Box of Crayons Blog


The 3 Best Books for Everyday Creativity

There’s a challenge with creativity and the way we think about it in our organizational life: it’s not part of our job description. It’s really important for all of us to understand that creativity is actually an everyday activity. It’s something that, at its best, should infuse the way you work—when you show up for meetings, when you tackle your projects, when you think about the work you do.

Here are my three favourite books that help inspire everyday creativity. Watch the video below.

Full Transcript

So, when people come and get in touch with Box of Crayons they’re often pretty excited about it because they think, “Box of Crayons. What a cool name. You really must do things around creativity and funkiness.” And it’s actually true. I spent—I started my career in the world of innovation and creativity.

When I finally got out of university, it took me a long time to do that, but when I finally made it out into the world of work, I ended up with a job where my job—my whole role was to invent new products and new services for people, and, actually, I ended up teaching a great deal about creativity and innovation as well.

So, I know quite a lot about that world. And there’s a challenge with creativity and the way we think about it in our organizational life. And here’s the challenge: For most of us we say, “Look, creativity? That’s not what I do. I’ve got a real job. I get stuff done. And the creativity stuff we outsource. You know, we send it out to the “creatives” or the agency or maybe that weird guy with the funky shirt who’s kind of slightly odd, but we’ll tolerate him because, you know, that’s what he does.”

And I think it’s really important for all of us to understand that creativity is actually an everyday activity. It’s something that, at its best, it should infuse the way you work in—when you show up for meetings, when you tackle your projects, when you think about the work you do. I want you to bring that sense of creativity to it.

And, actually, there’s good research to help us understand why that may work. I took this information from Chip and Dan Heath’s book called Switch, which said, “Look, in most organizations, decisions that are made are binary.” And it’s basically, “Should we do this or should we not do it?” They found that I think it was, like, about 70% of decisions are binary; 52% of those decisions fail. That’s terrible! Fifty-two percent! That’s basically worse decision making than it is if you’re teenager. You know how bad teenager’s brains are. They’re unformed.

By simply adding a new additional thought, a new additional idea, a new additional possibility onto the table, the failure rate of those decisions drop down to closer to 30%. So there’s a real value for all of us in understanding that creativity needs to be an everyday activity.

Okay, so knowing that, where do you get that input of everyday creativity from? Well, I want to share with you my three favourite books, currently, on everyday creativity, and share some of the key insights I’ve had from them.

The first book I told you about is Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist, 10 things nobody told you about being creative. And this is a funky book, beautifully designed, kind of got a cool feel to it. Austin is an artist. He does a kind of designed word art, which sounds weird but actually looks fantastic in the book. And I’ll tell you what(?), some of the things that I love from his book are this: the first is nothing is original. And I think that’s such a powerful insight to bring to creativity because when you understand that nothing is original—whereas I heard somebody else say it, “originality is just unacknowledged plagiarism,” then you start to understand that you don’t have this burden of coming up with the new idea. What you’re really looking for are the ideas that are already out there and how can you take them, steal them, adapt them and bring them into whatever challenge it is that you happen to be facing at the moment.

The second thing I really like from Austin’s book is this: that creat—the insight, creativity is subtraction. So there’s something really powerful about not just adding stuff on but actually going through the process of eliminating what … I think it was Michelangelo said that when he was faced with a block of marble what his goal was, to find the angel within and carve out all the marble that wasn’t angel.

So too with creativity. I think one of the most powerful things you can be doing when you think about creativity is, “What can we eliminate?” In a world where most of our (indiscernible) most, often our work is kind of bogged down by complexity, finding simplicity within the complexity is a very powerful piece. It’s where elegance lies.

The second book I tell you about is from Twyla Tharp, and Twyla Tharp’s book is The Creative Habit, Learn it and use it for life. So you can see how that’s a really perfect book when we’re talking about everyday creativity. And couple of things I pulled from that book. The first is this: that she strives to get an “A”, as a mark, an A in failure. And she really untangles what failure can be, and she says there are five different sources for failure. One is a failure of skill. Okay. That’s obvious when that happens. It’s kind of the most blunt, the most keenly seen failure.

The second is a failure of judgment. I think that’s getting more interesting right away, which is like when you start discovering, “Where did I make the wrong decision in terms of what I pursued or what I might have looked for?”

The third is a failure of concept. So that’s where you go, “I had this idea. I thought it was going to be great and it didn’t really work.” So that’s when you kind of misread the market or the need or the way that your idea may play out.

And then the fourth failure which I think is so important is a failure of nerve. It’s when you back away from taking the leap, when you start playing small rather than playing big.

And finally, a failure of denial, or, rather, kind of a denial of reality. So that’s a different sort of failure, which is when you refuse to see what’s out there. And I think just understanding what those different sources of failure are, understanding that success, the journey to success is often through the valley of failure, but rather than just giving up and despairing, be able to locate the sources of failure and then go, “Okay, well knowing that, now what do I do?” actually is one way of driving to success and allowing creativity to come into your everyday work.

The other thing that Twyla Tharp is, which I think is really important, is it’s about knowing when to stop. She quotes somebody saying, “A poem is never finished. It’s only ever abandoned.” That’s such a beautiful concept. But at a certain point you’ve got to stop and say, “You know what? This is good enough. The prison of perfectionism, the iron bar of perfectionism can crush creativity. So know when to stop when you’re building something and creating something.

The third book I tell you about is from Chip Kidd. Now, some of you may know the name Chip Kidd. He’s a book designer. He’s kind of the most famous of book cover designers, and he’s got a fantastic book called Go, A Kidd’s guide to graphic design. And it’s a very visual book, very playful. He plays with your mind throughout this book. But here’s the key thing to take away from that Kidd book and in general, which is creativity is often unleashed through design. I think information and I think content becomes valuable when you bring elegance and design to it. And what I love about the Chip Kidd book is that you understand that if you start capturing and practicing and mastering some of the key concepts of design, it’s through that that you’ll be able to actually unleash creativity in the information and the content before you.

So there we go. Three essential books from me about unleashing creativity. You don’t have to go and buy them. Maybe go and grab them from the library. They’ll all be there. But certainly find one, pick up one, and think to yourself, “How can I make creativity not just something that’s for the brainstorming sessions or for the weird guy with the coloured hair in the corner, but how can I make everyday creativity part of the way that I do work in the organization at which I work?”

2 Responses to The 3 Best Books for Everyday Creativity

  • Brian Balk

    Thanks for the book recommendations!
    I also highly recommend Julia Cameron’s original The Artist’s Way. I’m sure her other follow-on books and workbooks are also very useful.

  • Ellie Gates

    Great podcast Michael!!! Love the high level tips from these books, especially the “never finished” just abandoned concept on Poetry…

    Thanks for all you do to inspire us.

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