The Best Books On Creativity

I recently had a conversation with one of the guests in today’s article; where we discussed the topic of inspiration and how it is a concept we all understand, but find hard to define. He pointed out that that was the exact same principle that led him to study creativity. What is creativity? One definition is ‘the use of imagination or original ideas to create something’. As always, my job is to seek for the best books on creativity. I’ve been fortunate to have had some fascinating conversations with some of the world’s leading creativity experts; who are the best positioned to select the best books on creativity. In the lead up to this article; I asked each of them to select the three best books on creativity in their opinion and provide an explanation on why they’ve made their selections.   Please meet our expert panel who will help us discover the best books on creativity.

david GoldsteinDavid Goldstein

David Goldstein is a management consultant, coach, speaker and the originator of the “creative-type” concept. David is the author of the best-selling book: Creative You: Using Your Personality Type To ThriveDavid is a researcher with a science background and an M.B.A. in Management of Science, Technology and Innovation, who is also an internationally recognized artist.

Matthew Cronin interviewMatthew A. Cronin

Matthew A. Cronin is an associate professor of management at George Mason University. He has a PhD in organizational behavior from Carnegie Mellon University. Matthew co-authored a book on the subject of creativity, The Craft of Creativity, within which the authors present a new way to understand how we innovate. Matthew A. Cronin’s research seeks to understand how collaboration can help produce creative ideas.

Jeffrey loewensteinJeffrey Loewenstein

Jeffrey Loewenstein is a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Business. His work provides guidance for creative thinking, negotiation, and leadership. Jeffrey received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University and taught previously at the Kellogg School of Management, Columbia Business School and The University of Texas at Austin. He co-authored the book, The Craft of Creativity.

Michael michalkoMichael Michalko

Michael Michalko is a highly acclaimed creativity expert and author of numerous bestselling books. He has provided keynote speeches, workshops, and seminars on fostering creative thinking for clients who range from Fortune 500 corporations to governmental agencies. Some of Michael’s creative-thinking techniques that were refined by his government and corporate practice were published in his best-seller Thinkertoys.

vlad glaveanuVlad Glăveanu

Vlad Glăveanu, PhD, is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology and Counselling at Webster University Geneva, Associate Professor II at Bergen University, Norway, and Director of the Webster Center for Creativity and Innovation. His work focuses on creativity, imagination, culture, collaboration, and societal challenges. In 2018, he won the Berlyne Award from the American Psychological Association.

You’ve met the panel and now it is time to discover their nominations for the best books on creativity.


If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

if you want to writeDavid Goldstein:

Reading books on creativity can be mind opening and inspiring as long as we keep one thought in mind.  Creativity isn’t one size fits all. Many authors generously share their secrets and while their specific tricks and processes work for some, they may not feel right for us – as we’re all creative in different ways.  By understanding this one simple idea, we can select what works for us and discard the rest without becoming discouraged. The books I’m suggesting are must-read, time-tested, and general in nature that they go to the very heart of creativity. If You Want to Write written in 1938 is the very kernel for creativity by showing that everyone is talented, original, and has something to say. This is a theme I’ve been building on as I try to show everyone they can act creatively.  We all have some ideas and we all can learn techniques to express our ideas. Whether you want to write, sing, dance, paint, or invent, then read, read, and read! Then do, do, and do!


Art as Experience by John Dewey

Vlad Glăveanu:

One of them is a classic, Dewey’s ‘Art as experience’ from 1934. In this book, Dewey outlines a pragmatist model of creativity that accomplishes a number of things. First of all, it ‘democratises’ creative expression in art by associating it with (everyday) experience rather than high or museum art. Second, it proposes an interesting view of the creative process as alternating between doing (action) and undergoing (perception) – a view that resonates with cognitive as well as social models proposed decades later.


Genius by James Gleick

Michael Michalko:

genius by James gleickThis is about the life and science of Richard Feynman who was one of the century’s most brilliant and unusual thinkers. Feynman was a genius and also a full-blown magician who would do things no one expected or could do. He was the master of the “Unexpected.” The path he cleared from the making of the atomic bomb to a Nobel Prize for his theory of quantum electrodynamics to his devasting expose of the Challenger space disaster. Originality was his obsession. He was an eccentric showman, a master safe cracker and a master bongo player.

Never content with what he knew or with what others knew, Feynman ceaselessly questioned scientific truths. This book shows how his vision was formed. As that vision crystallized in work that reinvented quantum mechanics, we see Feynman’s impact on the elite particle-physics community, and how Feynman grew to be at odds with the very community that idolized him. The most important lesson I received from Feynman was to disregard what others are doing in your field and to rely on your own intuition and hunches.


The Craft of Creativity by Jeffrey Loewenstein and Matthew A. Cronin

Jeffrey Loewenstein:

I’m not going to toot my own horn and say that the book Matt Cronin and I just wrote is the best book on creativity out there, although naturally I’m proud of it and hope that people find it useful. What I think is distinctive about our book, The Craft of Creativity, is that it provides a concrete account of what we are doing when we are creative: It describes creativity as a change in perspective, then walks through what a perspective is, how we change our perspectives, and when we do so. Let me instead draw attention to two books that merit attention:


The Social Psychology of Creativity by Teresa Amabile

Matthew A. Cronin:

The best books on creativity span regions of the book space and all of these books were foundations for my own work. My first choice is The Social Psychology of Creativity by Teresa Amabile – to me, this is THE seminal academic work on creativity. It really launched the study of creativity, so most of what we know has its roots in this work. It provides a framework for what constitutes creativity that is still in use today.  It is a scholarly bedrock.


Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

David Goldstein:

All those people who say: “I’m not creative because I can’t draw” must try the exercises in Drawing on the Right side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. In spite of recognizing now that the creative process comes through whole brain thinking, this book continues to prove we can learn to draw well if we can hold a pencil and happen to have a long weekend to practice. Drawing isn’t really a prerequisite for creativity, but learning to draw trains our eye to see the world as an artist and makes us feel more creative.


Conceptual Blockbusting by James Adams

Michael Michalko:

conceptual blockbustingConceptual Blockbusting provides practical steps for expanding your mind, teaches you to think about thinking, and helps you identify “conceptual blocks”. These blocks are limiting your ideas and keeping you from reaching higher levels of creativity. James Adams integrates insights from the worlds of psychology, engineering, management, art, and philosophy about the possibilities of creativity. He identifies the key blocks (perceptual, emotional, cultural, environmental, intellectual, and expressive) that prevent us from realizing the full potential of our fertile minds. Employing unconventional exercises and other interactive elements, Adams shows individuals, teams, and organizations how to overcome these blocks, embrace alternative ways of thinking about complex problems, and celebrate the joy of creativity.

We all fall into familiar thinking patterns when we are trying to solve problems. Often times we just need to apply a different thinking strategy or language (visual, mathematical, verbal, etc.) in order to see the problem in a different way and help get unstuck. Adams does a great job of proving and reinforcing these concepts with exercises throughout the book. You will be surprised by how often you fall right into the traps of his exercises and how well they highlight your familiar (and limiting) thinking patterns.


Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Matthew A. Cronin:

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s – While “flow” gets a lot of play in the media, I think it is his broad and deep look into the creators practices themselves that makes this work so important. It is kind of the yang to Amabile’s yin because while Amabile’s work identifies the actual parts of creativity, Csikszentmihalyi’s identified what creativity actually looked like when all these parts worked together.


On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand by Jerome Bruner

Vlad Glăveanu:

The other one is also a classic, but a bit less popular perhaps, Bruner’s ‘On Knowing: Essays for the left hand’ (1979), which offers a truly refreshing view of creativity coming from sociocultural and educational psychology. In this book Bruner challenges genius and reified conceptions of the phenomenon and also offers his famous view of creativity as ‘effective surprise’.


Creative Change by Jennifer Mueller

Jeffrey Loewenstein:

When we think about creativity, we tend to focus on generating ideas. We sometimes think about pitching creative ideas, and of course, we think about implementation. But we don’t tend to think about how to evaluate ideas. Yet if people tend to reject creative ideas rather than select them for implementation, and it seems that often we do have just this tendency, then skill at generation and implementation are not enough. Creative Change by Jennifer Mueller documents why evaluating creative ideas is hard and what we can do about it.


Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experiences by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

David Goldstein:

Beyond the myths of the brooding artist, when we’re creating, it’s deeply engaging, we find ourselves losing track of time, and we’re experiencing enjoyment. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experiences examines that amazing, effortless, and spontaneous engagement we feel while creating. This author with a tough to pronounce name, helps us improve our art and our wellbeing by outlining easily understandable ways to replicate the conditions for getting into our “flow state.”


Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

Michael Michalko:

six thinking hatsEdward de Bono has been long recognized as the foremost international authority on conceptual thinking and on the teaching of thinking as a skill. Six Thinking Hats offers a practical and uniquely positive approach to making decisions and exploring new ideas. It has been used successfully by thousands of thousands of business managers, educators, and government leaders around the world,

“The main difficulty of thinking is confusion,” writes de Bono “We try to do too much at once. Emotions, information, logic, hope, and creativity all crowd in on us. It is like juggling with too many balls.” The solution? De Bono unscrambles the thinking process with his “six thinking hats”:

  • WHITE HAT: neutral and objective, concerned with facts and figures
  • RED HAT: the emotional view
  • BLACK HAT: careful and cautious, the “devil’s advocate” hat
  • YELLOW HAT: sunny and positive
  • GREEN HAT: associated with fertile growth, creativity, and new ideas
  • BLUE HAT: cool, the color of the sky, above everything else-the organizing hat

Through case studies and real-life examples, Dr. de Bono reveals the surprising ways in which deliberate role-playing can make you a better thinker. He offers a powerfully simple tool that you–and your business, whether it’s a start-up or a major corporation–can use to create a climate of clearer thinking, improved communication, and greater creativity. His book is an instructive and inspiring text for anyone who makes decisions, in business or in life.


Smart Thinking by Art Markman

Jeffrey Loewenstein:

One major way to be creative is to use our prior experience to provide additional perspectives on what we are currently thinking about. This means generating some prior experiences, understanding those experiences, and later calling upon them. Smart Thinking by Art Markman is a practical guide to how we can enhance our ability to do just this.


Why Not? by Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayers

Matthew Cronin:

why notThis is a popular creativity book that is extremely practical and useful. While there are a ton of creativity books that promise to tell you how to be creative by doing X, this one has a much more usable toolset. These tools also work. I also like how they tried to build a community of good ideas with the book.

Just a side note, I am judging influence by generativity of thought, not by sales. Society and any field moves forward when those that invent ideas cause others to invent other ideas. Put differently, Rhianna could manufacture 1000 more songs over the next 10 years, make a gazillion dollars, have market dominance in the music buying world, and music would sound exactly the same at the end of those 10 years. That is not influence, it is income. Influence is when someone does something that changes how music sounds – Rick Rubin founding Def Jam Records and bringing a whole new genre into prominence.


Social Creativity by Alfonso Montuori and Ronald Purser

Vlad Glăveanu:

Lastly, a book (in two volumes in fact) that greatly influenced me and my work but also colleagues from my ‘community’ (social and cultural creativity researchers) is ‘Social creativity’, edited by Alfonso Montuori and Ronald Purser in 1999. This is a landmark publication that strongly made the point that creativity is a social phenomenon before this conclusion was popular (and in fact, it was even a controversial point to make!). This collection of chapters includes many notable contributors and chapters (including Barron’s ‘All creation is collaboration’, Bateson’s ‘Ordinary creativity’, and Barrett’s ‘Knowledge creation as dialogical experiment’).


Which books would you consider the best books on creativity? Comment below and let us know! If you enjoyed this reading list, be sure to also check out the Best Graphic Novels of All Time.

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