This list of creativity books goes up to 11

I am often asked to recommend books on creativity. Even when I’m not asked, I will recommend them. I love reading these kinds of books; they are often inspiring, playful, contain fun and unexpected examples of creative acts, and allow me to indulge in the fantasy of a richer and more fulfilling creative life.

There are copious books on creativity and it can be hard to know where to start. All too many books trade in generalities and regurgitate the same worn anecdotes and techniques. The following list contains books that I have found to be practical, or illuminating, in my own creative work as a UX designer (at Sony and inUse), inventor (with more than 30 patent applications currently being processed), workshop facilitator, and design coach.

So, let’s dally no further.

1. Conceptual Blockbusting by James L. Adams

This is a book about the kinds of things that typically stop people from being creative; the blocks that often stand in our way. This is a good place to start if you want to clear the ground for your own creative work, or if you are interested in helping others who doubt their own creativity.

2. Winning the Brain Game by Matthew E. May

In a similar vein to the first book on this list, this book covers seven common flaws in our thinking; flaws that make us rush past the creative solution. The book helps you to understand and deal with the kinds of resistance one commonly encounters when running a creative workshop.

3. Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko

Thinkertoys and the sequel Cracking Creativity are, to my mind, the best and most comprehensive resources for creative methods. Think of them as catalogues of techniques, sprinkled with useful insights about creativity. Most of the techniques described in Thinkertoys are standard and quite widely available, but there is also a large selection of more intuitive methods to complement the more linear and logical approaches.

4. Cracking Creativity by Michael Michalko

This is the follow up volume to Thinkertoys. If I was stranded on a dessert island and could only bring two books on creativity with me, it would be these two volumes by Michalko (they are both big, so would provide kindling for at least a couple of evenings on the island).

5. Idea Stormers by Bryan W. Mattimore

Michalko’s books verge on the encyclopaedic and it can be difficult to know which techniques to pick, and how to weave them into a workshop. Mattimore’s book is short and practical with concrete techniques that can be immediately employed if you are suddenly tasked with running a creative workshop. This is a great place to start. The book even includes an example workshop schedule at the end of the book.

6. Inside the Box by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg

This book teaches just one system for innovation called Systematic Inventive Thinking. The system is unusual in that you start with an existing solution to a problem, then transform that solution using a set of five principles, and then try to match the result to a new problem or situation. I like the method, which is very structured, but also find the principles generally useful outside the particular scheme taught.

7. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

It was a while ago that I read this. What I remember is being very inspired by it. If the books higher up on this list address creative blocks and creative techniques, this book is more about attitudes that are conducive to creativity, and about having a stance, or point of view, for your creative work.

8. Impro by Keith Johnstone

This is a book about improvisational theatre. I had a hunch that improvisers would be good at creativity — after all, they have to be creative on the fly — and so I read both of Keith Johnstone’s books. The exercises here require quite a bit of thought and effort to be applied to work on design and innovation. The real value of the book is the mindset that it teaches you.

9. Impro for Storytellers by Keith Johnstone

Possibly overkill to have both of Johnstone’s books on this list, but I loved this one too. If you like Impro there is even more gold to be found here.

10. DIY Magic by Anthony Alvarado

A nice little book that collects unusual ways of shifting your perspective. Many of the methods here have been culled from esoteric literature and from the creative games that the Surrealist used to play. This is a nice resource for more playful techniques, many of which can be employed during your day to day life.

11. Explaining Creativity by Keith Sawyer

One of the downsides of books and lectures on creativity are all the unverified claims and methods. This book is a much needed antidote that nicely summarises the scientific study of creativity — what we actually know to be true. This is a welcome compliment to all the wooo wooo out there. Having said that, this is the only book on the list that I have yet to finish…


There you have it. Books that address our psychological blocks, that outline attitudes and mindsets conducive to creativity, which catalogue methods and techniques, suggest more playful avenues, or which outline what is known scientifically.

Will reading books on creativity make you more creative? Will reading dieting books make you slim? The answers to these questions are remarkably similar.