Tag Archives: Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer Lied to Us All, and this is Why that Matters

This is about the betrayal of the author Jonah Lehrer.

This may sound strange, but the thing I may miss the most from preaching every Sunday (I left that profession years ago), is reading Scripture aloud.  I loved reading Scripture aloud.  I’m not sure why.  But I did – and I miss it.

Maybe it is because I so honor the very idea of a sacred text.

Before you interpret a text, you make sure that you understand the text.
To understand the text, you have to assume (you have to trust) that the text is “the text.”
And in interpreting a text, you have to make sure that you are staying faithful to the intent and message of the author – and then, and only then, can you “springboard” from the text to talk about lessons and implications for this audience, in this time.

It all revolves around the sanctity of the text.

These were the guiding principles undergirding my preaching for twenty years, and though I readily admit that a business book is not such sacred text, I still try to follow these guidelines.  When I present a business book synopsis, I am very careful with the text of the author.  I quote extensively, reading quotes taken directly from the book, because that is the clearest and most sure path to letting the author speak.  And my belief is that a business book synopsis is just that – a synopsis of the content of the author(s) himself/herself.

Yes, of course, I realize that I have to be “faithful” in putting and keeping the quotes in proper context.  I can’t lift phrases out in such a way to change or manipulate the meaning.   And, inevitably, I leave key parts out – ideas that if the author were present, he or she would yell “why did you leave that out?!”  Otherwise, I would just read the entire book aloud — thus, not a synopsis, but a performance.  (And, even then, there would be “interpretation” – “oral interpretation”).

But I do my best to let the author speak – to let the text itself speak.  Thus, I work hard to say, with every presentation, “this is what the author himself/herself has to say to us.”  That is my job.

(There is a second task — that of criticism.  Once we are clear about what a book says, then a good book reviewer, a book critic, like our blogging colleague Bob Morris, can tell us if the book is good, right, well-written, clear.  Of course, my very selection of a volume reveals that I think it has valuable insight.  But I am less a “critic” and more of a “spread the word, this is what the book has to offer, book briefer.”  I think these are connected roles, but slightly different.  They of course overlap.).

But… if I view text as sacred, then in my world, a faked text, a fabricated text, a made-up text is a sin of the highest order.

Jonah Lehrer is guilty of a sin of the highest order.

Jonah Lehrer made up quotes by Bob Dylan, lied about his source on these quotes (there was no source!), plagiarized Malcolm Gladwell, and I would not be surprised if he fabricated and stole from others in other ways yet to be discovered.

{And he “recycled” his own work, which is the least objectionable of the charges.  (Aaron Sorkin does this with some frequency – and I like it when he does it).}

You can read about Lehrer’s wrongdoing here, and here is his own statement:

“The lies are over now,” he said. “I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers.”
He added, “I will do my best to correct the record and ensure that my misquotations and mistakes are fixed. I have resigned my position as staff writer at The New Yorker.”

He has admitted his wrongdoing.  And he has resigned from The New Yorker.  And the publisher is pulling the books from the shelves, and the digital version also.

I presented my synopsis of his book Imagine:  How Creativity Works, at the May, 2012 First Friday Book Synopsis.  I thought it was a terrific book.  But I now feel betrayed, as should every reader.  My comprehensive handout of this book, with the audio recording of my presentation, has been available at our companion website, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  I have sent my request to our webmaster to remove it from our offerings.

Though I do apologize to those who heard my synopsis, or read earlier blog posts that I wrote from this book, I can say that I really am at the mercy of the authors I read.  If they fabricate, if they lie, if they plagiarize, how am I to know?  In other words, a writer, a speaker has a sacred obligation to a reader and listener.  That obligation is to be truthful.  To write truthfully, to speak truthfully.  To tell the truth.  To never plagiarize, to never fabricate.  To not make stuff up.  Here is Susan Scott, on one obligation of a leader, from her book Fierce Leadership:

Do not, under any circumstances, tell a lie – of either commission or omission.  Do not stretch the truth, exaggerate, or make stuff up (she actually used a little stronger word than “stuff”) to get out of trouble or make yourself look good…

Jonah Lehrer has betrayed our trust.  I do not plan on reading him again any time soon.  Can he be “restored” to a position of credibility?  I don’t know.  I am aware that some pretty respected authors and journalists have been guilty of something similar:  Doris Kearns Goodwin (read about her plagiarism here); Nina Totenberg (She was fired from the National Observer for plagiarism.  From the Wikipedia pageIn 1995, Totenberg told the Columbia Journalism Review, “I have a strong feeling that a young reporter is entitled to one mistake and to have the holy bejeezus scared out of her to never do it again.”), to name a couple.  So maybe there will come a time…

But this I promise to my listeners.  I will treat text with honesty.  I do not make stuff up.  I try to let the text speak.

But I have to rely on the credibility of the text.

That is why I feel so betrayed by Jonah Lehrer.  And so should we all.

Imagine by Jonah Lehrer – My Takeaways

At the end of each of my book synopsis presentations, I give a few of my takeaways for the books I present.  For Imagine:  How Creativity Works, I had a much longer list than usual – sixteen takeaways.  So, here they are.  If you want to be more creative, then take a good look, and ask, “what do I need to do differently – what changes do I need to make in the way I work?” 

• Sixteen “lessons” (some behaviors to adopt – a longer than usual list of take-aways): 

1)    Paint the walls blue (but hire an accountant wearing red)
2)    Make people interact
3)    Connect more.  Collaborate more.  A lot more.
4)    And, to connect, you need lots of face-to-face interactions.  There is no substitute for face-to-face! (proximity matters a lot!)
5)    If the idea has not come at all, get off task – way off task
• take walks; take showers; have a drink or two…
6)    If the idea has come, get focused – very focused… (until you need another idea – then get off task again)
7)    Embrace – insist on – debate!  (traditional brainstorming, focusing on the positive only, does.not.work!)
8)    Get outside.  Way outside! – and collaborate with outsiders; lots of outsiders.
9)    Play a little (or a lot) – At least, look with new, outsider, child’s eyes…  (familiarity/jargon – these are enemies of creativity)
10)  Only after expertise is developed can you stray from the traditional, and improvise… (think Yo-Yo Ma).  Thus, expertise precedes great breakthroughs…
11) Travel – far away from home… (and pay attention when you travel)
12) And, aim for diversity (and weirdness) in your connections
• embrace the city
13) Walk faster…
14)  Treat breakthrough performers more like athletic superstars
15)  Get much better at your powers of observation
16)  Provide “15 percent time” (or its equivalent) – use your 15 percent time to play around with new ideas……

Creativity is a Verb, and feels like Hard Work – insight from Jonah Lehrer, Imagine

I have now read enough about creativity to know that we have our work cut out for us.

What we think, what we wish, is that creative ideas just fall from the sky in blinding moments of inspiration.  That does happen, but…  But, just as Twyla Tharp says in The Creative Habit, and Jonah Lehrer confirms in his thorough study of creativity, creative breakthroughs are the result of specific practices (“habits”), serious attention to work places, and work styles, and many, many interactions and connections, and work discipline…

Yes, breakthroughs may come suddenly, but they come at the end of some very hard and serious work.  And then, when the breakthrough arrives, there is much more hard work to do to turn the idea into something real.  Here’ s a key quote from the Lehrer book:

I think people need to be reminded that creativity is a verb, a very time-consuming verb. It’s about taking an idea in your head, and transforming that idea into something real. And that’s always going to be a long and difficult process. If you’re doing it right, it’s going to feel like work.”

Our future depends on our creative work leading to those creative breakthroughs.  So, we all need to get to work…


If you are in the DFW area, come join us this Friday, May 4, at the First Friday Book Synopsis.  I will present my synopsis of Imagine:  How Creativity Works, and Karl Krayer will present his synopsis of Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success by Rory Vaden.  7:00 am at the Park City Club.  Click here to register.

We Need More Good Stories, with Fewer Simple Chronicles

You might not realize it, but you are a creature of an imaginative realm called Neverland.  Neverland is your home, and before you die, you will spend decades there. 
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal:  How Stories Make Us Human

If you say, “The queen died, and the king died,” that is a chronicle.
If you say, “The queen died, and the king died, from grief,” that is a story.  (Joe Lambert and Nina Mullen, drawing from E. M. Forster).
Bob Johansen:  Get There Early:  Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present


I heard Krys Boyd on KERA interview Jonathan Gottschall about his book, The Storytelling Animal.  (Krys is a great interviewer).  And I remembered the brief description of the difference between a chronicle and a story from Get There Early.

We care about stories.  We learn from stories.  We place ourselves within stories, because we all know that every story, is, in some way, our own story.  Last night I watched House.  Wilson has cancer.  A very close friend of my wife has cancer.  The fictional story is her story – our story.  You know…

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.  
(John Donne, For Whom the Bell Tolls)

In the interview, Gottschall observed that stories always include two elements:  some form of dilemma, and some form of resolution.  It is the old “problem-solution” formula for persuasion.  And when a story is told well, it always makes us stop and ask:  “What is my dilemma?  Can I find a way out; a solution; a resolution that works for me, and hopefully for others?”

I read a lot of nonfiction books — but, sadly, too little fiction.  Gottschall observed in the interview that people who expose themselves to more fiction have an easier time interacting with others.  They are more socially connected; better connected.  And, thankfully, he reminded us that stories preceded printed books, so maybe I get almost enough fiction from my favorite television shows.  I guarantee that, in House alone, there is enough dilemma and conflict to last a while.

In my own reading, I have come to realize that the best nonfiction writers are, in fact, superior story tellers.  I think this explains the popularity of Malcolm Gladwell, and why I have so warmed to The Power of Habit and Imagine just recently.  They are both written by superior story tellers  (Charles Duhigg and Jonah Lehrer).  Books that are principle-rich and story-poor just aren’t quite as engaging or gripping.  Or insightful.

And I think it is why I remember some books I read years ago more than others.  David Halberstam is always at the top of my list, because he was such a wonderful story teller.

In the realm of organizational culture, story plays a major role.  To build corporate culture, to build corporate strength, to build a true community, tell the stories of your organization.  Yes, tell the good stories, the stories of success — but tell especially the “struggle” stories.  “This is what we faced.  This is how we overcame it.”  A well-told struggle story can help a current struggle seem not quite so overwhelming.

We love a good story.  And, it turns out, we need a steady dose of good stories.


Good stories move us. They touch us, they teach us, and they cause us to remember.  They enable the listener to put the behavior in a real context and understand what has to be done in that context to live up to expectations. 
…storytelling is the ultimate leadership tool.   (Elizabeth Weil).
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner:  Encouraging the Heart — A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others

From Yo-Yo Ma, Your Communication Tip of the Day – “Make People Care What Happens Next”

I’ve finished reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer.  It is a treasure, with story after story worth pondering.

Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

One of his exemplars of creativity is Yo-Yo Ma.  Here is a brief excerpt.

For Ma, the tedium of the flawless performance taught him that there is often a tradeoff between perfection and expression. “If you are only worried about not making a mistake, then you will communicate nothing,” he says. “You will have missed the point of making music, which is to make people feel something.” Instead, he reviews the complete score, searching for the larger story. “I always look at a piece of music like a detective novel.” My job is to retrace the story so that the audience feels the suspense. So that when the climax comes, they’re right there with me, listening to my beautiful detective story. It’s all about making people care about what happens next.” (emphasis added).

“Make people care about what happens next.”  Now this is your communication tip of the day.  In your speeches, your presentations, your blog posts, your articles, even your emails, make people care about what comes next. Always.

Coming for the May 4 First Friday Book Synopsis – Imagine: How Creativity Works & Take the Stairs

Recently, a sharp entrepreneur told me that she consistently hears that the First Friday Book Synopsis is one of the top 5 networking events in the Dallas area.  I believe this is true, and you can sense it whenever you walk into the room at one of our monthly sessions.  The quality of the people, the content of the book synopsis presentations, the great food, the respect for the clock…  What more could you ask for?

We begin at 7:00 am, and you can always walk out between 8:05-8:07.  And you leave with two handouts, genuinely comprehensive takeaways with key quotes and the most useful transferable principles from the two books chosen for the morning.

And we’ve been providing these sessions every month for over 14 years.

For May 4, we have selected two books that you will find very useful.  I am presenting my synopsis of Imagine:  How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer.  It is a terrific book!  I read a lot of business books that have very good information, but some books are also written by exceptional writers.  This is one of those books.  (So is my June selection, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg).  Jonah Lehrer, the author of Imagine, tells a story with such thorough detail.  And he tells stories in such a way that we see the insights just leap out in moments of “discovery.”  He is a really good writer.  (Click here to read the review of Imagine by our blogging colleague, Bob Morris).

Karl Krayer will present his synopsis of Take the Stairs:  7 Steps to Achieving True Success.  It is a book dealing with self-discipline.  So, if you have mastered self-discipline, you can skip this presentation.  (I suspect that you still have some work to do in that category – I sure do).

We meet at the wonderful Park City Club in Dallas, near the corner of Northwest Highway and the Dallas North Tollway, at 7:00 am – the first Friday of every month.  Come join us for the May 4 First Friday Book Synopsis.  You will be glad you did.

Click here to register.