Here are some of the books and websites on creativity I regularly recommend to my coaching clients. I’ve included some creative thinking classics as well as inspiration from my experience of using NLP and hypnosis for creativity. In a sense, all the Books + Links pages are about creativity, so here I’ve adopted a fairly narrow definition, in terms of idea generation and expression. Other pages will look at different aspects of creativity. I hope you find something to inspire you here. If so, why not join my Squidoo Creativity Group and share your discoveries with others? (Details of the group below.)
Poetry in Practice: Creative Flow
(Magma – featuring interviews with contemporary poets)
Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
For this book, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi interviewed 91 creative people from many different fields who had achieved outstanding creative success. His interviewees included poets, artists, composers, economists, scientists and business people. In spite of the range of different personalities and creative fields, Csikszentmihalyi noticed that they all reported a similar experience when working at their full creative potential – ‘An almost automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness’ which he calls creative flow. He identifies the fulfilling experience of flow as the prime reason why people devote most of their energy towards creative pursuits.
Csikszentmihalyi illustrates the experience of flow with fascinating exerpts from his interviews. He also analyses the conditions necessary for flow, and suggests ways we can experience it more often, and considers the influence of environment, personality and stage of life on the creative process.
He also presents a fascinating ‘systems’ view of creativity, according to which creativity is not something that is simply located in the individual, but is an emergent property of interactions between the individual creator, the knowledge domain in which s/he works, and the field of acknowledged judges who act as gatekeepers for the domain. So for example, Vincent Van Gogh is often presented as a highly creative person whose genius went unrecognised in his lifetime by an ignorant public, and it was only posthumously that his fabulous talent was properly appreciated. According to Csikszentmihalyi’s view however, Van Gogh’s creativity ‘came into being when a sufficient number of art experts felt that his paintings had something important to contribute to the domain of art’. As usual with systems thinking, it can take a while to adjust to the shift in perspective it requires, but it’s well worth making the effort with this book. (Amazon USA link.)
A Whack on the Side of the Head – Roger von Oech
A classic on creative thinking, each chapter subverts a familiar utterance from the voice of common sense: ‘Follow the Rules’, ‘Be Practical’, ‘Play is Frivolous’, ‘That’s Not My Area’, ‘I’m Not Creative’ etc. Finding the ‘second right answer’ is one of my favourite ideas in the book, which I’ve used over and over again with clients (I must be approaching my millionth right answer). ‘What if?’ is another of von Oech’s mantras, a welcome counter to the ‘yes buts’ many people seem so fond of. The illustrations have a slightly macabre quality, which I like. If you call yourself a creative thinker and you don’t have this book on your shelf, I’d have to say you weren’t taking the subject frivolously enough. (Amazon USA link.)
Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack
A set of 64 cards, each of which illustrates a separate creative thinking technique or challenge. It’s a bit like a remixed version of A Whack on the Side of the Head – once you’ve read the book and got a sense of von Oech’s way(s) of thinking, it’s a great way to get some instant inspiration by cutting the cards and applying its message to your current situation. The ideas an illustrations are just as whacky as the book, and the pack is a nice conversation piece for (serious) fooling around with friends or colleagues. (Amazon USA link.)(If you’re thinking of getting the Whack Pack and A Whack on the Side of the Head it’s cheaper to get them together as the Creative Whack Pack Set.)
A Kick in the Seat of the Pants – Roger von Oech
There’s more to creativity than creative thinking – off-the-wall ideas are all very well, but sometimes we need a kick in the seat of the pants before we start turning our dreams into reality. This book presents four roles that are key to the creative process: The Explorer, Artist, Judge and Warrior. In Explorer mode, you learn to look for ideas in unusual places. As an Artist, you dream up novel ideas and combinations. The Judge is a great chapter for anyone who has problems with their ‘Inner Critic’ – it shows you how to use your critical faculty as a creative rather than destructive force. Once your Judge is satisfied that your idea is a good one, it’s time to become a Warrior and fight for your ideas out in the world. As with von Oech’s other tools, there are lots of practical tips and exercises to help you apply the concepts to your own work. (Amazon USA link.) More help is also available on Roger’s Creative Think blog.
The Squidoo Creativity Group
I’ve created the Squidoo Creativity Group as a place for people to share ideas and showcase their creativity. It’s free to join and create a Squidoo lens (web page) about any aspect of creativity that interests you, such as:
- Your own creative work
- Your company
- Your favourite artist or creative thinker
- Your favourite book about creativity
- Creative tips and techniques that work for you
For examples of creative lenses in the group, have a look at my Writing Poetry lens, Russell Davies’ Creative Spaces or Victoria Champion’s lens about her own artwork. More about the Creativity Group and Squidoo FAQ in this blog post.
Thinkertoys – Michael Michalko
An outstanding compendium of creative thinking techniques (thinkertoys). Michalko has obviously invested a huge amount of time in researching and presenting the book, which has the feel of an encyclopedia of creativity – except that his writing is much more lively and engaging than the average reference tome. The two main sections are devoted to ‘Linear’ and ‘Intuitive’ Thinkertoys. If you’re like me and find some creative thinking books a bit too logical and positive, you’ll probably relish the latter section, which includes techniques such as Dali’s hypnagogic imagery and The Book of the Dead. There’s also a chapter on Group Thinkertoys. Note: I’ve had the first edition on my shelf for a while now, and found it an invaluable reference. Michalko has just released a second, expanded edition. (Amazon USA link.)
Cracking Creativity – Michael Michalko
Another excellent book on creative thinking, and a good companion to Thinkertoys. Whereas Thinkertoys focuses on specific techniques, Cracking Creativity takes a more strategic approach, taking nine basic creative strategies (such as ‘Connecting the unconnected’ and ‘Looking at the other side’) and working through them to see what implications and techniques emerge. Michalko developed this book by researching and analyzing great thinkers and artists such as da Vinci, Picasso, Edison and Darwin, and the text is liberally sprinkled with examples and anecdotes from their lives and work. (Amazon USA link.)
Impro – Keith Johnstone
This book will change the way you see yourself and everyone around you. Written by one of the leading figures in modern improvisational theatre, it’s a book for actors that will appeal to anyone who is seriously interested in creativity. Each of the four main chapters is structured around a Big Idea that has disturbing as well as creative implications, and there are lots of practical exercises. With my background in hypnosis I was immediately drawn to the chapter on ‘Masks and Trance’, which considers improvisation as a form of ritual possession, and contains instructions on helping actors enter the required trance state for mask work. The ‘Status’ chapter is just as mind-blowing – once you’ve read it, you can’t help noticing the implied ‘status transaction’ in just about every conversation you have. There are also chapters on ‘Spontaneity’, and ‘Narrative Skills’ that make it clear that anyone can learn to tap into an flow of spontaneous creative improvisation in front of an audience.
If some of this sounds a bit scary, that’s because it is – but it’s also exhilarating when you ‘let go’ and find yourself creating a scene with your fellow actors as if you were plucking it out of thin air. I’m a very inexperienced improviser, having only done a couple of weekend workshops at The Spontaneity Shop but they were both unforgettable experiences – and I’m living proof that you don’t need proper acting skills. If you’re in London then check out The Spontaneity Shop programme. Keith Johnstone’s website is www.keithjohnstone.com. (Amazon USA book link.)
TED Video – Sir Ken Robinson on Creativity
Last year Ken Robinson gave a passionate and very funny talk about creativity and education at the annual TED conference. He argues that ‘creativity is as important now as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status’. TED have generously made the video of Ken Robinson and their other speakers available for free on their website. This video is a ‘must see’ for anyone with an interest in creativity or education – which as Sir Ken points out, is all of us.
Tools for Dreamers: Strategies for Creativity and the Structure of Innovation – Robert B. Dilts, Todd Epstein, Robert W. Dilts
Robert Dilts Jr is one of the leading developers of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and this book is a fascinating practical toolkit for creativity. The term ‘creative thinking’ doesn’t do justice to Dilts’ approach – he engages the body and emotions as well as the mind, showing you how to access powerful ‘creative states’. Different senses and mind/body states are involved at different stages of the creative process. – e.g. a poet may be prompted to start a poem by a word or phrase that pops into her head (auditory), an image that springs to mind (visual), or a feeling that there is something she wants to express (kinesthetic). As she works on the poem, she is likely to involve other senses – balancing rhyme, rhythm, alliteration and other auditory elements with the imagery and other figurative elements until she gets the right feeling.
This book is structured around creative strategy modelled on Walt Disney – using the three roles of the Dreamer (idea generation), Realist (putting things into action) and Critic (evaluating ideas and results). So in our poet example, we can identify the Dreamer in the initial inspiration for the poem, the Realist in the hard work of revision, and the Critic in the assessment of the finished article. I’ve used this strategy with many clients over the years, and it’s one of the most powerful for resolving creative blocks – which can occur, for example, when the Critic interferes with the Dreamer’s inspiration.
Like a lot of NLP books, this is a seminar transcript, written in the voices of the three presenters – so you may find this a bit disorienting if you’re expecting a finely polished text. The material is excellent however, and personally I like the ‘live’ quality of the transcript format. While Dilts Jr and Todd Epstein present about the creative process, Robert Dilts Sr talks about relevant intellectual property issues. The book also includes some fascinating interviews with professional creatives: composer Michael Colgrass, inventor Lowell Noble and scientist and inventor Bjorn Rorholt. (Amazon USA link.)