We all want to be “creative,” but that’s easier said than done.
We talk about “coloring outside the lines,” or thinking “outside the box,” but what do we really mean? If we were truly creative, there wouldn’t be lines or boxes.
Today’s economy thrives on ideas and innovation. Whether we’re trying to send a rocket to the moon or build the next great invention, we know we have to be creative. And though it’s easy to buy into the “creative” stereotype—the melancholic starving artist—the truth is, anyone can be.
These seven books are a must-read on your list if you’re looking to erase your lines and demolish your boxes—and make some real ideas happen.
7 Books That Will Make You More Creative
- The Innovators: How A Group Of Hackers, Geniuses, And Geeks Created The Digital Revolution, Walter Isaacson
innovation resides where art and science connect is not new. Leonardo da Vinci was the exemplar of the creativity that flourishes when the humanities and sciences interact. When Einstein was stymied while working out general relativity, he would pull out his violin and play Mozart until he could reconnect to what he called the harmony of the spheres.
To be innovative, we have to learn from the innovative. If Isaacson’s name looks familiar, it’s because he wrote the Steve Jobs biography. His extensive research, dedication to detail, and showcase of the individuals and groups that built the world we know today makes this a fascinating read. You’ll gain an understanding of macrolevel trends without losing the color of the individual leaders, lab workers, and tinkering garage dwellers that created the society in which millennials grew up.
- Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand In the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull
“Greatness” emerges from “phases of not-greatness.” Protect your people and their ideas from anyone in the organization who does not understand this basic tenet.
What Catmull does here is not just instill a sense of behind-the-scene drama from the early days of Pixar, but imparts wisdom on various aspects of creativity. He focuses on the ways the institution and company creates creative environments for employees to thrive. Hey, these are creative and talented people they hired, no doubt about it. But the point he makes is that culture matters, and executive actions actively help or hinder the creative process.
When it comes to culture, he shows how vital it is to encourage experimentation–and failure. He subscribes to the innovative tenets we’ve heard before from Silicon Valley, but some of the techniques manifested differently. His emphasis for ruthless postmortems on all projects–good, bad, ugly–means each product is evaluated thoroughly to ensure lessons learned are shared throughout the company, not just isolated within silos. We so often rush to the next thing without pausing and reflecting that we don’t always know what to do better next time.
- Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques, by Micahel Michalko
Creators are joyful and positive. Creators look at “what is” and “what can be” instead of “what is not.” Instead of excluding possibilities, creators include all possibilities, both real and imagined. They choose to interpret their own world and do not rely upon the interpretations of others. And most importantly, creators are creative because they believe they are creative.
It’s not always enough to be inspired by creative thinkers. You have to become one. We often forget that creativity comes not just from out-of-the-the blue ideas, but from drawing connections to things that didn’t exist before. To do this, you have to switch up your routine. Changing small things in your daily routine forces you to experience the world differently, and this translates to how we approach common problems. Yeah, standing on your head in a meeting might be “weird,” but if you don’t go for something against the grain, you’ll never find a creative solution.
Ok, you don’t need to stand on your head. You can use this book for ways to change up how you and your team thinks about problems. It provides insightful exercises, games, and ideas to jolt you out of your routine mindset and think more creatively. It’s perfect to help you kickstart an idea, change up your brainstorming session, and open up your mind so you can see innovative solutions to problems all around you.
- Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, by Adam Grant
Being original doesn’t require being first. It just means being different and better.
Grant asks the question: “What defines someone who is original?” Through stories and case studies, he busts the myth that successful nonconformists are aggressive risk-takers born to lead. Anyone can do it—even if you don’t think you’re “the creative type.” This book will give you the ability to know where change might happen, recognize a great idea over a good one, and successfully make change within your organization. Whether you’re an entrepreneur starting anew or an individual looking to change your company for the better, this book helps you reject conformity and move forward. (And it’s a great read, too).
Besides writing entertaining books, Adam Grant is a fantastic speaker, and I’d recommend his recent TED Talk on the subject to anyone:
- Swerve: How The World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
Stability itself is nothing but a more languid motion.
Though this isn’t a traditional “business book,” it shows the power of an idea—in this case, Lucretius’ On The Nature of Things—and how it can alter the course of history. Before Botticelli, Galieleo, Freud, Darwin, or Einstein, came an ancient Roman philosopher with a dangerous idea that threatened the entire structure of society. This book traces the history of the idea and its rediscovery by an avid book-hunter that kicked off the Renaissance. It shows the power of connecting the dots.
Drawing connections across disciplines and applying an idea not just to your department or industry, but beyond it, will ultimately make you a smarter, more creative person. This book will make you think about how one idea’s can affect art, science, religion, literature, economics, culture, and ultimately, the world.
but I’ve never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.
This book builds on innovative, what if scenarios that encourage you to think differently. Monroe, the creator of xkcd, hilariously details exact scientific answers to questions from the likelihood of a fire tornado to creating a jetpack powered by machine guns. His extrapolations of crazy scenarios with science (SCIENCE!) It will keep you laughing and teach you more than you ever wanted to know about diabolical scientific situations.
- Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
The lesson here is very simple. But it is striking how often it is overlooked. We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth. We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that thirteen-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that’s the wrong lesson. Our world only allowed one thirteen-year-old unlimited access to a time sharing terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today?
If today’s economy thrives on ideas and innovations, how do you become successful? Gladwell takes the traditional ideas of success—particularly the American view of success—and turns it on its head. Rather than personality traits like intelligence and ambition, he argues that the world around us—culture, family, generation, and upbringing—matter more to determine what we will accomplish. Examining the lives of the “outliers” among us, whether it’s the supremely successful, the incredibly creative, or the gifted athletes, he tells a story of what success really is, and how creativity (and a lot of hard work) can unlock it.
This book takes what you’ve learned from the others—the qualities of a creative company, how to be creative, what defines innovation—and gives you the framework to be successful and unlock your potentially latent creativity.
Are the ideas flowing yet? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.