Recommendations of Creativity Books
Many books about creativity are well written and entertaining. But almost all of them repeat creativity myths that researchers have long known are false.
For example, Samuel Coleridge did not write the poem “Kubla Khan” in an opium-induced haze; the plant breeder Gregor Mendel was not an ahead-of-his-time genius who founded modern genetics but whose work was rejected by his colleagues. The problem is that most authors who write books about how to be more creative don’t know the research.
Dr. Sawyer’s 2017 book Group Genius is a good place to start if you’re serious about learning the science of creativity. Here are Dr. Sawyer’s recommendations for other books about creativity and innovation that are based on scientific research.
Books about Individual Creativity
- Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, Second Edition. 2012, Keith Sawyer
I originally wrote this as a college textbook in 2006, but it’s taken off and now has a broad readership among business school professors and innovation managers--especially this 2012 expanded second edition. If you like Group Genius, you might want to read this book, too.
- Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. 1996, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
This is a report on a research study called “Creativity in Later Life.” Csikszentmihalyi and his research team interviewed 91 highly creative individuals, all over 50 years old, about creativity across the lifespan. Fascinating and profound details about the creative lives of people as diverse as John Reed, former CEO of Citicorp, and Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician.
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. 1990, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
This classic book has long been a best seller. For over 20 years, Csikszentmihalyi studied a special state when you’re doing something you love extremely well. Time fades away, and these are the moments that we live for. Csikszentmihalyi also found that these are also the moments when we’re at our most creative.
The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology). 2010, edited by James Kaufman and Robert Sternberg.
Each chapter is written by a leading creativity researcher, so this book brings together a broad set of research perspectives.
Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, Josh Linkner
Linkner interviewed hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and artists, and this book brings it all together, using his own experience as a jazz musician.
The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice , Todd Henry
Henry is a creativity consultant for managers, designers, and performers. This book is based on his popular business blog.
Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World, Pagan Kennedy
This book gives tons of great examples of inventors overcoming seemingly impossible challenges.
Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, Peter Sims
This book reinforces a key message of Group Genius: that creativity emerges from small ideas over time, not from one big insight. Sims calls these "little bets" and this book uses historical examples to make the point.
Books about collaboration and creativity
Powers of Two: How Relationships Drive Creativity, Joshua Wolf Shenk
Tells great stories about the duo teams behind some of the most impressive and important creativity, from music to technology to science.
Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses "No, But" Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration--Lessons from The Second City, Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton
The two authors are improv actors at the famous Second City, and they manage a corporate consulting practice that uses improv activities to help organizations be more creative.
Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work, Michael Farrell
Each chapter tells a story of an influential group of creatives, who lived in the same time and place, and whose conversations and collaborations resulted in the famous creations that we today associate with a single genius.
Creative Collaboration, Vera John-Steiner
John-Steiner is an influential psychologist and creativity researcher. This book tells so many stories of creative pairs and how they worked together. A particularly interesting finding: Many of these pairs were husband and wife.
The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki
This is one of the first books that showed how important collaboration is to creativity. Surowiecki focuses on mass collaboration—hundreds and thousands of people—what I call a collaborative web.
Leadership Ensemble: Lessons in Collaborative Management from the World's Only Conductorless Orchestra, Harvey Siefter & Peter Economy
I love this book, written by the lead organizer of a famous classical music orchestra. Orpheus is famous because they don’t use a conductor; instead, the musicians listen closely to each other, and the performance emerges from the group mind.
Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, John Kao
I wish I could have used this title for my book, because jazz and theater improvisation have been such a strong influence on my approach to group creativity. Kao is also a jazz musician, and Jamming argues that the most effective business innovation is improvised.
Case studies of collaboration and invention
Unlocking the Sky: Glenn Hammond Curtiss and the Race to Invent the Airplane, Seth Shulman
This history of the airplane convincingly shows that the Wright Brothers did not invent the airplane. In fact, most of the important inventions that made air flight successful were made by other people.
The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, David Price
Pixar is a digital animation company that created Toy Story, the first fully digitally animated motion picture. You’ll find lots of books about Pixar and creativity, but this one is the best.
Jacquard's Web: How a Hand-Loom Led to the Birth of the Information Age, James Essinger
This is the story of the man who invented punched card computer programming…in 1804, in Napoleon’s France. Jacquard’s automatic loom used a revolutionary idea: a looping programming sequence, that “runs” on a device that can “run” many different “programs.” Essinger tells the story of how this innovation changed and evolved through history, up to modern computers.
The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers, Tom Standage
This book blew my mind. You know about Spam? Scams? Electronic mail and texts? Mass distribution lists? Slow bandwidth? International connectivity? All of this happened first with the telegraph, in the 1800s. Read this and you’ll always see the Internet differently.
Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them, Walsh
This book is where I first found the true story of how the Monopoly board game was created. Guess what? It resulted from a huge collaborative network, not from any one person. And Monopoly is only one small chapter here; you’ll find out how all of your favorite childhood toys were created.
Scholarly books on creativity
The theme of Group Genius, that innovation happens when many separate individual ideas come together through collaboration, is also supported by several scholarly books that I highly recommend:
- Basalla, G. (1988). The Evolution of Technology. New York: Cambridge University Press.
This book has wonderful, detailed examples from the history of technological innovation.
- Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2000). The Social Life of Information. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press.
A modern classic, this book is a bit more theoretical than most, but the argument is right on target, and is supported by several detailed histories of specific innovations.
- Hargadon, A. B. (2003). How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate. Boston, MA: Harvard Business
Hargadon’s book builds on Basalla, Brown, and Duguid by emphasizing the role of “technology brokers” in bringing together prior sparks to generate new innovation.
- Jelinek, M., & Schoonhoven, C. B. (1990). The Innovation Marathon: Lessons From High Technology Firms. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell
The authors interviewed top executives about their innovation processes at five microelectronics firms.