (who did not come off well in this book at all), Jack Lemmon, George Jessel, Marvin Hamlisch and many others.

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