Jonah Lehrer: a good success story

by Dave Weich on March 13, 2012

Jonah Lehrer writes a column for Wired, publishes essays in the New Yorker, and regularly contributes to RadioLab. His new book is called Imagine: How Creativity Works. We spoke by phone on February 14, 2012.

I asked him to tell me a good success story.

Twenty years ago, Geoffrey West thought his career was over. A great theoretical physicist. I write about him in Imagine, but I didn’t have a chance to tell his personal narrative.

He’d been expecting to lead a new supercollider under construction in Texas. And then in 1993 Congress cancelled the project. West was floundering. He thought, I’m done for. My branch of physics, no one will pay for it anymore. It’s over.

In the years since, he’s done his most interesting work. He left physics, and he’s taken his skill set and applied it to biology and sociology: urban science, basically. He’s never been more influential, never been more interesting. He’s at the height of his powers now—and he was forced into it, in a sense.

I always find those narratives of success interesting: where people get there by accident. As Bob Dylan said, “There is no success like failure.”

Read the full interview with Jonah Lehrer.

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