January 18, 2022
January is International Creativity Month. Because of this, I wanted to take a few minutes and answer a question that people regularly ask me: What should I read to get better at creativity?
Following are the 18 best books I’ve read that I believe will help you become a better creative thinker. This applies if you feel like a novice or if you’re more practiced and want to round out your skills.
Let me know which ones you’ve read or others you’d add to the list.
1. The Accidental Creative
I read this book more than 10 years ago when I started getting really serious about creativity. As Todd explains, “It isn’t enough to just do your job anymore. In order to thrive in today’s marketplace, all of us, regardless of our role, have to be ready to generate brilliant ideas on demand.” In The Accidental Creative, you’ll learn how to focus on what’s most important and reclaim your attention. You’ll curate stimuli to help you stay mentally focused. And maybe most importantly, Todd will teach you how to manage your energy so that you’re always ready to tap into your creativity.
2. The Art of Noticing
The man behind The Significant Objects project, journalist Rob Walker will help you see the world with fresh eyes. Through a series of 131 simple and playful exercise, Rob teaches you how to break through tunnel vision created by our world of white noise and digital devices. You’ll become a clearer thinker, a better listener, a more creative work colleague, and, most importantly, rediscover your sense of passion and what really matters to you.
3. The Artist’s Way
My college English professor introduced me to this book by Julia Cameron. I still have my dog-eared copy close at hand. With a deep-seated belief that there’s no such thing as a non-creative person, Julia teaches the path to creative recovery through by reconnecting to your higher, spiritual self. It’s now in it’s 25th anniversary addition after being rediscovered during the pandemic as a way for people to connect with their inner artist.
4. Big Little Breakthroughs
Think creative (and innovative) ideas have to be huge, expensive, and disruptive? Successful CEO and innovation expert Josh Linkner shows why it’s actually the consistency of small, everyday acts that add up to the big impact. The stories Josh tells is worth the price of the book itself.
5. Big Magic
This is the book that put fear (as far as the creative process) in its proper place for me – the back seat. Elizabeth has a, well, magical way of describing creativity as the friend we’ve always wanted, but didn’t know how to attract. She shows how to embrace our curiosity and put self-judgement aside so we can live our most creative lives.
I found this book in a little local book store in Portland, Maine last summer. I was in town giving a workshop on creativity, of all things, and I just couldn’t get beyond the universe absolutely wanted me to buy it. So I did. John Cleese had signed it, which made it all the better.
This quick read draws on John’s long career as a writer. He shares his insights into the nature of creativity and how to get your own inventive juices flowing.
7. Creativity, Inc.
Let’s face it, the president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation has to know a thing or two about creativity. Ed Catmull delivered this classic, which serves as a manual for anyone who strives for originality.
The late legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is being in a state of consciousness he calls flow. It’s not only that people enjoy what they’re doing at a deeper level, they also become more creative and happy.
9. Herding Tigers
Sometimes creativity is about more than just what you’re able to do. Leaders are a big component in whether a team realizes its full creative potential or no. Another great book by Todd Henry, Herding Tigers points out that there’s a big difference between doing the work and leading the work. This book gives you a blueprint to help you become the leader your team needs.
10. How to Get to Great Ideas
Written by my good friend, Dave Birss, this book is highly practical and immediately useful. The lessons in this book are based on neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics. Learn how to frame your problem, push your thinking, sell your ideas, and build support for it. Dave will also teach you how to inspire others to have great ideas as well.
11. The Molecule of More
Daniel Lieberman, MD and Michael Long, MD, are both university professors who share a potentially changing proposal: Much of human life has an unconsidered component that explains an array of behaviors that, previously, people thought were unrelated. Things like why winners cheat, why geniuses often suffer with mental illness, why nearly all diets fail, and why the brains of liberals and conservatives really are different. The is an entry way into dopamine, the brain, and creativity for anyone who wants to dig deeper into this aspect of creativity. I highly recommend it.
12. The Myths of Creativity
We tend to think of creativity as divinely inspired, something that only a lucky few have the skills to deliver. David Burkus busts such myths as this. Through his research into how creative people and companies succeed, he highlights the mistaken ideas that hold us back. Then, he shows us how anyone can embrace a practical approach to find the best new ideas, projects, processes, and programs.
13. The Neuroscience of Creativity
I geek out on the neuroscience aspect of creativity and innovation. This book by Anna Abraham looks at why, even though it’s so important to our daily lives, creativity remains mysterious and abstract. She digs into what happens to our brains when we’re working from a creative mode verses when we aren’t. Heads up, it takes a bit more effort to read than the other books on this list.
14. Orbiting the Giant Hairball
Creativity is crucial to business, for sure. But even the most innovative companies turn into a giant hairball pretty quickly. Their tangled mass of rules, traditions, and systems are all based on what worked in the past. But that pulls the organization into mediocrity. In his own funny way, author Gordon MacKenzie shares his own experience and professional evolution on awakening and fostering creative genius.
15. RE:Think Innovation
Yeah, I know, I’m peddling my own book here. But I really believe that it belongs on this list of creativity books. I’ll teach you the simple 5-step process that great innovative minds use to consistently come up with creative ideas. Plus, you’ll learn your own style for developing, sharing, and supporting ideas.
16. Steal Like an Artist
Austin breaks down what can turn into an overly complicated topic – how to be creative – into 10 lessons that no one ever tells you about it. Once you get hooked, you can move onto his other books, Show Your Work! and Keep Going.
17. Wreck this Journal
One of the beauties of creativity is that you know you’ll wreck things along the way. This journal gives you permission to do it in sssoooo many ways. You’ll find yourself saving fruit stickers, poking holes in pages, dragging your journal around by a string, painting pages with coffee, and other things that seem absurd but are crucial to removing your creative blocks.