The best books on creative thinking

Who am I?

For as long I can remember, I’ve been an ideas guy. I even like the idea of ideas…I guess that makes me a meta-idea guy. But not just any ideas. Ideas that achieve the maximum impact with the minimum means. Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, “I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I’d give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Creative ideas are the main event of the imagination, and the simpler the better. I've written and published several books, hundreds of articles and blogs, and even had dozens of songs published. But by far my favorite creative accomplishment is winning the New Yorker cartoon caption contest in 2008.

I wrote...

Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking

By Matthew E. May,

Book cover of Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking

What is my book about?

Science confirms the distinction between the biological brain and the conscious mind. Each day, a game of mind versus matter plays out on a field defined by the problems we must solve. Most are routine, and don’t demand a more mindful approach. It’s when we’re faced with more difficult challenges that our thinking becomes vulnerable to brain patterns that can lead us astray.

In Winning the Brain Game, author and creative strategist Matthew E. May explains several “fatal flaws” of thinking. Calling on modern neuroscience and psychology to help explain these flaws, he blends in a field-tested set of “fixes” proven through hundreds of creative sessions to raise our thinking game to a more mindful level.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Creativity in Business: Based on the Famed Stanford University Course That Has Revolutionized the Art of Success

Why did I love this book?

Creativity in Business was the book that started it all for me in terms of creativity in business. I had just graduated from The Wharton School with my MBA, and I had no idea that business creativity was even a thing. Or even a possibility. I thought they were entirely different worlds, and never the twain shall meet. In this book, authors Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers made me want to go take their course at Stanford. As soon as they started talking about business as art and silencing the “voice of judgment,” I was hooked.

By Michael Ray, Rochelle Myers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Creativity in Business as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This exploration of innovative thinking in companies of all kinds "shows us how creativity in business can enrich us, and those who work with us." -- Spencer Johnson, co-author, The One Minute Manager

Book cover of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

Why did I love this book?

I had been a fan of Dan Pink’s writing since he was on the staff of Fast Company and read his first book, Free Agent Nation. As I began my own publishing and speaking career in 2005, I had the pleasure of being on the same speaking docket as Dan. As I listened to him talk about A Whole New Mind, I knew I had to meet him and get that book. I did. To this day I constantly refer to my signed copy, stuffed full of Post-It notes marking all the amazing exercises and tools in this book.

By Daniel H. Pink,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Whole New Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a book that you have to read. A Whole New Mind is a groundbreaking look at how we should live our lives in a world turned upside down by rising affluence, the outsourcing of good jobs abroad, and the computerization of our lives a world fast shifting from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. Lawyers. Accountants. Radiologists. Software engineers. That's what our parents encouraged us to be when we grew up. But Mum and Dad were wrong. The future belongs to a very different kind of person - a person with a very different kind of mind.…

Book cover of Ingenius: A Crash Course on Creativity

Why did I love this book?

This book is a practitioner’s guide to applied creativity in business, from yet another Stanford University professor. What is it about Stanford? I learned Design Thinking at Stanford, and I’ve had the honor of spending time with Tina Seelig. In many respects, this book is volume two of Creativity in Business a few decades apart. She introduces a conceptual model she calls the Innovation Engine, which explains how creativity is produced on the inside…our “in-genius,”…but is then influenced by the outside world. For anyone looking to create something from scratch, this book is for you.

By Tina Seelig,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ingenius as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is the ability to creatively tackle problems innate or can it be learned? Like most human traits, both answers are correct. Some people are inherently more innovative than others. But, just like maths, or writing, everyone can improve with practice. Tina Seelig, PhD teaches creativity every day in her courses on innovation at Stanford School of Engineering. After ten years of experience, she confidently asserts that not only can creativity be taught but that there are a clear set of tools, skills and approaches that can unlock anyone's creative potential.

In InGenius, Seelig reminds us that creativity is not just…

Book cover of The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking

Why did I love this book?

Roger Martin is a mentor. I learned how to think strategically from him, first-hand. In fact, I hated strategy until I met Roger. He is one of the brightest thinkers on the planet. I use his frameworks daily in my work. His concept of integrative thinking, taught while he was dean of the University of Toronto’s progressive Rotman School, is all about the ability to hold two opposing ideas in your head at once. This is the stuff of breakthrough. The challenge is to avoid either/or thinking when considering two different ideas and synthesize them into an altogether new concept that improves on both. It’s like alchemy for the mind.

By Roger L. Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Opposable Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If you want to be as successful as Jack Welch, Larry Bossidy, or Michael Dell, read their autobiographical advice books, right? Wrong, says Roger Martin in The Opposable Mind. Though following best practice can help in some ways, it also poses a danger: By emulating what a great leader did in a particular situation, you'll likely be terribly disappointed with your own results. Why? Your situation is different. Instead of focusing on what exceptional leaders do, we need to understand and emulate how they think. Successful businesspeople engage in what Martin calls integrative thinking creatively resolving the tension in opposing…

Book cover of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth about How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas

Why did I love this book?

I love contrarian thinking. It’s by definition creative…new, novel, useful. That’s what David Burkus does with this book. There are a lot of conventional thoughts about creativity and the generation of innovative ideas that are held out as universal truths, but just aren’t. True, that is. David takes them all to task, pokes holes in them with science and logic and good old thoughtful insight, and dispels an entire family of mythology...misconceptions all relating to creative thinking: brainstorming, collaborating, incentivizing, and about a dozen more. Prepare to have much of your current understanding of creativity shaken.

By David Burkus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Myths of Creativity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How to get past the most common myths about creativity to design truly innovative strategies We tend to think of creativity in terms reminiscent of the ancient muses: divinely-inspired, unpredictable, and bestowed upon a lucky few. But when our jobs challenge us to be creative on demand, we must develop novel, useful ideas that will keep our organizations competitive. The Myths of Creativity demystifies the processes that drive innovation. Based on the latest research into how creative individuals and firms succeed, David Burkus highlights the mistaken ideas that hold us back and shows us how anyone can embrace a practical…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in creative thinking, entrepreneurs, and decision making?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about creative thinking, entrepreneurs, and decision making.

Creative Thinking Explore 13 books about creative thinking
Entrepreneurs Explore 263 books about entrepreneurs
Decision Making Explore 75 books about decision making