What's the Best Book on Creativity You've Ever Read?

Top Ad Creatives Share Their Picks

By Published on .

The media world has been abuzz about Wired and New Yorker contributing writer Jonah Lehrer's new book Imagine: How Creativity Works.

No wonder, as it's a mind-altering read that sheds light on what happens behind the scenes of creativity, the importance of which has been obvious to the ad industry but whose value is being increasingly recognized in the larger world of business and marketing.

The book is full of examples of the alchemy of science, chance, intention, risk-taking and persistence that contributes to innovation.

Mr. Lehrer's most illuminating stories include how Bob Dylan, drained of artistic juice, was on the verge of ending his musical career when he had the breakthrough that resulted in "Like a Rolling Stone," and how Dan Wieden came up with Nike 's famous "Just Do It" tagline after thinking about serial murderer Gary Gilmore. He also discusses how the interior of Pixar's headquarters has been set up to fertilize ideas.

And there are the famous creation stories behind P&G's Swiffer and 3M's Post-It Note. He also goes into the biology behind some of the more familiar creative conundrums: why it figures that artistic genius is often linked to madness; why, sometimes, the most talented individuals may be the most depressed ones; and why children happen to be "effortlessly creative."

It also so happens that Ad Age and Creativity 's publisher, Allison Arden, has just released a book on creativity. "The Book of Doing" takes a different approach from Lehrer's.

While "Imagine" provides insight into the many factors that nurture creativity, "The Book of Doing" encourages you to jump in head first, get your hands dirty and just make stuff. (See Wieden's famous tag above). It features a set of laws and nearly 100 fun exercises to help you shed your inhibitions to create and give your brain's right hemisphere a boost. In a way, it's like a coloring book for adults -- one that inspires you to embrace the act of creating as eagerly as you did when you were a child.

These books present an opportunity for us to compile a collection of the industry's favorites on creativity, whether or not they're specifically related to the job of advertising or marketing. Here's a list of a few. Share your thoughts in the comments section below, email or give us a shout on Twitter (@creativitymag), and we'll keep a running, go-to library of inspiration here.

It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be
Patrick O' Neill, Executive Creative Director, TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles
Hands down my favorite book on creativity. It's a simple, small book, the most powerful and helpful one I've read and even reread. Sometimes you just need a new way to look at things to open your mind and be reminded of the possibilities out there. And honestly, one quote from Mr. Arden can do the trick. When it was published I bought everyone a copy and taped it under their chairs.

Nik Studzinski, ECD, Droga5, New York
Paul was the ECD at Saatchi when I first joined. I found him incredibly intimidating at first, but over time I came to see him for what he was: a creative one-off and incredibly inspiring. This was the first book he wrote, and it neatly sums up his approach to creativity and, I suppose, to life.

Nick Law, Chief Creative Officer, R/GA
Part of my job is to guide and evaluate creative thinking, so I'm interested in understanding how creative brains work and work together. A classic in creative cognition is Mihay Csikszentmihalyi's book Flow. In it he explores the Psychology of Optimal Experience and makes the observation that we are happiest and most effective when we are totally involved in something, lost in deep creative thinking.

The Opposable Mind
One more from Law
Another favorite is a book by Roger L. Martin called The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking. It's about big-picture thinking and how to combine seemingly opposed ways of thinking.

I like these books as a pair because one is about deep creative thinking, and the other is about broad creative thinking. Csikszentmihalyi's book is about achieving mastery in practice, whilst Martin's is about how to connect different practices to innovate. This tension is at the heart of our industry's challenges; making meaningful work in a complex environment. We will always need deep expertise to make beautiful and resonant work, but to really lead innovation we'll need to curate and recombine a diversity of expertise.

Sketching User Experiences
Chloe Gottleib, SVP, ECD, Interaction Design, R/GA
This book, by Bill Buxton, talks about the importance of sampling and sketching to iterate on ideas. Buxton encourages the notion that creatives have to get the initial ideas out there quickly through sketching and then not be afraid to kill their darlings to find the gems that will resonate best with their audience.

The Copywriters Bible -- How 32 of the World's Best Advertising Writers Write their Copy
Taras Wayner, VP-ECD, Copywriting, R/GA
The book features some of the best advertising writers as they discuss their process. It's inspiring because it shows how there are many different ways to solving briefs. Each of the book's sections is written by the copywriters themselves, so it is extremely well written.

Glenn Cole, CCO, 72andSunny
Every great story--a feature length film, a sprawling Tolkien saga, a homemade video on YouTube, or a 30-second commercial--adheres to certain timeless principles and archetypes of story-telling. Robert McKee's book does a good job balancing inspiration with practical application.

Anything by Kurt Vonnegut
Another from Glenn Cole
The takeaway is always the same: Experiment!

Ender's Game
John Boiler, President/CEO, 72andSunny
Gotta go with Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. About finding the path to victory with ruthless efficiency, it's [about] the Darwin-like role of creativity.

Conversations with Wilder
Jason Norcross, Partner/Creative Director, 72andSunny
Books that come to mind for me are less about analyzing the 'creative process' and more about getting behind the scenes with different creative people -- writers, artists, filmmakers, comedians. A few examples: "Conversations with Wilder" by Cameron Crowe. Idea that has stuck with me: the fact that if Billy Wilder was having trouble writing the third act of a screenplay the trouble was almost always with the first act. I think that 's a great analogue to our creative process -- creative briefs are the first act.

Live From New York
(Another from Norcross)
By Tom Shales & James Miller. I loved reading about the improv ethic of SNL, the tempo of the show, the pressure to perform, the camaraderie among cast and crew, the contrarian instincts, the nourishing of ridiculous ideas into iconic ideas, the importance of having a voice -- all of it was very entertaining and surprisingly relatable.

On Writing
(Yet another from Norcross)
[This one by Stephen King is ] probably the closest thing to a creative "process" or "how-to" book that comes to mind. The notion that writing can be a way to not just communicate an idea but discover an idea resonated with me.

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
Ivan Peres-Armendariz, VP/Director of Interactive Production, Crispin Porter & Bogusky
David Brooks' book has a great section on the distinction between clocks and clouds. Clocks are linear, neat and reduced to their parts. Clouds are dynamic and change every second. They can only be described through narrative, not numbers. It's a reminder to take a step back and think about what kind of problem you have in front of you before attacking.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Another from Peres-Armendariz
A similar insight to clocks and clouds, except author Atul Gawande takes it further by describing the distinction between simple, complex and complicated problems. Complexity may be reduced into many simple problems and the rules for those problems are perfect for mindless checklists. The result is powerful. It creates more space for developing the tools of the clouds: collaboration, team, dialogue and trust.

The Tenacity of the Cockroach
Ted Royer, ECD, Droga5, NY
Compiled by The Onion A.V. Club, this is a collection of essays authored by amazingly creative people. These in-depth interviews with creative people from a huge variety of disciplines allow you to delve into their inspirations, processes, trials and frustrations -- some over a long period of time (David Cross and Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show were interviewed every season). I read it on vacation, and when I got back I couldn't wait to work.

Oh, the Thinks You Can Think
Ian Reichenthal, ECD, Wieden & Kennedy, NY
The two best things written on the subject are [left, from Dr. Seuss] and a one-sentence quote, sometimes attributed to Oliver Stone and sometimes attributed to romance novelist Nora Roberts: "Writing = ass in chair."

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