Creativity is extremely hot as an existential issue—we, as individuals want to increase our creative capacities—and as an economic issue—the economic value of creativity is increasingly important. So here is my list of the best books on creativity that I’ve read this year.
Mea Culpa, I wrote one of them precisely because of creativity’s crucial role in society. So let’s start with that (yes it’s a bit weird).
1) Creative Intelligence. It offers five creative competencies—Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making and Pivoting (Scaling)—that individuals and businesses can learn to increase their creative capacity or CQ, creative intelligence. The message is that you can train to be creative. The book describes a new entrepreneurial “Indie Capitalism” rising out of creativity and innovation. With great stories about the Rolling Stones, the CIA and eating monkey brains.
2) Zig Zag by Keith Sawyer. A terrific 8-step process to boost your creativity by the modern pioneer in creativity research. Sawyer, a jazz pianist, psychologist and professor, provides very specific things we can do in our daily lives to make us more creative. (How to become an expert in 20 minutes—and then create something new). Great stories about Judy Blume and others living a creative life. From the author of Group Genius.
3) Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley. Excellent suggestions on building your confidence in being creative by two brothers from IDEO. David is a founder of IDEO and the extraordinary Stanford D-School. Tom is the author of The Art of Innovation. Powerful examples from IDEO and the D-School of using Design Thinking exercises to learn how to become more confident in being creative. Building your creative muscle.
4) The Business Solutions to Poverty by Paul Polak and Mal Warwick. The inability of Social Innovation to scale limits its significance. Here is a book that shows how to scale water, housing and other projects to make a difference. Polak offers specific ways of building billion dollars businesses to work inside the Bottom of the Pyramid, involve the people and move them out of poverty. A realistic model that scales. Great.
5) Rotman on Design, edited by Roger Martin and Karen Christensen. Much of the best writing on Design Thinking is in Rotman Magazine, put out by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Former dean Roger Martin has been a key leader in promoting Design Thinking for innovation. The articles are business-based, brilliant and deeply useful. Many of the best creatives in the world wrote the pieces. Get it.
6) What Money Can’t Buy by Michael J. Sandel. This is an extraordinary book that talks about the line between what money can buy and what money can’t buy and how we are blurring it all the time. 21st century capitalism is all about taking what money can’t buy—your private information on Facebook or Google, for example—and transforming it into what money can buy, through advertising. Here is a philosophical reading (smooth reading) of that critical social and economic process. And maybe how we can stop it.
7) Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. OK, it first came out in 1997 but you should read it again. The first time you read it for the notion of Individual “flow.” This time read the section on Florence and how cities and class and culture act to promote creativity. It is about social flow—engagement—and critical to understanding creativity in social media. And important in understanding how cities can promote creativity. Why New York is hot and Paris is not.
8) In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki. Yes, this is really old—1933 but I use portions of it in my class at Parsons. Tanizaki talks about how we really we engage with objects and takes us into a conversation about aura. This is critical in an age of social media and the network of things. Tanizaki shows us the emotional content of engagement when he talks of opening the traditional Japanese rice pot, the aroma, the look and feel of the rice, the connection people have to their food, their place, their lives. It’s not about algorithms, its about what is meaningful to people.