14 Best Creativity Books To Read In 2021

Home » Books » Creativity BooksUpdated: October 07, 2021

You found our list of top creativity books for professionals.

Creativity books are works that inspire innovation, expression, and out-of-the box thinking. These guides cover topics such as discovering inspiration, collaborating creativity, avoiding burnout and creative blocks, and finding ways to innovate professionally. The purpose of these books is to help individuals and teams in various fields and positions be more inventive and productive.

Fostering creativity is a step in building healthy company cultures and successful teams. These guides share many similarities with books on marketing.

This list includes:

  • creativity self help books
  • business creativity books
  • books on innovation
  • creativity books for adults

Here we go!

List of creativity books

Here is a list of practical and motivational books on creativity for work.

1. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

creativity inc book cover

Creativity, Inc. is one of the bestselling business creativity books of all time. Ed Catmull was a co-founder and president of Pixar Animation, and uses his vast experience and expertise to deliver insights on innovation, vision, artistic productivity, and creative teamwork. The author distills two decades of experience into a series of motivational mantras and actionable insights. Catamull lays the groundwork for readers to replicate this innovative environment and foster atmospheres where creativity can thrive. The book also gives a fascinating history and behind the scenes peek at Pixar. Creativity, Inc. shows leaders how to balance and blend imagination with good business practices.

Notable Quote: “You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.”

Read Creativity, Inc.

2. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

big magic book cover

Big Magic is one of the bestselling creativity self help books. Written by the author of Eat, Pray, Love, this book shows readers how to face down the fear of failure and live more creatively and authentically in all aspects of life. The guide shows readers how to break down the barriers that inhibit creativity, such as resistance to rejection and anxiety about criticism. Gilbert tends to approach each piece of writing like a research project, and this project is no exception. The author fills the pages with fascinating facts and anecdotes to support her ideas and mantras. Big Magic gives readers the confidence and permission to be bolder and more imaginative in both personal and professional capacities.

Notable Quote: “You’re not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words, it also doesn’t have to be important.”

Read Big Magic.

3. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

creativity the psychology of discovery and invention book cover

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention is an in-depth analysis of the creative process, particularly the periods of deep focus known as “flow.” Renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has researched flow states extensively throughout his career, and published the bestseller Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In this work, he uses a sociological approach to identify the elements that contribute to creativity and explain the importance of imagination and innovation to society and culture at large. The author’s intention is not to write a how-to guide, but rather to present a historically and scientifically-backed overview of creativity readers can use as a basis for self-growth. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention sets out to answer the question “what is creativity,” and in doing so maps out a blueprint for readers to become more curious, inventive, and prolific in their own creative lives.

Notable Quote: “Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.”

Read Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

4. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

steal like an artist book cover

Steal Like an Artist revolves around the idea that artists influence other artists. Few pieces of work are truly unique or original, as most art draws inspiration from other creative works. Instead of trying to avoid this impact, great artists channel the influences and reform these ideas into something new. Following this mantra, Steal Like an Artist lays out ten principles for modern artists to produce and share work in the current moment. The tone is conversational, the sentiments are short, and the pages contain a wealth of illustrations and quotes, making the book a quick and easy read. This guide is handy for moments when creatives could use a burst of motivation.

Notable Quote: “Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.”

Read Steal Like an Artist.

5. Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins

real artists don't starve book cover

Real Artists Don’t Starve sets out to overturn the myth that creators must suffer and starve for their art. The book shows how creative businesses are still businesses, and working effectively in creative fields requires strategy. Jeff Goins explores the tactics that make artists successful, such as learning from mentors, seeking out patrons, joining and staying active in creative communities, and diversifying portfolios. Real Artists Don’t Starve proves that it is possible to make a living from art, and lays out a step-by-step guide to becoming a full-time, fully-funded creative professional.

Notable Quote: “Creativity is not about being original; it’s about learning to rearrange what has already been in a way that brings fresh insight to old material.”

Read Real Artists Don’t Starve.

6. Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide by John Cleese

creativity a short and cheerful guide book cover

Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide is a collection of reflections about the creative life and process from famous comedian John Cleese. The tone of the text is just as insightful as it is entertaining. While Cleese brings the humor and levity you would expect of him, he also treats his subject with reverence and provides intelligent and practical advice for living and working creatively. The author drops nuggets and knowledge that are useful and applicable to all creative processes and professions. For example, overcome panic in early stages of the process, steer clear of cockiness, and ask for second opinions. Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide is a speed read that lives up to its title by delivering concise truths about the creative process.

Notable Quote: “The greatest killer of creativity is interruption. It pulls your mind away from what you want to be thinking about. Research has shown that, after an interruption, it can take eight minutes for you to return to your previous state of consciousness, and up to twenty minutes to get back into a state of deep focus.”

Read Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide.

7. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Creativity by The Harvard Business Review

HBR on creativity book cover

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Creativity is a curated collection of essays about inventiveness from experts and leaders in various industries. This anthology contains a handpicked selection of the most interesting publications on the topic from The Harvard Business Review, including “How to Build a Culture of Originality,” and “Strategy Needs Creativity.” The author lineup includes thought leaders such as Adam Grant, Ed Catamull, and Tom and David Kelley. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Creativity is like a “greatest hits” of corporate creativity, and serves as a firm foundation for any employee or manager looking for tips on becoming more innovative and impactful.

Notable Quote: “The world seems to divide into “creatives” and “noncreatives,” and too many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves to the latter category.”

Read HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Creativity.

8. Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity by David Lynch

catching the big fish book cover

Catching the Big Fish is a collection of meditations on creativity and art from legendary filmmaker David Lynch. The book gets its title from the idea, “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.” Lynch shares similar sentiments and observations about creativity throughout this work, as well as giving a window into the intricacies of his own creative process. The book is a must-read for fans, seekers of expert creative advice, or anyone interested in what makes Lynch’s particularly unique mind tick. Catching the Big Fish is akin to getting a pep talk or hearing a lecture from Lynch directly.

Notable Quote: “Stay true to yourself. Let your voice ring out, and don’t let anybody fiddle with it. Never turn down a good idea, but never take a bad idea.”

Read Catching the Big Fish.

9. The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas by David Burkus

the myths of creativity book cover

The Myths of Creativity seeks to debunk common conceptions of creativity and demystify the practice of imagination. The book scrutinizes ten different tropes such as “the lone creator myth,” and “the eureka myth.” David Burkus explains why common wisdom surrounding these ideas is wrong and analyzes how these processes actually play out in the real world. In leading an expose on the romance surrounding imagination and creation, the book empowers readers to be more innovative and daring and make more attempts at invention. The Myths of Creativity sets out to lay bare the realities of inspiration and creative work and the origins of new ideas.

Notable Quote: “Creative ideas make people uncomfortable. It turns out that, at least subconsciously, we can have a hard time recognizing ideas as both new and useful at the same time. This cognitive dissonance between creativity and practicality may actually create a subtle bias against creative ideas.”

Read The Myths of Creativity.

10. Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

wired to create book cover

Wired to Create is a scientific journey into the creative mind. The chapters explore common traits of highly creative people, such as passion, intuition, sensitivity, and the ability to channel adversity into art. The text also touches on the messiness of many historical figures’ lives and processes, such as Picasso, David Foster Wallace, and Frida Kahlo. The book sets out to explore and explain seeming contradictions between what we as a society understand about creativity and how the trait manifests. Wired to Create is a quest to understand the hyper-inventive mind and a bid to pinpoint the qualities that make creatives tick and thrive.

Notable Quote: “The common strands that seemed to transcend all creative fields was an openness to one’s inner life, a preference for complexity and ambiguity, an unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray, the ability to extract order from chaos, independence, unconventionality, and a willingness to take risks.”

Read Wired to Create.

11. The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice by Todd Henry

the accidental creative book cover

The Accidental Creative is one of the best creativity books for adults. This guide seeks to overturn the notion that the creative process relies entirely on inspiration and is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Todd Henry suggests that there are habits and conditions one can cultivate to foster innovation and increase the likelihood of creative breakthroughs. The book advocates for managing the energy and relationships that feed into creativity and urges readers not to dull their spark by overextending themselves and overpacking their schedules. The Accidental Creative shows that while we cannot always control when or how inspiration will strike, we can make room for it by optimizing our environment to be more conducive to creativity.

Notable Quote: “You need to create space for your creative process to thrive rather than expect it to operate in the cracks of your frenetic schedule.”

Read The Accidental Creative.

12. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

where good ideas come from book cover

Where Good Ideas Come From is one of the best books on innovation. The book explores different inventions and inventors throughout history and provides more background information about these stories. Steven Johnson shows that the most revolutionary ideas hardly ever come down to a single “a-ha” moment, as pop culture likes to suggest, but rather, are byproducts of a variety of influences and a wealth of experimentation. The book spans centuries of innovation, from Darwin’s notebooks, to Freud’s sessions to the bright and colorful halls of Google. Where Good Ideas Come From shows the work that leads to breakthroughs and gives readers ideas about how to set the stage for inspiration.

Notable Quote: “Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.”

Read Where Good Ideas Come From.

13. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

daily rituals book cover

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work provides a window into the habitual behaviors of history’s most creative figures. Mason Currey outlines the everyday routines of visionaries such as Andy Warhol, Charles Darwin, Jane Austen, and Pablo Picasso, occasionally lifting pages directly from the artists’ diaries and letters to show their schedules. The book uses a mix of contemporary and historical figures. While there are some observable patterns across the rituals of these creative revolutionaries, the artists employ a wide range of approaches. The variety of these methods can inspire readers willing to experiment to find the system that fits best. In fact, some of the behaviors are downright strange, and it is just as fun to read about artists’ quirks as entertainment value as to mine the book for practical tips.

Notable Quote: “A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”

Read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, and check out more time management books.

14. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley and David Kelley

creative confidence book cover

Creative Confidence aims to overturn the myth that only some folks are creative. While certain individuals may be more prone to imaginative thinking than others, the authors insist that all people have the capacity for creativity. The book shows readers how to practice and nurture the skill through methods such as adopting a design-thinking approach, planning out the process, pushing through fear and doubt, and examining ideas with a fresh perspective. Creative Confidence shows that the only thing necessary to reach full creative potential is a slight tweak in mindset and shift in behavior.

Notable Quote: “That combination of thought and action defines creative confidence: the ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out.”

Read Creative Confidence.

Final Thoughts

Most folks think that creativity is a natural instinct or a talent. However, creativity is a capacity that exists in all human beings. While not every professional will devote their lives to making art, most professionals need imagination and innovation throughout their careers. Books about creativity can take your professional journey to the next level. Reading these books is a way to deepen your creative instincts and channel your ideas into productive results. These guides give structures and frameworks to out-of-the-box thinking, provide the motivation to take risks and try new concepts, and suggest exercises and tips that help make creativity a habit.

For more reading suggestions check out these books on startups and these guides to teamwork.

FAQ: Creativity books

Here are answers to common questions about creativity books.

What are creativity books?

Creativity books are guides that teach readers how to be more imaginative and innovative and generate new ideas. These works tend to be both inspirational and informative in nature, and deal with subjects such as brainstorming, collaborating, and building productive habits. Many of these books also analyze the traits and routines of famous artists and inventors.

What are some good creativity books for work?

Some good creativity books for work include Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Creativity by The Harvard Business Review, and The Myths of Creativity by David Burkus.

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Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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