Book review: Too Fast to Think, by Chris Lewis

The irony wasn’t lost on me that Chris Lewis’s ‘Too Fast to Think – how to reclaim your creativity in a hyper-connected work culture’ had been sitting on my desk for several weeks before I got to read it. I think it’s worth the wait, with some simple, practical tips and ideas for how we can ‘reclaim’ our creativity. However another irony for me is that I wondered if the book may have been written a little too… rapidly.

What’s good about ‘Too Fast to Think’?

The author got out there and spoke to a fascinating cast of characters about how they manage their creativity and that of others. From artists and commercial creative writers to lawyers, entrepreneurs and business magnates, to distinguished professors and decorated military veterans, different people pop up throughout the book offering their personal recipes for preserving and developing their ability to think creatively. This gives ‘Too Fast to Think’ variety and credibility as well as broad appeal. Heaps of different theories, books and sources are brought to bear in support of the points the author makes throughout. Not that Chris Lewis is short of credibility in his own right; the founder of the LEWIS communication network has built a successful global business that now includes an academy devoted to developing employee creativity.

How did we get here?

No prizes for guessing the culprits in the first few chapters, ‘The information overload and the way it’s changing us’, ‘How did we allow ourselves to become so overloaded?’ and ‘The ‘always on’ environment and its effect’. (Irony #3 might be that you’re reading this blog post on your phone!) However I was surprised to learn about some of those changes, notably the dramatic drop in reading amongst younger people. As Chris points out, reading is a wonderful way of strengthening our ability to concentrate as well as learning (or simply appreciating the wonder of well-written words). ‘Hurry sickness’ resulting from overload is widespread, with some personalities more at risk than others.

How are our brains coping?

Not at all well, according to Chris Lewis:

    “If we’re so busy all the time, how will the ideas come to us? We seem to have created lives where we are too busy to think deeply and creatively. It’s become something that occurs when we stop and we seldom do that.”

For me the chapter on ‘Your brain and how to use it’ falls down a few rabbit holes of establishing, questioning, rejecting and finally (I think – it was getting confusing) justifying ‘left brain / right brain’ theory. Personally, I’m not sure that the approach is helpful, as I’ve found it can label people. However, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of ‘Flow’ is a winner in my book and it’s good to see it in this one – indeed I’d have liked to see more of it and how Flow relates to what follows. There’s a whole chapter devoted to ‘Sleep matters’ and quite right too – the research about sleep’s importance is constantly growing.

So what can we do?

With ‘Where great ideas come from’ I think ‘Too Fast to Think’ really hits its stride, dealing with creativity inhibitors such as fear. The 17 tips in ‘Generating better ideas’ are for me worth the cover price alone (even though some may be common sense, they’re all too rarely common practice). I particularly like the advice to ‘Quieten down’ and ‘Be an outsider because there are no insiders’. Here the author shares what he calls ‘the Eight Creative Traits’ used in his business: Quiet, Engage, Dream, Release, Relax, Repeat, Play and Teach. Whilst I admire these elements and they’re well described, I’m not sure they actually are traits per se and prefer his additional description, ‘the features to look for in creative success’. Lewis shares more from his own work as he describes the ‘Rise Four I’s Creative Cycle’ from his firm’s academy (which sounds like a brilliant yet challenging creative experience): Induction, Incubation, Inspiration and Ignition. ‘How leaders apply creativity’ brings out the big guns (including Sir Martin Sorrell), concludes that good leadership requires problem-solving, and therefore many different people can consider themselves creative and benefit from developing their creativity. Finally there’s a confession about why and how Chris Lewis wrote the book, which is bound to leave the reader with a smile. ‘Too Fast to Think’ takes a while to get going but is well worth a read, because as the author says:

    “Underneath, we all have passions, and the greatest tragedy of all is that we let them be diluted and eroded by the pace of our lives.”


You may also find this post useful: Creativity tip: make something – 5 falsehoods we tell ourselves that stop us reaching our goals.

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

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