The best creative thinking books

The best creative thinking books.

Between teaching a course on creative thinking at UW, and writing a book on innovation, I’ve read dozens of books on creative thinking, from handbooks, to games, to psychology literature. Here are the four books I’d recommend as a starter library: they range in focus from handbooks to theory to history.

  1. Sparks of Genius: the 13 thinking tools of the worlds greatest creators, Root-Bernstein. This book examines how some of the great creators did what they did. Each chapter takes a tool, such as playing, modeling, imaging or empathizing, and explains how that approach was used by different masters. Provides inspirational historical context and insight to the techniques many of us creators use.
  2. Applied Imagination, Alex Osborn. This is the grandfather of all business creativity books. This is by the man who coined the term brainstorming, and it’s an easy read on how to do it right. There are theory, technique and exercises here, it’s well written, and although there isn’t much supporting research I bet you’ll buy the common sense he offers.
  3. 101 Creative problem solving techniques, James M. Higgins. Many creativity authors annoy by focusing on their own views, rather than the techniques. This book doesn’t. It’s a flat listing of over 100 creativity games and techniques, each covered in a page or less with instructions for how to use the technique. It’s an ugly, 70s style book (even the recent 2nd edition) but it’s a better reference than almost any of the creativity games/technique books I’ve seen.
  4. Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Mihaly has several books with Flow in the title, but this is my favorite hands down. It’s based on his interviews with creators in many fields and their own perceptions of how/why they do what they do.

The Myths of Innovation book has an extended set of bibliographies that goes beyond this, but if you asked me to pick four books for the creative person, these would be the set.

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