Book Club: Creative Quest by Quest Love
Creative Quest by QuestLove
I was so excited when Jen told me she was reading this book because I love Questlove and The Roots. I think he's such a talented musician and while I have a few issues with Jimmy Fallon, he made a great decision hiring The Roots. As much as I enjoy his music, I didn't know too much about Questlove himself but after reading Jen's review, I picked up a copy at the airport and started reading it on my flight.
"In Creative Quest, Questlove synthesizes all the creative philosophies, lessons, and stories he’s heard from the many creators and collaborators in his life, and reflects on his own experience, to advise readers and fans on how to consider creativity and where to find it. He addresses many topics—what it means to be creative, how to find a mentor and serve as an apprentice, the wisdom of maintaining a creative network, coping with critics and the foibles of success, and the specific pitfalls of contemporary culture—all in the service of guiding admirers who have followed his career and newcomers not yet acquainted with his story. Whether discussing his own life or channeling the lessons he’s learned from forefathers such as George Clinton, collaborators like D’Angelo, or like-minded artists including Ava DuVernay, David Byrne, Björk, and others, Questlove speaks with the candor and enthusiasm that fans have come to expect. Creative Quest is many things—above all, a wise and wide-ranging conversation around the eternal mystery of creativity"
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QuestLove’s “Creative Quest” is a wonderful analysis of what makes people creative. What I loved most about this book was the fact it wasn’t a self-help book. Instead of providing generic or common-sense tips, he provides object analysis, interviews, and a diverse range of anecdotes relating to the creativity of musicians, artists, chefs, etc. Quest cites empirical studies that have helped provide analysis of his own creative quest.
For those unfamiliar, Questlove (often called Quest), otherwise known as Ahmir Khalib Thompson, he is the co-founder of the hip-hop band The Roots. Quest is a multi-instrumentalist, DJ, radio host, music journalist, record producer, college professor, occasional actor, and more. You may know him from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
I picked this book up because I am a fan of the Roots and of Questlove's past books “Mo Meta Blues,” his autobiography, and “Something to Food About,” in which Quest interviews 10 professional chefs about their creative process. Quest has a very unique writing style that provides so much tone and levity that every sentence is an engaging ride. This book is no different.
Quest opens the book with a discussion of creativity as other people describe or study it. He explains that in his estimation, no one person is more creative than another but rather people use and act on their creative energies differently. He states, “I do think everyone is born with some creative energy. It’s an authentic human energy...I don’t see the point in arguing that some people are more creative than others in some essential way. What I would say definitely is that creativity is unevenly distributed within one individual.” Quest goes on to explain how we act on our creative sparks becomes essential to our how we embrace or ignore our creativity.
Quest takes full advantage of the audiobook format. At one point, Quest defines the pivotal moment of his first memory of a creative spark and how he first recognized it when he was young while listening to Stevie Wonder’s music. Quest was mesmerized by the synthesizer, and, as he narrates this part the audiobook, he begins to play synthesized music in the background. As Quest explains his fascination, we as listeners become just as engrossed and are drawn into the moment. As the synthesizer hits its peak, there is a sudden snap when a mouse gets caught in a trap in his kitchen. I was walking my dog and listening to this on headphones at the time, and literally jumped at this moment. As a boy this moment was so traumatizing for Quest that to this day the synthesizer sound is still creepy to him and provides a level an inspiration for his music.
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Throughout the book Quest quotes studies and relates them to his personal journey or tries to find ways the reader might find their conclusions useful. One study cited is "Decreased Latent Inhibition Is Associated with Increased Creative Achievement in High-Functioning Individuals," in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, written by Shelley H Carson, Jordan B Peterson, and Daniel M Higgins. This study discusses the topic of cognitive disinhibition, which is a personal inability to filter out or ignore information that may not obviously relate to the goal at hand. The impact of this is summarized nicely in “Why Weird People are Often More Creative,” by Drake Baer stating, “that cognitive disinhibiting allows for way more info to enter into your conscious mind–which you can then tinker with and recombine. The result: creative ideas.” To Quest this study proves that creativity is a mindset and that typically the more creative people are, the more of the world they absorb and let in and make connections later when the spark connects the dots. After Quest talks about this study, he says that letting go of your inhibitions creatively doesn’t need to be pulling a Gaga and wearing a meat dress, but can be as simple as hearing music in a crickets song or finding a synthesizer can be a bit creepy.
Later, he quotes a study by Mareike Wieth, who studied the impact of wakefulness of performance and creative problem solving, and found no impact on performance but a 20% improvement on creative problem-solving. In order to make this study relate to the reader, Quest explains how Malcolm Gladwell in a conversation about running out of ideas reminded Quest that the trick isn’t to have hundreds of creative ideas, but to be able to capture them and perfect them for execution.
Towards the end of the book, Quest again explores the idea of cognitive inhibition. Quest quotes a Bjork interview on a German TV show with Hermann Vaske, and in response to whether her creativity is more dependent on the discipline of chaos, she says, “right now my discipline seems to be mostly when I arrange music or when I’m collecting libraries of beats. The studio process is very disciplined and very focused. My voice and the song-writing process is the opposite. I would never let the analytical side of me in there.” This struck a chord with Quest who has over 200 GB of duplicate music to curate in his personal library. He said that sometimes creativity relies on chaos and needs room to be free, but other times you need organization and a foundation to motivate yourself to produce or act on your creative goal. The answer, Quest says, to is to figure out a system that works for you.
I loved this book because Quest didn't prescribe a regime for what he believed to be the ultimate creative way of life, but rather shares his personal creative quest through studies, anecdotes, and general tips. I was particularly struck by his chapters about collaboration, particularly how there are some people he loved collaborating with and others he generally avoided. His example was Jay-Z. Quest said that he was dreading collaborating someone like Jay-Z because they seemed so type A in comparison to how the Roots work. After joining the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Roots and Jay-Z finally collaborated and his expectations completely changed! Check out the NPR interview to hear more about that.
The only thing I didn’t like about this book was how credits studies. I discovered this as I was writing this review and wanted to properly credit and link to Shelley Carson’s study referenced throughout the book. As a librarian I did some footnote chasing to find the source, but surprised when it took two hours. I was able to find the initial article, "Why Weird People are Often More Creative,” that Quest discusses in the book that mentioned Carson’s study, but they use a broken link to reference her study and don't list their references at the end of the article. I did a Google search and wasn’t able to find the 2003 study, but found other articles that were word-for-word the same article which included the citation error. I tried every librarian's best tool, WorldCat, and actually found it pretty quickly, but was surprised that Carson was one of three other authors on this study since every other article I saw only listed Carson as the author. I realized that likely that nobody fact-checked this study before they published it in "Why Weird People are Often More Creative," and since Quest was only referencing the initial article he never looked in the actual study. I then became curious about the other studies and I looked into a few other examples, like the Wieth study which Quest says in the book he found in “a great article from the Atlantic a few years ago” and only cites the study as “the article quoted a study at Albion College in Michigan.” After a bit of hunting, I found the Atlantic article was called “When Fatigue Boosts Creativity,” and that article says the Wieth study took place in 2011 and looked at over 400 kids, but never says it was published or if other authors were involved. I looked at other things Wieth has published and found a number of likely studies, but none were the clear choice, leaving me a little confused. Most of Wieth's relevant studies were from 2005, 2006, and the studies from 2014, or 2015 were about multitasking and creativity, which, while interesting, isn't what the study the Atlantic cited was about. I read the studies and found and the conclusions stated in the book seem to hold true, but I can't help but be a bit disappointed. These seem like honest mistakes on Quest's part since he is only pointing the reader to initial articles, where the errors of credit occurred to begin with. However, I feel like the fault should lie with the publishers and editors of this book, since they should have fact-checked their sources.
Overall, the book was well-written and the audiobook was a joy to listen to. I found the anecdotes about David Byrne, D'Angelo, J'Dilla, Bjork, and others to be very interesting and they each added a lot of depth. I loved how in the middle of the audiobook he couldn't figure out how to pronounce French chef Ludo Lefebvre's name so he called him and Lefebvre and Quest just says his name a bunch of time, just to make sure he got it right. The chapters on motivation, failure, and mentors, I found to be very inspirational.
I recommend this book if you are trying to find new ways to be creative, are looking for some inspiration, or just enjoy a good book.