The best books for cultivating creativity

Mary Stewart Author Of Creative Inquiry: From Ideation to Implementation
By Mary Stewart

Who am I?

Trained as an artist, through my work as a college professor I became committed to helping others cultivate and expand their creativity. It has always been heartbreaking to hear friends and acquaintances bemoan their lack of creativity simply because they hadn't developed drawing skills. Creativity is a human characteristic that can be developed in any discipline and with practice and encouragement, is available to anyone. In my reading and my writing, I seek a combination of accessibility and substance. If a book is engaging enough to read at the beach yet substantial enough to provide fuel for thought long afterward, it is a winner!

I wrote...

Creative Inquiry: From Ideation to Implementation

By Mary Stewart,

Book cover of Creative Inquiry: From Ideation to Implementation

What is my book about?

Creative Inquiry introduces students and general readers to the exploratory mindset and hands-on skills necessary for the cultivation and implementation of new ideas. Using active learning, this book combines concise explanations and real-world examples with engaging exercises for readers to complete. 

At the end of major sections, brief self-reflection papers are provided to help readers assess their progress and revise their work. A section on internships connects coursework to careers, while an appendix provides a lively and practical “Top Ten List” of writing strategies for readers who need extra advice. Throughout, the writing style is conversational, yet substantial, and the examples given reflect a wide range of disciplines, from early aeronautics and linguistics to zoology.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

Why did I love this book?

Due to a mania for metrics, in recent years educators have been pressured to focus on answers rather than exploring the significance of questions. This imbalance can be very damaging. Students who are only motivated by the questions their teachers pose never become intellectually independent and are unable to fully cultivate their creativity.

A More Beautiful Question tackles this problem head-on and offers an informative and engaging analysis of different types of questions and their uses. I was surprised to find gems in every chapter, even those directed at businesspeople. I often recommend this book to other college professors and those who have read it have found it transformative.

By Warren Berger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A More Beautiful Question as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To get a great answer, you need to ask the perfect question. Warren Berger revives the lost art of questioning.

In this groundbreaking book, journalist and innovation expert Warren Berger shows that one of the most powerful forces for igniting change in business and in our daily lives is a simple, under-appreciated tool--one that has been available to us since childhood. Questioning--deeply, imaginatively, "beautifully"--can help us identify and solve problems, come up with game-changing ideas, and pursue fresh opportunities. So why are we often reluctant to ask "Why?"

Berger's surprising findings reveal that even though children start out asking hundreds…

Book cover of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Why did I love this book?

If you want to compete at the highest level, shouldn't you commit yourself to a single sport, subject, or musical instrument? Isn't it essential to study hard, practice relentlessly, and use self-discipline to stay on track? "Winners never quit and quitters never win," right? 

If you believe these maxims, you should read Range. While acknowledging the value of specialization and applauding self-discipline, David Epstein offers a compelling argument for the value of breadth, curiosity, and agility. Citing scientific evidence, he notes that over-specialization can produce tunnel vision and thus limit our ability to make connections, side projects can lead to unexpected insights, specializing too early can commit us to disciplines for which we are ill-matched – and much, much more. The balance between scientific citations and compelling stories makes this book a terrific read.

By David Epstein,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Range as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Fascinating . . . If you're a generalist who has ever felt overshadowed by your specialist colleagues, this book is for you' - Bill Gates

The instant Sunday Times Top Ten and New York Times bestseller
Shortlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award
A Financial Times Essential Reads

A powerful argument for how to succeed in any field: develop broad interests and skills while everyone around you is rushing to specialize.

From the '10,000 hours rule' to the power of Tiger parenting, we have been taught that success in any field requires early specialization and many…

Book cover of Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life

Why did I love this book?

What strategies have rocket scientists used to launch spacecraft into the unknown? When are redundant systems and an exit strategy necessary? How can failure fuel success? These and similar questions drive this engaging book. The author, who worked on various NASA projects early in his career, emphasizes nine thought processes that can help anyone tackle a seemingly impossible problem effectively. I found this book informative, engaging, and inspiring.

By Ozan Varol,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Think Like a Rocket Scientist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New ways to think in unprecedented times.

Named a "must read" by Susan Cain, "endlessly fascinating" by Daniel Pink, and "bursting with practical insights" by Adam Grant.

In this accessible and practical book, Ozan Varol reveals nine simple strategies from rocket science that you can use to make your own giant leaps in work and life -- whether it's landing your dream job, accelerating your business, learning a new skill, or creating the next breakthrough product. Today, thinking like a rocket scientist is a necessity. We all encounter complex and unfamiliar problems in our lives. Those who can tackle these…

Book cover of Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen

Why did I love this book?

This eye-opening and informative book provides vivid examples of small problems that became real tragedies due to inaction, miscommunication, and poor decision-making. By looking upstream to seek and address root causes of problems, we can save money, improve lives, and increase productivity. I loved the gripping examples Dan Heath used in this book. It was as engaging as reading a novel, yet provided substantial information based on careful research.

By Dan Heath,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Upstream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestselling author Dan Heath asks what happens when we take our thinking upstream and try to prevent problems before they happen.

When we shift our energies upstream, we stop dealing with the symptoms of problems and we start fixing problems.

If we can stop crimes from being committed, we do not need to work to 'solve' crimes.
If we can prevent chronic diseases from developing, we do not need to treat these diseases.
If we can provide affordable housing, we do not need to provide shelter for the homeless.
Looking to business, politics, and society, Dan Heath…

Book cover of The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm

Why did I love this book?

This book provides a backstage pass into IDEO, one of the top design firms in the world. Combining humor and storytelling with practical advice, it offers insights into their process of innovation, from observation and brainstorming to prototyping and breaking through barriers. Written before design thinking evolved into a major force in education and industry, this book welcomed me into IDEO's world of playful invention.

By Tom Kelley, Jonathan Littman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

There isn't a business that doesn't want to be more creative in its thinking, products and processes. In The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley, partner at the Silicon Valley-based firm IDEO, developer of hundreds of innovative products from the first commercial mouse to virtual reality headsets and the Palm hand-held, takes readers behind the scenes of this wildly imaginative company to reveal the strategies and secrets it uses to turn out hit after hit.

Kelley shows how teams:
-Research and immerse themselves in every possible aspect of a new product or service
-Examine each product from the perspective of clients,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in entrepreneurs, creativity, 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 entrepreneurs, creativity, and decision making.

Entrepreneurs Explore 263 books about entrepreneurs
Creativity Explore 122 books about creativity
Decision Making Explore 75 books about decision making