The 10 Best Books for Creativity

Need a creativity boost, looking for advice on creative problem-solving or considering a new path in life? Take a look at this list of 10 books on all things creative:

1. Creative Acts for Curious People: How to Think, Create, and Lead in Unconventional Ways

By Sarah Stein Greenberg

All problems require solutions, and Creative Acts for Curious People is here to help you learn how to find them. Authored by Sarah Stein Greenberg, the executive director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (Stanford’s “d.school”), the book is a combination of stories and exercises intended to encourage the reader to face and overcome challenges in creative ways. 

Including activities such as “Units of Energy Critique,” meant to hone judgment and evaluation skills and “Expert Eyes,” meant to encourage the fostering of observational skills, the book is simultaneously educational and lighthearted, meant to teach without judgment of your current skill set. And for good reason—the unique activities in the book, each the product of a different inventive mind or minds, are also taught at d.school.

2. Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking

By Matthew Syed

No matter whether we’re problem-solving or just forming personal opinions, our worldview is greatly influenced by the voices around us. Wanting to surround ourselves with only those who agree with our point of view is natural—we prefer to be around people we agree with, and thus will be in less conflict with. However, doing so is a steep slope to confirmation bias as we create an “echo chamber” of our own opinions. 

In Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed argues that we need to be surrounded with people who think differently than ourselves if we want to find the best results, as it is these varied opinions that allow teams to challenge each other and create new, better ideas. A mixture of case studies and insightful arguments drawing upon a range of fields, Rebel Ideas challenges its readers to leave their “echo chambers” and seek discomfort in order to maximize their potential.

3. Design Your Thinking: The Mindsets, Toolsets and Skill Sets for Creative Problem-Solving

By Pavan Soni

Creativity is nebulous, as fickle and elusive as a wary cat. As such, discipline is not a word often used in conjunction with creativity, and yet creativity thrives despite constraint all the time. In Design Your Thinking, author Pavan Soni discusses design thinking—a combination of creativity and discipline—and its uses in creative problem-solving. 

Soni’s design thinking framework is made up of five stages: “inspire,” “empathize and define,” “ideate,” “prototype and test,” and “scale.” With a focus on first finding a consumer need and then solving it, the model’s mixture of creative problem-solving skills and structured focus on a goal provide all the ingredients needed for success. When combined with studies and existing design thinking frameworks to create a toolbox of skills for individuals and businesses alike, Design Your Thinking is the perfect guide to creative problem-solving.

4. You Are an Artist: Assignments to Spark Creation

By Sarah Green

“You can be anything you want to be” may have lost its inspirational spark for most people, but in the case of You Are an Artist, it remains an honest sentiment. The collection of 50 assignments curated by author Sarah Green originated in her 2014 PBS series The Art Assignment, and 13 new challenges were commissioned in order to create the 2020 book. 

With no skill or expensive materials required and insight from some of the greatest creative minds to guide you, the book creates a non-judgemental and inspiring path to learning new artistic skills. A background discussion of art history techniques provides not only an interesting historical context to various art styles and practices, but also allows readers to see the trials and errors of past artists—and inspire them to become artists in their own right.

5. Life in the Studio: Inspiration and Lessons on Creativity

By Frances Palmer

Life in the Studio is not your average art book—it is a deep dive into the life of author Frances Palmer and the path that led her to become a potter and business owner, interspersed with photography and practical instructions for some of her pieces. 

Despite beginning her career path as an art historian, Palmer has been making art by hand since she began working with ceramics in 1987. From printmaker to cook to gardener to potter, her love of creating things for others to enjoy eventually led to the founding of her pottery business. Instead of a stagnant life that followed her original path, Palmer instead chose to explore all avenues available to her. The lessons learned along that path—one which has led to an enjoyable, hard-won life—are collected in the book alongside her amalgamation of creative pursuits to inspire readers on their own journey.

6. Mindwandering: How Your Constant Mental Drift Can Improve Your Mood and Boost Your Creativity

By Moshe Bar

Wandering minds are often considered a hindrance, an unnecessary and occasionally irritating interruption from the tasks at hand. Worries, doubts and ordinary distractions plague our thoughts throughout the day, breaking our focus. 

But what if there was a benefit to something people spend hours of their life trying to overcome? That’s where Mindwandering by Moshe Bar comes in. Head of the cognitive neuroscience lab at the Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University, Bar uses his background in neuroscience in combination with disciplines including psychology and philosophy to discuss the benefits of mind-wandering. From self-understanding to increased creativity, allowing—and knowing when to allow—a lapse in focus can enrich your life in ways you never imagined.

7. The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday

By Rob Walker

Most of us have become skilled at focusing on work. From students to employees to artists, the necessity of maintaining focus unites even the most opposite of professions. But how often do we take the time to focus on the world around us, instead of our next task? The focused eye can see expressions, clues and details in the world around them that are invisible to those who haven’t trained themselves to look.

In The Art of Noticing, Rob Walker shares tips and tricks for learning to see more in the people and places around us. With five sections—”looking,” “sensing,” “going places,” “connecting with others” and “being alone”—the book provides activities suited for any age. It asks its readers simply to remove themselves from work for just a little time each day, and instead choose to turn their attention to something that can be beneficial no matter their career.

8. The Entrepreneurial Artist: Lessons from Highly Successful Creatives

By Aaron Dworkin

Entrepreneurship and artistic ventures are not fields often combined—unless an artist has the time and money to create a business for themselves. But The Entrepreneurial Artist by Aaron Dworkin chooses to ignore that separation, instead focusing on instances both past and present where artists of various beginnings have managed to become both.

The book provides a mixture of personal anecdotes, examples of artists including Lin Manuel Miranda, Rachel Barton Pine, Marin Alsop and William Shakespeare, and summaries of the takeaways from each chapter. With personal interviews with eleven of the artists and Dworkin’s own insightful connection between entrepreneurship and art, The Entrepreneurial Artist is sure to be an inspiration to any creative mind.

9. Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential

By Tiago Forte

There is so much information all around us, and no one could be expected to remember even half of the input they receive in their lifetimes. That is where Building a Second Brain comes in. Tiago Forte, founder of Forte Labs, has combined the power of our minds and that of technology to create a system to preserve the insights, inspirations, and other important information that may otherwise be forgotten.

The second brain is not only for storage—the benefit of having all of this information in one place is the connections and creations we can make from seeing them all together, instead of focusing on it once and forgetting later. One way to navigate these potential connections is Forte’s “C.O.D.E” method—”capture,” “organize,” “distill” and “express.” Used in combination, these steps create a pathway to incredible ideas. This, alongside Forte’s other insights, create a methodology that will allow readers to build brilliant ideas

10. Burn After Writing

By Sharon Jones

Journaling—even guided journaling—is no new concept. It has been recommended for processes from creative thought to changing mindsets to thinking through difficult emotions. Burn After Writing, however, does not ask only one question. Instead, Sharon Jones asks you many—all with the purpose of understanding your past, your present and your future, and the insights the combination of all three can reveal about who you are. Future, in particular, allows you to consider who you may one day become—and perhaps consider new paths that had seemed impossible before now. 

While no locked diary or hidden book of secrets, the journal is still just for you—it does not ask you to share any of your insights. And when you’re done, you can keep it around to remember what you learned, or you can follow the instructions in the title—just remember that the matches on the cover are not included. 

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