The best books for appreciating your natural creatively entrepreneurial genius

The Books I Picked & Why

How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day

By Michael J. Gelb

Book cover of How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day

Why this book?

This book had to be first. I’ve read three biographies about da Vinci, alert for clues into his brilliance. And I’ve never had a book recommended to me as frequently, by former students, colleagues, and friends. I’ve read it twice. Gelb draws on da Vinci’s notebooks and his work to shape The Seven da Vincian Principles—Curiosity, Being Sensual, Embracing Uncertainty, and Holistic Perspectives are my favorites—and also provides specific creative tips to help us live true to those principles in all aspects of our lives. I love da Vinci’s appreciation for what nature can teach us about being creative and this book captures that well. 


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Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity

By David W. Galenson

Book cover of Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity

Why this book?

How do creative people produce their best work? That’s the question Galenson researched as an economics professor leading to this book comparing the two major creative approaches he’s identified: Do they create by just getting started and through incremental efforts and continuous testing they feel their way until they discover what they will create? Or do they begin with careful and comprehensive plans of what they will create, beginning only when they are confident they have a full vision of what the end looks like? He studied artists—painters and poets, novelists and sculptors—but the questions he asks and the answers he frames are relevant to all creatively entrepreneurial work and he shares his thoughts about that as well. I love Cezanne’s paintings and was delighted to learn my creative process is similar to his. 


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How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery

By Kevin Ashton

Book cover of How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery

Why this book?

I used this in class the last semester I taught at Duke; had I continued to teach I would have used it again. The students and I found it was two things—as it tells the Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery it also spotlights creative strategies and entrepreneurial behaviors in the stories it shares. It’s an entertaining history and narrative of creative and entrepreneurial successes; both teach us, guide us, maybe even inspire us. I’m the father of three daughters and appreciated the stories he’s uncovered of many life-changing innovations that women led but men claimed. 


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The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

By David G. Brooks

Book cover of The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

Why this book?

I used this book in class for three semesters. The students were fans; I stopped using it only because I re-designed my classes regularly. It’s a deep dive into hundreds of social science and neuroscience research projects about how we relate to each other, how we want to engage with each other, and why. It first appeared to be an unusual pick for a class on creatively entrepreneurial growth but students agreed it made sense when reminded that most creative work is done in collaborative teams so understanding each other is of great creative benefit. Brooks uses fictional characters, a man and a woman, and tells their life stories, illuminating them with insights rooted in research; we see the deep human truths behind behaviors and are entertained along the way. 


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The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World

By David Abram

Book cover of The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World

Why this book?

First and foremost we are sensual critters. At birth, our brains still have significant development to accomplish and focuses initially on the Sensory Control area since it’s vital for growth that we fully realize the messages and signals that the physical world is constantly sending. Here’s a poetic and philosophical exploration of how we emerged from and continue to be part of the physical sensual world. It makes sense it’s last. I’ve been reading it for two years without finishing; after a couple of pages of Abram’s beautiful wisdom about how, for instance, the first spoken languages were composed of natural sounds I need to put the book down and ruminate for a few days on the creative implications of my speaking and the sounds I make. 


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