I read. A lot.
Alongside swimming, reading is my passion and the love of my life.
As a child I used to devour books, often in one evening sitting and I could always be found curled up entertaining myself with an Enid Blyton and then progressing to Stephen King in my early teens. Going to bed early (and I mean 7pm early) is my guilty pleasure so that I can relax and read. On holiday, after swimming at sunrise, I just want to chill out and catch up on reading. Easily pleased (kind of).
Over the last seven years, I started to progress my writing and as Stephen King recommends, if you want to write, you must read a lot and then write a lot. I began to research about creativity and thinking skills and working my way through and devouring a library of greats expanded my mind and taught me so much. Over the last seven years, my personal growth and ways of thinking have accelerated more than I experienced in the first 37 years of my life combined. If only I had done/known/been… etc. etc.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Stephen King
A few years ago, I wrote a short ebook entitled What Is Creativity? and during that time I read almost every classic book that I could find on the subject, alongside watching many videos and TED talks. I spoke at a few conferences and started the Creativity 101 Digest as a natural progression to share all the incredible learning I was experiencing.
The following is my essential list for a curious and creative mind thirsty to absorb some goodness. All of these books and writers are unique, original thinkers and generally heavily cited (and plagiarised) online.
Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” John Green
The Top Ten Books on Creativity (To Improve Your Mind & Your Life)
10: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, By Paul Arden
When Victoria Beckham was a teenager her ambition was to be ‘as famous as Persil Automatic’. At a young age, she knew she wanted to be a world brand, and become a world brand she did indeed! I don’t think it is any secret that Victoria was not blessed with being a talented singer, nor is she an actress or model. Although, she was very good at pointing and pouting.
It wasn’t how good she was that mattered, it was how good she wanted to be.
A short but powerfully inspiring book for creatives and designers, Paul Arden manages to puff the wind in your sails to realise that through grit and elbow grease you can do anything. Only if you think a little differently to everyone else.
“If you can’t solve a problem, you’re playing by the rules.” Paul Arden
9: Think Like Da Vinci, By Michael Gelb
It could confidently be said, that Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. Apart from being an artist, he had many accomplishments such as engineer, inventor, mathematician and architect to name a few. He is also credited with many inventions, most notable being an early helicopter and parachute.
Da Vinci attributed his astounding creative input to seven principles that he lived his life by and Think Like Da Vinci examines each of those principles, in turn, to help boost your own genius through a series of practical tasks.
My favourite principle is Curiosita, to be insatiably curious and forever asking questions. By constantly challenging the world through questions the mind expands inwardly searching for answers. The mental process stimulates the mind and nascent ideas are teased and nurtured into life.
The ten power questions exercise is a must.
8: Start with Why, By Simon Sinek
I ‘found’ Start With Why several years ago and it was a revelation in terms of understanding how you can inspire others. I began to integrate this learning into all my work projects by helping clients to define their ‘why’ as a foundation to build their marketing on.
If you have your own business, by defining your ‘why’ you can then develop a brand with irresistible heart and soul rather than ‘me too’ blandness. The emotional connection that you can cultivate with your audience will be far stronger than trying to sell your product based on price or features. Apple were the master at leveraging this.
“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” Simon Sinek
The book can also help to define your own purpose. By writing out my ‘why’ it helped to focus my direction and purpose. Once you know your purpose in life, why you do what you do, everything else falls into place behind that.
7: Confessions Of An Advertising Man, By David Ogilvy
Long before Mad Men became popular, I discovered David Ogilvy and he was my secret. Or, so I thought. Until many others started sharing their secret too.
What I love about Ogilvy is that he went through so many different job roles until he found advertising. I myself had many random jobs from being an apple picker in Israel to a hair model for L’Oreal and I consider these experiences to be a better education than I ever found in university. Exposure to diverse roles and environments helps me to understand people better and ultimately makes me better at being creative and a marketer. You have to have a rich well of experience to draw on to be a good writer or creative.
I also respect how hard Ogilvy famously worked and the urgency with which he built his agency.
“I had neither the time nor the money to wait. I was poor, unknown and in a hurry.” David Ogilvy
This book is the essential reading for anyone who wants to lead or build a creative agency. Beautifully written, Ogilvy knew how to use words sparingly and to the point and it becomes clear as to why he was so successful.
6: A Technique For Producing Ideas, By James Webb Young
I used to consider thinking a mystical art that came from the ether that I had neither control nor understanding of. I couldn’t explain how I had ideas, I just did (with fingers crossed). When I began my research into thinking skills I learnt there was a formulaic process and as I understood how the brain worked I had insight into taking back control of this skill.
A tiny book of only 48 pages, you can read this within an hour. But don’t be dismissive, this is a concentrated powerhouse that can show you the steps to take to generate an idea.
5: Made To Stick, By Chip and Dan Heath
I work within online marketing as a content producer and have to generate creative ideas on a regular basis that not only encourage but insist others will share. It’s demanding and can be stressful. Most of my industry network turn to books on psychology and persuasion and I am grateful to the person who gave me this book as a gift (Paddy).
Chip and Dan isolate the six elements (SUCCESS) that contribute to making ideas ‘sticky’ and use a vast array of entertaining stories and metaphors to illustrate their point. I can’t stress enough just how useful and practical this book is for anyone working within an industry that relies on attention and clicks. Probably covers most of us.
This is a book that can help your career, and that’s a bold statement to make.
4: Lateral Thinking, By Edward De Bono
Surprisingly, at school, no one teaches you how to think; I mean really think. The only thinking skills that you do acquire are focused on a logical approach known as ‘vertical thinking’. Inherent with flaws, this system of encourages you to stop as soon as you reach the first solution to your problem, regardless of whether this is the best solution that you can find.
Lateral Thinking expands your mind to approach problem solving and creativity in a new way with a series of thinking skills that anyone can learn.
I have devoured most of Edward de Bonos books and scoured the internet searching for prehistoric TV footage of his teaching programmes. As an introduction, I recommend starting with this book and then progressing through his catalogue if you want to learn to be a better ‘thinker’.
3: The War of Art, By Steven Pressfield
For anyone who knows the pain of a blank piece of paper or, staring at the blinking cursor on the screen, fingers poised at the keyboard and mouse clutched in a sweating hand. Often, the thing we are supposed to do is the one thing we avoid the most. For me, it’s writing. I have been running from this for years; I feel the need to write, but I don’t know what to write.
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between us stands resistance.” Steven Pressfield
Steven uses short chapters and anecdotes to illustrate how we can overcome our demons to make a start on what we really want to do. Be it, write a book, start a business or swim the channel (I’m scared of jellyfish and dark water). Pressfield is such an outstanding writer that the years of discipline he has shown to sit daily and write pour out of the pages in the craftsmanship of his text.
This would be the third book that I would rescue from a burning building. I keep reading it over and over again.
2: The Element, by Ken Robinson
As a creative, I’m sure you will relate to that compulsion that you have to create. You can’t do or be anything else. For me, this manifested as a need to work with my hands, to draw, to make things and to solve problems. As I have grown older, I have this burning sensation of energy in my solar plexus that compels me to write. I have no idea why and if I am honest, it scares me a little.
Ken Robinson delivered one of my favourite TED talks about how creativity is educated out of us. Ken is such an eloquent and dry humoured speaker that I bought all of his books and discovered my number two must read.
The Element is described as ‘the point at which natural talent meets personal passion’. It’s about overcoming the frustration and disillusionment we feel in life when we are not being our true self and harnessing your inherent passion and purpose.
A book that is so inspiring I bought copies for all of my friends.
1: Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Have you ever experienced the feeling of being so involved with what you are doing that you transcend to a state of total focus completely unaware of anything other than the task in hand? It can temporarily remove you from all problems in your life and take you to an intensely joyful and creative state. As if everything in your life has aligned and you are fulfilling purpose in a spiritual way.
I get flow when I am absorbed in life drawing classes, when I am writing and for glorious moments in the pool when muscle memory takes over and I am a passenger within my body as I automatically glide through the water with perfect strokes. It’s beautiful and nothing else can match that feeling.
Mihaly (I can’t pronounce his surname) dissects the state of ‘flow’ and how we can achieve it.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King
If you enjoyed this reading list, sign up for the Creativity 101 Digest to get a bi-monthly newsletter stuffed with inspiring reads for creatives.