Here are some of my favourite books on creativity, the arts, and behaviour. They are divided by topic, then listed alphabetically by title.
Art Making and Creativity
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity
by Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way is book and 12-week self-guided course created by writer Julia Cameron in the 1990s. The book has stood the test of time and is an essential tool for unblocking creativity for all types of artists and creatives.
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All
by David and Tom Kelley
Sometimes a mindset can hold us back from dedicating the time required to build a new creative skill. Brothers David and Tom Kelley of IDEO provide accessible and inspiring examples of successfully breaking through that barrier.
by Robert Greene
This book has had a major influence on the way I approach all aspects of my work. Greene provides a range of stories to support his many recommendations for how to work toward achieving success in areas of life that matter to you.
Within the first few pages of this book, I was pulled in by Harford’s telling of Keith Jarett and The Köln Concert. The best-selling solo album in jazz history, and the all-time best-selling piano album, nearly didn’t exist due to the accidental delivery of a badly tuned piano in poor condition. This book celebrates the beauty and excellence that can emerge from our messy world.
by David Bohm
Bohm was a physicist and theorist. Over two decades, his writing explored the process of scientific discovery, the relationship between science and art, and perception as a creative act. This book is more academic than the others on this list, but it’s no less optimistic. It frames creativity as a subject with resonance far beyond self.
Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go
by Shaun McNiff
I’ve carried a dog-eared copy of this book with me for eleven years as I’ve moved between continents and countries. McNiff is an artist, lecturer, and art therapist. His writing is gentle and encouraging, offering examples and suggested exercises from his own work and process. Although it’s titled ‘an artist’s guide…’, it’s relevant for designers and anyone who makes things.
Wabi-sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
by Leonard Koren
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese concept of transience and imperfection. Exploring the complexity of perfection and its impossible attainability can give a creator more confidence in their own process. Often we are making and re-making, writing and editing, and drawing and drawing again. Koren compares the eastern concept with contemporary western ideas of beauty and the ideal. This is a small book with the potential for big impact.
Why We Make Things and Why it Matters: The Education of a Craftsman
by Peter Korn
In his introduction, Korn asks, ‘why do we choose the spiritually, emotionally, and physically demanding work of bringing new objects into the world with creativity and skill?’ Later he suggests an answer when he writes, ‘we engage in the creative process to become more of whom we’d like to be and, just as important, to discover more of whom we might become. We may make things because we enjoy the process, but our underlying intent, inevitably, is self-transformation.’ See the final pages of the book for an excellent reading list.
Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind
by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire
One of my favourites on this list, my copy is dog-eared and filled with sticky notes. This is a follow-up to a very popular article by Carolyn Gregoire, 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently. In the book, the authors focus on the top 10 behaviours of highly creative people. These include daydreaming, passion, imaginative play, openness to experience, sensitivity, and others. The habits suggest creativity is as much way of life, as it is a process of invention and making.
Process and Improvement
One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way
by Robert Maurer
Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning ‘improvement’ or ‘change for the better’. The concept of process kaizen, developed in industrial production environments, suggests that small changes incrementally can have a significant impact in the long run. The author tells stories of how individuals and business have tapped into the power of kaizen to reach their objectives and improve outcomes. Read more about Kaizen for Creativity.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
by Stephen R. Covey
Originally published in 1998, this book has sold more than 25 million copies in over 40 languages. I enjoyed Covey’s perspective on interpersonal relationships and leadership, including the concept of thinking “win-win” to seek mutual benefit in all human interactions.
Behaviour and Psychology
A General Theory of Love
by Thomas Lewis, Richard Lannon, and Fari Amini
No exploration of the human emotional landscape would be complete without attempting to understand why and how we love. This is a beautifully written book that calls on science, psychology, and the arts to explore how “love makes who we are, and who we can become.”
Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life
by Susan David
David’s writing is encouraging. She describes emotional agility as “having any number of troubling thoughts or emotions and still managing to act in a way that serves how you most want to live.” The book provides practical methods for building inner-strength, balanced with research-backed insight into human behaviour.
Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ
by Daniel Goleman
This book hit the shelves in 1995 when it was bold to consider emotional intelligence to be as vital to success as IQ. Since then, the concept is more familiar, and there’s evidence to show emotional intelligence can be developed with practice. Also look for Goleman’s other books, including Working with Emotional Intelligence.
The Book of Human Emotions: An Encyclopedia of Feeling from Anger to Wanderlust
by Tiffany Watt Smith
Watt Smith does an excellent job of cataloguing the range of feelings one can experience over a lifetime. Anticipation, broodiness, compassion, delight, and more. If you have experienced something, you will likely find it here, supported with a brief history and its close relations.