February’s list of books on creativity

Three books on creativity to help you come up with fresh ideas and expand to your full creative potential.

Until very recently I considered myself a creative person with lots of ideas. After all, I studied design and now work as a freelance lettering artist and illustrator. But last year, when I decided to participate in several illustration competitions, I realised that I have troubles with illustrating broad topics. One of the competition’s theme was Chaos. I can't describe, how frustrated I was trying to find a smart and simple way of visualising it. When I shared my frustration with a fellow illustrator Victoria Semykina, however, I got a reply that it’s not a problem at all. Viktoria sent me a list of random words, advising to connect each of them to the topic. Miraculously, it worked, and the ideas started to pour out of my brain like a waterfall. I didn’t win the competition, but it got me to re-evaluate my creative skills. I decided to read a couple of books on creativity-boosting techniques to train my brain and improve my conceptual thinking. And since I'm convinced that knowledge should be shared, I decided to share this information with my blog readers. So starting this February, at the beginning of each month, I will be posting a list of 3 useful books.


The Creative Habit

By Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp is a renowned American dancer and choreographer. According to her creativity is a habit, and in her book, she shares how she acquired this habit through years as a leading choreographer.

The main thrust of her book is that you have to make a conscious decision to consider creating an integral part of your life. Once you allow yourself to be a truly creative person, you can start designing rituals, routines, and exercises to become more creative. Whether you are an illustrator, a designer, musician, businessperson, or simply an individual yearning to put your creativity to use, the book suggests thirty-two exercises based on the lessons Twyla Tharp has learned in her impressive career. 

Here is my favorite piece of advice from the book:

  1. Observe the world- and get it down on paper. Always keep your pencil, or any other tool you use to write at hand.

  2. Use the scratching technique for inspiration. Scratching is a deliberate work of kickstarting your creative and innovative thinking. It is a kind of semi-aimed research, sometimes in unusual places. Reading, conversations, walks in museums and in nature. Beethoven and Mozart listened to birds to find musical inspiration. Twyla Tharp tosses coins and tries to find a pattern, a writer could eavesdrop little street conversations. While scratching one could find smaller ideas, which eventually will lead to a big one. 

  3. Invent your own challenges. Write a story without the verb to be, paint with only one color.

  4. Embrace imperfection at the beginning. Things will improve as you are working on them.

  5. Don’t get lost in the research phase, as soon as you have the minimum viable amount of information, start executing the idea or project.

  6. Your best work happens after the biggest disasters.


Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius

by Michael Michalko

The first part of his book is about the strategies of geniuses who look at problems in a different new way.

The two main strategies are:

  • Know how to look at things. Genius comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has taken before.

  • Visualize your thought. The explosion of creativity during the Renaissance was tied to the recording and conveying of a vast amount of knowledge with of drawings, graphs, and diagrams (the diaries of Vinci and Galileo).

In Part 2, “Thinking what no one else is thinking”, Michalko presents seven thinking strategies that genius minds use to generate their breakthrough ideas and creative solutions.

Generating a lot of ideas is one way to improve creativity. Geniuses like Edison used personal quotas for creative ideas. Edison created one minor invention every ten days and a major invention every six months.

Making new combinations and connecting the unconnected in an extraordinary way is the next technique. Creativity is the ability to combine two different things in an extraordinary way.

Looking at other worlds and finding what you are not looking for is the accidental way of thinking creatively. Find something interesting, drop everything else and study it.

Awakening the collaborative spirit. The collective intelligence of a group is larger than the intelligence of an individual.


The Agile Mind: How Your Brain Makes Creativity Happen

by Estanislao Bachrach

An entertaining book for those who want to understand what's happening in their head during the creative thinking process. The book is chock-full of creativity-boosting exercises which, I believe, would suit a wide range of fields. Estanislao Bachrach is an actual scientist with a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, which is why I got interested in this book, after having read about creativity from the point of view of a dancer and an ex U.S. army officer. I needed a scientific view of creativity. I should say, though, that Bachrach’s ideas and techniques have a lot in common with those mentioned by Michalko and Tharp.

The following ideas from the book were very reassuring:

  • The ability to think creatively does not diminish through our lifespan. The brain is able to regenerate and continue learning all through our lives.

  • Anyone become more creative using the right methods and techniques to stimulate our brains and broaden our minds.

Next week I will go a little bit more into detail and present you with my favourite creative techniques from Cracking Creativity and The Agile Mind.

Olga Epikhina