The best creative thinking books

20 authors have picked their favorite books about creative thinking and why they recommend each book.

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Everything Is Figureoutable

By Marie Forleo,

Book cover of Everything Is Figureoutable

This isn't the obvious book anyone would recommend when it comes to Stoicism. But if you already know the basics of Stoicism, this will be a good addition as it's applied wisdom. Marie's book is immensely practical and fun to read. And it will offer you the invaluable mindset that everything is figureoutable. 

Who am I?

Jonas Salzgeber is the bestselling author of The Little Book of Stoicism. His interest in the mystery of life has sculped him into a mindful reader & learner for almost a decade now. Together with his brother Nils they write at NJlifehacks.com and share what they find most valuable.


I wrote...

The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and Calmness

By Jonas Salzgeber,

Book cover of The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and Calmness

What is my book about?

Where can you find joy? Gain strength? How should we face our fears? Deal with the death of a loved one? And what about those reoccurring depressing thoughts? While traditional schooling doesn't address such questions, it's exactly what ancient schools of philosophy were all about: They taught you how to live. Even though these schools don't exist anymore, you and I and most people are in as much need of a philosophy that guides us through life as we ever were. This compelling, highly actionable guide shows you how to deal more effectively with whatever life throws at you and live up to your best self.

The War of Art

By Steven Pressfield,

Book cover of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

For me, as an artist, there is no greater feeling than bringing a vision into reality and welcoming the formless into form. Having to wrestle with the angels of creativity and the demons of resistance is exhausting, soul-enlivening work. Steven Pressfield brilliantly describes and guides readers through this process in his seminal work The War of Art. Steven invites us to square our shoulders towards all that we’ve been resisting, as a means of facing the life we know we’re capable of and called to live. The book is divided into three parts, or books within the book: Book One is called, simply “Resistance: Defining The Enemy.” Book Two is titled “Combating Resistance: Turning Pro” and outlines the differences between an amateur and a professional, and Book Three is my personal favorite: “Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm” where he waxes poetic about our connection to the Muses and the…


Who am I?

From the time I could hold a crayon, I was drawing. I often don’t know how I truly feel about something until I make art about it. Led by imagination and curiosity, I'm a seasoned traveler in liminal spaces and love guiding people between the mystical and the mundane. With 20-plus years of experience as an Artist and Creative Director, I've discovered that solutions to any problem can be found through triumphs in imagination and a willingness to view the situation from a different perspective. By peeking into my own shadow, darkness, and hidden places, I've gained a profound reverence for the human soul and deeper compassion for what it is to be alive.

I wrote...

The Keepers of Color: A Creative Hero's Journey Into the World Within

By Jon Marro,

Book cover of The Keepers of Color: A Creative Hero's Journey Into the World Within

What is my book about?

Inspired by Joseph Campbell and his lifelong study of The Hero’s Journey, The Keepers of Color is designed to take you on an adventure into yourself. It is aimed at reawakening your sense of wonder, imagination, and boundless creativity, as you move from your fears and doubts into your hopes and dreams. 

Part coloring book, part journal, and part folktale, The Keepers of Color will ask you to contemplate the very simple, but profound question of why you are here. It serves as a reminder to the life you are capable of living and a training ground where you can practice playing full-out by giving your whole heart to something. 

Originals

By Adam Grant,

Book cover of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

This book challenges conventional thinking about how we come up with original ideas. The author, Adam Grant believes that anyone can emerge with innovative, original ideas. You can learn to be a successful non-conformist. 

He writes about numerous fascinating examples from history, science, and entertainment. In one chapter we learn about suffragists  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone who were so different in their personalities and approaches to the movement. Yet without their different voices we would not have seen women get the vote in 1920.

In another chapter about GroupThink, Grant demonstrates how successful companies make sure they include devil's advocates, people with different opinions,  when introducing new ideas. The consequence of not doing so can mean the end of the organization such as Polaroid, a company he cites.


Who am I?

I grew up in a talkative family in an extroverted culture near NYC. I discovered I also liked the quiet and found a man to marry who was very introverted. After the “opposites attract” phase we needed to learn ways to make our differences work and we've been doing that for almost 50 years. I took this knowledge to the workplace where, as a career coach and learning and development professional, I became a champion for introverts. I've written 4 books on harnessing the talents of both introverts and extroverts at work and speak about this topic around the world. I believe we are all better off when we work through our differences to achieve magic.

I wrote...

The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together

By Jennifer B. Kahnweiler,

Book cover of The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together

What is my book about?

FDR and Eleanor. Mick and Keith. Jobs and Woz. There are countless examples of introvert-extrovert partnerships who make brilliant products, create great works of art, and even change history together. But these partnerships don’t just happen. They demand wise nurturing.

The key is for opposites to stop emphasizing their differences and use approaches that focus them both on moving toward results. This first-of-its-kind practical five-step process helps introverts and extroverts understand and appreciate each other’s wiring, use conflicts to spur creativity, enrich their own skills by learning from the other, and see and act on things neither would have separately. This book shows how to perform the delicate balancing act required to create a whole that is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts.

How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci

By Michael J. Gelb,

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

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. 


Who am I?

I never believed the idea that creativity was for a gifted few. Throughout my life, as a teenage fishing guide, an entrepreneur and college professor, novelist, and creativity guide, the folks I’ve met are rich with creative and entrepreneurial qualities. My calling is to help you appreciate your creative genius so that it appreciates in value for you. Growing your creatively entrepreneurial genius is the best way to prepare for a future of unknowable unknowns, the best way to build careers we desire, the best way to fully appreciate life. I offer various perspectiveS on core creative and entrepreneurial concepts so you can construct the best path to your personal renewal and growth.


I wrote...

Becoming A Creative Genius (again)

By Carl Nordgren,

Book cover of Becoming A Creative Genius (again)

What is my book about?

Research NASA participated in found that 98% of us at age 4 perform on creativity assessments at levels NASA labels Creative Genius but by age 25 only 4% of us do. This book is the best of my courses taught to 2,000 Duke students to help them reclaim their creative genius—they do, having fun along the way.

As an entrepreneur I develop creative talent continuously; as a teacher, I study relevant neuroscience and social science research regularly; as a novelist, I explore personal creative habits; as a woods walker and animal husbandman, I live with natural creative forces. All those are sources for what I teach in a short book with a bias for action throughout.

A Whole New Mind

By Daniel H. Pink,

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

For many years, I taught in a graduate school of business. Daniel Pink’s book is a well-researched argument about why all of us—especially those of us who don’t think we’re creative—need to (1) realize we are creative, (2) develop the creative abilities we have, and (3) recognize those abilities as our competitive advantage, in our work lives as well as our personal lives.


Who am I?

Creativity is a practical, problem-solving, risk-taking endeavor, something we all do, whether we claim it or not. After working for many years with groups of graduate business students, artists, writers, business professionals, women in recovery, men in prison, with those just discovering their creative ability—and with myself and my own creative journey, I realize the question isn’t “Am I creative?” The question is “Am I using it?” or “Am I continuing to grow?” Nothing is more exciting than watching others as they realize just how creative they are.


I wrote...

Create! Developing Your Creative Process

By Cathy Pickens,

Book cover of Create! Developing Your Creative Process

What is my book about?

What is creativity, exactly? In what ways am I creative? How can I be more creative? What is my own personal creative process? If I could be more creative, what would it mean for my personal life and career?

Create! is a six-step guide to developing your individual creativity, a roadmap tested and enthusiastically endorsed by hundreds of workshop participants, from those who already defined themselves as creative to those who didn't (yet). With author and creativity expert Cathy Pickens as your guide, you'll discover your best creative process and, if you're not careful, a whole lot about your creative self.

Birds Art Life Death

By Kyo Maclear,

Book cover of Birds Art Life Death: The Art of Noticing the Small and Significant

A perfectly formed, intimate epiphany of a book about birdwatching, by a non-birdwatcher. Unmoored by her father’s illness, Maclear tries to find a way of making life make sense. She experiments with calligraphy; she wrestles with writer’s block. One day she meets a birdwatching musician, who explains how the activity helps dissipate his worries and daily pressures. Intrigued, she asks if she can tag along. Reluctant at first, and almost despite herself, the author begins to find peace and unexpected beauty in the urban landscape. She discovers that simply being still triggers introspection. This is also a book about the tension between freedom and confinement – something that resonates particularly for me, as a writer with children.


Who am I?

I’m an investigative journalist and social historian who’s obsessed with ‘invisible’ women of the 19th and early 20th century, bringing their stories to life in highly readable narrative non-fiction. I love the detective work involved in resurrecting ordinary women’s lives: shop girls, milliners, campaigning housewives, servants. . . The stories I’ve uncovered are gripping, often shocking and frequently poignant – but also celebrate women’s determination, solidarity and capacity for reinvention. Each of my two books took me on a long research journey deep into the archives: The Housekeeper’s Tale – the Women Who Really Ran the English Country House, and Etta Lemon – The Woman Who Saved the Birds.


I wrote...

Etta Lemon: The Woman Who Saved the Birds

By Tessa Boase,

Book cover of Etta Lemon: The Woman Who Saved the Birds

What is my book about?

Etta Lemon is the formidable woman who built the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Her surname suited her. She was bitter in her opposition to the plumage trade, acid in her scorn for women’s vanity. Her RSPB colleagues called her ‘The Dragon’, but to the public, she was simply ‘Mother of the Birds.’ Where she led, the Audubon Society would follow. Her legacy is Britain’s biggest conservation charity. But she has not been remembered by history.

Etta’s bird protection crusade was eclipsed by the more glamorous campaign for the vote, led by the elegantly plumed Emmeline Pankhurst. This fast-paced book shines a light on the interlinked (and often fractious) movements for women's rights and animal rights, showcasing two formidable heroines and their rival, overlapping campaigns.

Beautiful Oops!

By Barney Saltzberg,

Book cover of Beautiful Oops!

The imaginative Beautiful Oops! is a fun, artistic romp with an interactive design. There are many creative ways of engaging the child, such as lift-the-flap, look through the hole, and so forth. All are in the service of how to incorporate mistakes into your art, and presumably into your life. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be a family or a classroom that describes inconsequential mistakes as beautiful oopsies? I suspect that far fewer meltdowns would ensue.

Who am I?

I am a child psychologist and an award-winning author of several books for children and teens related to emotions, behavior, and the science behind them. I believe children love to see themselves in books and to learn about others. Making complex information clear and watching children light up with understanding is my goal for every book I write.


I wrote...

What to Do When Mistakes Make You Quake: A Kid's Guide to Accepting Imperfection

By Claire A. B. Freeland, Jacqueline B. Toner, Janet McDonnell (illustrator)

Book cover of What to Do When Mistakes Make You Quake: A Kid's Guide to Accepting Imperfection

What is my book about?

Explorers investigate places they have never been before. These explorers might take a while to make their discoveries. They might have trouble understanding their maps. They might make wrong turns. They might need to start their expedition all over again! If explorers could not accept their mistakes and keep going, they might never make any discoveries! Does this sound like you? If you have trouble accepting mistakes, if you try to be right all the time, or if you worry about being less than the best, this book is for you!

What to Do When Mistakes Make You Quake guides children and their parents through the emotions underlying a fear of making mistakes using strategies and techniques based on cognitive-behavioral principles. This interactive self-help book is the complete resource for educating, motivating, and empowering children to cope with mistakes — so they can explore new territory without fear!

Creativity

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,

Book cover of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

This amazing book draws on nearly one hundred interviews with creative people in every field and thirty years of research on the subject of creativity. There are multiple stories from musicians and composers while Csikszentmihalyi abstracts the common characteristics of the creative process that transcends the arts, science, architecture, and technology. He studies personalities, family backgrounds, and the environments that inspire the creative process. We learn to accept that many uniquely creative people have channeled their contributions by focusing their energy through unique structures that include conflicts, disease, handicap, stress, poverty, and emotional instability. The 426 pages of research and interviews are captivating, informative, and insightful and can inspire creative expression from new sources of understanding. 


Who am I?

I am the former Principal bassist with the Cincinnati Symphony and am currently active as a soloist, educator, and author of three books on the mind, body, and spirit of music. My first book is about the mind, The Inner Game of Music, followed by The Mastery of Music on the human spirit of over 120 great musicians and Bringing Music to Life exploring physical skills of communication of all artists, actors, and dancers. I hope to inspire artists of all disciplines, that our performances come from our hearts and souls and not the technical form of dance, music, or words. Performers express feelings and use this gift to spread inspiration and joy to the world.


I wrote...

The Inner Game of Music

By Barry Green, W. Timothy Gallwey,

Book cover of The Inner Game of Music

What is my book about?

Barry Green with W. Timothy Gallwey, the popular author of the Inner Game of Tennis, Inner Skiing, Golf, and Work. Together they have taken the same principles which proved so successful when used in sports and applied them to music. The Inner Game is designed to help every musician overcome obstacles, improve concentration, reduce nervousness, and paving the way for heightened performance.

Green explains how innate skills can be enhanced by focusing on the music rather than outer games of technique and awards. The technique can be summarized in 4 words: turn up the music and are used for the purpose of drowning out the shouts...that come from the interfering voices of doubt, fear, and judgment. Instead of listening to the inner voices, the musician focuses only on musical sounds that include their awareness, commitment, and trust skills.

The Creative Habit

By Twyla Tharp,

Book cover of The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Modern dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp encourages the discipline of creativity. She illustrates both the play and the hard work that went into creating her dance works—and shows how her life’s lessons can be applied to any of us, if we really want to be productive creatives.


Who am I?

Creativity is a practical, problem-solving, risk-taking endeavor, something we all do, whether we claim it or not. After working for many years with groups of graduate business students, artists, writers, business professionals, women in recovery, men in prison, with those just discovering their creative ability—and with myself and my own creative journey, I realize the question isn’t “Am I creative?” The question is “Am I using it?” or “Am I continuing to grow?” Nothing is more exciting than watching others as they realize just how creative they are.


I wrote...

Create! Developing Your Creative Process

By Cathy Pickens,

Book cover of Create! Developing Your Creative Process

What is my book about?

What is creativity, exactly? In what ways am I creative? How can I be more creative? What is my own personal creative process? If I could be more creative, what would it mean for my personal life and career?

Create! is a six-step guide to developing your individual creativity, a roadmap tested and enthusiastically endorsed by hundreds of workshop participants, from those who already defined themselves as creative to those who didn't (yet). With author and creativity expert Cathy Pickens as your guide, you'll discover your best creative process and, if you're not careful, a whole lot about your creative self.

The Myths of Creativity

By David Burkus,

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

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.


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.

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