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The idea that creativity is natural, innate and even mystically bestowed on “creative types” is a powerful idea in business. Somehow the idea you can train (which implies repetitive practice) creativity into yourself or develop it through your team seems counterintuitive. We search for inspiration as if it were a lost key or lightning strike.
But can you become more creative? We say yes – and this reading list is a good place to start. Here, London Business School faculty suggest seven books spanning the meaning of creativity, practical measures, creative states of mind, leadership for creativity and the consequences of this vital force.
Recommended by Pier Vittorio Mannucci, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour
“What does it take to create a successful and sustainable creative culture? In this book, Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation, brings you on the journey that brought him from being a creative person to becoming a creative leader.
When Catmull created Pixar, along with John Lasseter and Steve Jobs, he thought that his job was going to be creating animated movies. Over time, however, he came to realise that his focus needed to be helping creative people at Pixar do their best work. The book is a fascinating look inside Pixar, providing amazing lessons to foster your own original thinking and to understand how you can help your employees enhance their creativity.
From the importance of candour to the strategic use of post-mortems; from the importance of protecting ‘ugly babies’ to the importance of uncovering what is hidden and unseen, the book showcases a company whose leaders were able to create a culture that enables employees’ creativity to fly ‘to infinity, and beyond’.”
Recommended by Michael Parke, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour
“The War of Art is a practical self-help book about overcoming challenges in the creative process. It's a great book for writers because it gives useful tips to overcome procrastination and writers’ block and get your work done.
Pressfield successfully argues that creative work is not an unstructured search for a bolt of inspiration. The truth is, most creative people, who turn out creative work over and over again, actually follow structured principles and habits. The War of Art provides tools to create effective habits to overcome many of the blocks and resistance you face in creating writing, art, or other lines of creative work.”
“Originals is the book on Creativity I most wish I had written. Actually, I thought I was writing it.”
Recommended by Colleen Cunningham, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship
“One of the ongoing research questions that fascinates me is how competition and rivalry affect creativity and innovation. In part, this is because competition can be good and also, sometimes, bad for motivating creativity.
The Loser is a rather unconventional piece of fiction on the complex and sometimes disastrous role of rivalry on creativity. The book details the significant, permanent, all-encompassing impact that Glenn Gould, a (real-life) Canadian piano prodigy known for his version of Bach's Goldberg Variations, has on two rival world-class pianists, one being the narrator. The book explores in grave detail the relentless heartbreak that can come from being second-best despite trying one’s best.
The Loser is a single paragraph, stream-of-consciousness monologue. It is both dark and, in parts, darkly hilarious. While not an easy read, it is a highly creative work of art that inspires my own creativity.”
Recommended by Richard Hytner, Adjunct Professor of Marketing
“Originals is the book on creativity I most wish I had written. Actually, for a while I thought I was writing it, with Tim Eyles, Chair of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.
He and I share a belief that creativity is in all of us, not the preserve of those whom we typically associate with creativity. We were well into testing out our ideas with high profile creative game-changers in the arts, business, media and military, when one interviewee politely asked if we had read Adam Grant’s book.
‘No,’ we said. ‘Our book is not about joining an elite band of genii born with innate creativity. It is about actionable insights mere mortals can apply from these creative thinkers’ personalities, practices and approaches to problem-solving.’
‘You really ought to read Originals,’ he replied.”
“One of the ongoing research questions that fascinates me is how competition and rivalry affect creativity and innovation.”
Recommended by John Mullins, Associate Professor of Management Practice in Marketing and Entrepreneurship
“This classic bestseller, now nearly two decades in print, debunks the too-widely-held notion that we should sacrifice our lives in order to make a living. Now more timely than ever, Komisar argues that creating one’s life need not – and should not – be orthogonal to earning a living.
His intimately personal story about how he found meaning not just in work’s rewards, but in the work itself, suggests that we, too, should ensure that our work brings meaning, satisfaction and joy, not just cash.
Komisar’s depth of experience working with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs shines through every chapter. His insistence that we think creatively about who we want to be for the rest of our lives is sage advice for anyone, no matter their age, education or career stage.”
Recommended by Dan Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour
“This book is about rule-breaking as a constructive rather than destructive force. Rebels challenge the status quo in ways that drive positive change.
As the world is becoming more uncertain, more often our problems more complex. Rebels are undaunted by novel situations and ideas, and they adapt creatively to change as a matter of course.
For example, the Italian chef Massimo Bottura first became a master of traditional recipes from his mother. But then he showed even greater talent by rebelling and transforming these dishes into something new. His 3-Michelin-star restaurant was considered one of the best in the world in 2016 and 2019. What may have appeared a risky move, rebelling against beloved recipes shared across generations, had made him and his organisation a star.”
Recommended by Dan Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour
“I like how the author, a neuroscientist, unnerves us and makes us question our assumptions about a good life by making us think about the afterlife.
In one of these, you discover that your creator is small, dim-witted, obtuse species who keep asking: ‘Do you have answer?’ In another version of heaven, we are enormous, nine-dimensional beings responsible for maintaining the cosmos. It’s hard work, and once we are exhausted we are reincarnated as humans, where we only need to care about a meeting of the eyes, a glimpse of bare flesh, the caressing tones of a loved voice, orientation of a house plant.
I love how the stories make me question how to live, and to appreciate, my life now.”
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