Book Review: Let the Elephants Run

“Look around, wherever you are. Take it all in. The sights, the sounds. Now imagine a world without creativity. First, let’s take away music. All the music. The heavy metal you loved in your teens and the pop music you listen to on the radio at work. Now let’s take away dance and theatre. Poof! Gone! The art, paintings, sculptures, and drawings. Subtract movies, all the great TV shows, and video games. But it doesn’t stop there. Let’s take away writing, the books, magazines, articles, blogs – all the things that you love to read. Then the spoken word, the ability to formulate sentences and complex thoughts, all language. Now move to the world of things. Start with your computer, fridge, the medicine you give your kids, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, and the house you live in. Then the infrastructure starts to disappear. The roads, the bridges, the heating, the buildings, the power grid, and, finally, the very floor that you are standing on. What’s left?” – David Usher, Let the Elephants Run

David Usher’s Let the Elephants Run is about how to reignite and nurture your creativity, reconnect with your imagination and understand that creativity is in each and everyone of us, we just need to unlock it. This book is for EVERYONE, not just people who have lost their sense of creativity. I feel like even artists, writers, and designers would benefit from this book. Usher is a musician, entrepreneur, and keynote speaker, so he brings in examples from his own experiences throughout the book.

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One story that resonated with me from the book was when Usher was at Heathrow Airport and a woman approached him, having recognized him. They began to discuss one of his songs, and she says “I would love to write something like that, but I’m just not creative.” Usher is flattered but also angered, because there seems to be a misconception that creativity is something that only certain people are born with. When reading this, I could think of a dozen times where I have thought the same thing as the woman at the airport. I would see a painting or read a book and think, I can never do that. Usher purports that everything is possible with practice and hard work.
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There are a million good quotes from this book, but I will just highlight a few:

“The reality is that creativity is 95 percent work and discipline, and just 5 percent inspiration. You never get to the 5 percent inspiration that you desperately want and need unless you do the 95 percent that’s work.” – David Usher

Everything ties back to Usher’s music and business enterprises. He has been successful only because he has put in the work, not because he is talented. Being talented helps, but he could never be what he is at present without hours and hours of practice and hard work.

The ironic thing is I actually had an interview today, and often times when you have an interview you have to think about all the past work that you have done. And you begin to realize the amount of creativity that you are actually doing on a daily basis, which is surprisingly more than expected. I currently work in a fairly bureaucratic environment, which makes it difficult to express one’s creativity. However I feel like even when you think you are limited in your position of authority within a hierarchical structure, there are still opportunities to be creative if you are open to them.

“These days, ideas are like oxygen – they are everywhere. The Internet has flipped the idea economy on its head. Now ideas flow like water…Today, value is measured by attention. Ideas still matter. You still need great ideas, but in a world where they are flowing so fast and furious and often for free, the real question is, can you get attention and traction for your great ideas?” – David Usher

Usher has various action items in the book that he asks readers to complete (he encourages writing inside the book! – so scribble away). For example, making sure that you write down any and all thoughts that may pop into your head. This blog sort of serves that purpose for me. Also I tend to be very forgetful (which my friends can confirm), so writing in journals have always been important to me. Usher says that if you hate physically writing things down, then you can also use a smartphone or tablet. Usher explains that in his experience, writing down as much as you can, helps to formulate a larger idea. One thought may not be an idea, but three thoughts together could be something great.

“The easiest way to overcome the daunting blankness at the beginning of a project is to just start filling up space. Don’t think. Just start working. Generate material. It doesn’t have to be good because at the beginning all you want is bulk. You are the Costco of creativity. Forget about quality. You need to fill the aisles with stuff…What you are trying to do is generate momentum, to put yourself and your process in motion.” – David Usher

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Usher writes very simplistically, which is great when trying to get someone like me to understand creative approaches. I often times don’t even touch non-fiction because I just can’t seem to get into those types of books. However this book immediately grabs you. Usher writes as if he’s speaking to a friend, you immediately connect with his words. Also the book is visually stunning! Every page has some sort of intricate design or image. Usher mentions in the book how he actually hired a graphic designer to  do all the designs in the book, and it definitely paid off.

I loved that he not only discusses creativity in its greatness, but also at its low points. When working on creative projects, you will often times be faced with failure or negative feedback. There are highs and lows with everything. It may be a long and chaotic process in order to achieve creative greatness. Usher says that we are scientists, we must collect and filter ideas and then constantly experiment with them in order to achieve a good result.

“Don’t expect everything you touch to turn to gold. The creative journey takes you through ups and downs, through winners and losers. It is absolutely normal to have creative projects that fail. The trick is learning how to handle failure when it arrives.”- David Usher

Overall this book is a must read. Its the type of book that you will not be afraid to scribble and doodle inside of, and refer back to when you want a bit of inspiration.

My cat gives this book a 5/5.


This week, I will be reading Annabel by Kathleen Winter. So please check by next Friday for my review. Also I have been reading Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz for my book club. I should be finished that read by next week, so expect to see an upcoming review for that book.

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