5 Creativity Books Everyone Should Read

Personally, I’ve always thought “creativity” was sort of an elusive term. I always thought that creative peeps — like Pablo Picasso for instance — were blessed with some sort of magical inborn talent that most of us just don’t get to have. And this is how I’d rationalize why people like Picasso were so much more creative than I was.

But as it turns out, I was dead wrong… sort of.

Most people think Picasso just sat down in front of the canvas and effortlessly produced masterpieces all day long. But the truth is, that’s not how things went down. The way Picasso actually painted was much more in-depth. He’d sit down and start at the corner of the canvas with one single stroke of the brush. Then he’d expand from there; allowing the brush to let him transfer whatever he was envisioning onto the canvas. Sometimes he’d decide to let an idea take his painting elsewhere. Other times he’d end up painting something totally different than what he envisioned initially. Other times, he’d start the whole damn thing over again. But almost every single time, he’d end up with something beautiful.

How’d he create so many masterpieces? Was he talented? Hell yeah. Was he “born with it”? Maybe. But people are born with all sorts of talents that they neglect to cultivate. And that’s the key: cultivation.

Picasso cultivated his talent into mastery. He was dedicated to his craft. In other words, he did it often enough to recognize that if he went off the beaten path halfway through a painting, he could take a different route and still end up with a beautiful piece of art.

Bottom line? Creativity is NOT magical or mysterious. Creativity is like a muscle. And these 5 books will show you how to build that muscle up so that you can maximize your own creative potential — both personally and professionally.

1. “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield

“The War of Art” will teach you how to break through the blocks that every creative runs into from time to time — fear of failure; being your own worst critic; lack of self-confidence. Pressfield also talks about overcoming procrastination and the energy that comes from working on the things you deem to be your true calling. You can listen to my personal take on the book right here, or you can pick up a copy for yourself here

2. “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Ever experience that feeling where you totally lose track of time, you feel absolutely unstoppable, and excellent work just seems to stream out of you effortlessly? That’s called a “flow-state.” And in this book, you’ll learn how to bring it about within your own work. Get the book here

3. “Lateral Thinking” by Edward de Bono

For most folks, the concept of creativity is sort of like hitting the lottery — fat chance it’ll happen today — but maybe next time. In “Lateral Thinking”, author Edward de Bono shows us how to align our thinking in a way that actually helps us become more creative. While everyone else is trying to dig the same hole in the same place, this book shows you how to dig a new hole somewhere different. Get the book here

4. “Creativity” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

In “Creativity”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of “Flow” (see above) comes back to school us on how to leverage flow-states to take our creativity to another level. In the book, he discusses what he learned after interviewing 91 creative professionals from a wide array of professional endeavors — from astronauts, to writers, to philosophers, and everyone in between. Here’s a few big ideas from the book: creative people have an endless thirst to constantly keep learning about their subject of interest, they never get sick of practicing the fundamentals, and they know how to connect seemingly unrelated ideas together to create something totally new. Get the book here

5. “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon

This is a book about permission. Permission to stop hiding behind your own shadow. Permission to start creating something that actually matters. Permission to stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before you and take advantage of their great ideas. The idea isn’t to “steal” other people’s work. So don’t do that. Stealing is bad. Just take bits and pieces from other people’s work and make something of your own out of that. If you use someone else’s stuff to make something of your own, then let them know about it. It’s usually (but not always) flattering. Get the book here

Jump-start your creativity

Now that you’ve got this list of creativity books — there’s only one question left… Which one do you read first? Should you go out and get all of them immediately? Should you read them all at once? Or should you take a lifetime to read them? So many options. So little time. Ultimately, it’s totally your decision what you do with this list and how you apply it to your life and career. But if I may, here’s what I would suggest you consider as you get started:
  • Subscribe to a book summary site, like FlashBooks to get the key-takeaways from the books on this list.
  • If you’d prefer to read an entire book, I would highly suggest that you read just ONE book at a time. Sometimes, when we see something new and exciting, we have tendency to want to do/learn/read it all at once… and as we all know, this is nearly impossible to do without stressing ourselves out. So, choose a book. And then commit to reading it from start to finish.

Dean Bokhari

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