12 essential books on creativity and innovation to read in your lifetime

So you want to improve your creativity.

Congratulations! Whether it’s for a business venture, a hobby, or just for personal development, this essential skill will help you get much farther in life. 

I found one of the best ways to improve my own creativity was through reading books — these 12 in particular.

It took me a long time to get through them, so don’t feel like you need to read them all at once!

But you’re sure to find at least a couple that pique your interest, and that’s a great place to start.

If you want to know 12 essential books on creativity and innovation to read in your lifetime, then let’s dive right in.

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

This is one of the first books I ever picked up on the topic of creativity, so it’s very close to my heart — and at the top of this list.

It dives into the challenges faced by creative individuals and companies, exploring the unseen forces that can hinder innovation. 

In particular, Catmull reveals the struggles he encountered while steering Pixar to success, including the importance of embracing failure as a part of the creative process.

However, you can apply this book outside the corporate context too. You’ll discover how to cultivate an environment around you where your ideas can flourish, you can collaborate better with others, and nurture your own creativity.

Find Creativity, Inc. on Amazon here.

2) “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail” by Clayton M. Christensen

Next up is a book that will be particularly relevant to entrepreneurs, and want to be aware of potential pitfalls of innovation in business.

Its core idea is that successful companies often become victims of their own success. 

They become so focused on improving their existing products and serving their current customers that they overlook emerging technologies and disruptive innovations.

Christensen explains how these technologies, initially considered inferior or niche, can gain traction, improve rapidly, and eventually disrupt established markets, leaving traditional companies struggling to catch up.

Find The Innovator’s Dilemma on Amazon here.

3) “Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” by Austin Kleon

This book surprised me with its delightful and refreshing take on the creative process

Basically, Kleon encourages us to break free from the pressure of originality and embrace the idea of “stealing” from various sources to fuel our own creativity. 

This is something that is almost a taboo, but at the end of the day, everyone does (even if just subconsciously). Anything your mind can think of, it can think of only thanks to the experiences, perceptions, and ideas it has already come into contact with. 

But relax, Kleon isn’t talking about outright plagiarism. Instead, he encourages us to take inspiration from different artists, thinkers, and ideas, and remix them in our own unique way.

If you’ve ever felt stuck or overwhelmed by the idea of being original, then this book is for you. 

Find Steal Like an Artist on Amazon here

4) “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant 

I used to believe I just didn’t have what it takes to be creative — so Originals was a huge inspiration to me. 

Grant challenges the conventional thought that only a select few can be true innovators. He argues that originality is within reach for anyone who dares to think differently and take bold action. 

He tells fascinating stories of people who defied norms, broke the mold, and brought about incredible change. 

He also analyzes the characteristics and behaviors that set these original thinkers apart, and gives practical tips to nurture your own creativity. 

Find Originals on Amazon here.

5) “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield

Time to unleash your creative warrior! This book is like a battle cry for artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and anyone who wants to release their creative potential.

Pressfield dives deep into the inner struggles we all face when trying to innovate. He personifies resistance as a formidable enemy that blocks our creativity and feeds our self-doubt.

If you’ve ever experienced procrastination, self-sabotage, or the fear of putting your work out there, this book is sure to resonate with you. 

Then, the author gives insights and practical advice on how to overcome these things and keep creating. It’s like a friendly pep talk from a fellow artist who has been in the trenches with you.

Find The War of Art on Amazon here

6) “Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value” by Thomas Lockwood

Design Thinking is another book that is geared more towards people in business — but I did find interesting general insights in it too. 

What sets this book apart is its truly comprehensive approach to design. Lockwood shows you how it goes beyond aesthetics and becomes a mindset that influences entire industries.

He shows business leaders how you can integrate design thinking into every part of your business, from product development to organizational culture, and create a holistic and customer-centric approach. 

Even if you’re not a business leader, Lockwood’s passion for design shines through, and is sure to draw you in. 

Find Design Thinking on Amazon here

7) “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life” by Twyla Tharp and Mark Reiter

Like the title says, this book aims to give you the skills and mindset to make creativity into a habit that you can tap into throughout your entire life.

The author is a renowned choreographer and shares her personal experiences and insights on the creative process. She talks about her own creative rituals, and suggests some that you can adopt as well. 

She emphasizes the importance of showing up every day and building up consistency and discipline

As you’ll see, she believes creativity is not just a stroke of inspiration, but the result of hard work and dedication. And she shows you how to embrace not just the joys but also the challenges of the creative journey. 

Find The Creative Habit on Amazon here.

8) “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman

This book is a bit different from the others on this list, because it’s not explicitly about innovation.

However, when I read it I realized that it teaches you skills that are absolutely crucial to being creative: the cognitive processes and biases that influence your decision-making and creativity. 

Basically, Kahneman explains how there are 2 systems that govern your thinking: the fast and intuitive system, and the slow and deliberate system. 

When you learn how both these systems work, you can understand how you can tap into each one to aid you in your creative thinking. 

Find Thinking Fast and Slow on Amazon here

9) “The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm” by Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman

Here’s another must-read for any entrepreneurial-minded readers.

It’s like a backstage pass to the creative genius of IDEO, where you take a close look at their approaches, methodologies, and success stories.  

I’m personally not planning on going into business, but I still found this book highly inspirational and applicable to other areas of my life. It pushed me to embrace failure and relentlessly question the status quo.

For business leaders, it will also help you step into the shoes of your end-users, understand their needs with empathy, and design remarkable experiences that truly resonate with them. 

Find The Art of Innovation on Amazon here.

10) “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All” by Tom Kelley and David Kelley

When you read Creative Confidence, you go on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. 

I particularly remember how this book helped me overcome my self-doubt. It’s one of the biggest obstacles to igniting your creative spark, and the authors do a wonderful job of helping you challenge your limiting beliefs and gain confidence to express yourself authentically.

They do this through engaging anecdotes and exercises, and help break everything down into small steps.

This is when I really understood that creativity is not just for artists or designers, but a valuable asset in every aspect of life. 

Find Creative Confidence on Amazon here.

11) “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Have you been feeling down lately? Then definitely pick up this book. 

It’s like a warm embrace that infuses you with new energy and gives you a gentle but firm nudge to conquer your fears and live a vibrant life. 

The author does a wonderful job of encouraging you to release the burden of perfectionism, self-doubt, and external pressures. 

She holds your hand and guides you to follow your passions, pursue your creative impulses, and embrace the joy of making things. 

I happened to pick this book up when I was going through an emotional slump, and it really helped me get back on my feet. I hope it can have a similar inspirational effect on you too. 

Find Big Magic on Amazon here

12) “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson

Last, but definitely not least, is Where Good Ideas Come From.

This book is not so much a guide on how to be creative as a story on incredible examples of creativity throughout history, and how great ideas evolve. 

You’ll explore patterns and environments that foster innovation, and the surprising connections that lead to breakthroughs. 

I really loved how this book challenges the notion that innovation is just the result of lone geniuses or “eureka” moments. 

So what is it really made of? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Find Where Good Ideas Come From on Amazon here.

Ready to kickstart your creativity and innovation?

Now you have 12 essential  books on creativity and innovation to put on your reading list

It does take a while to get through 12 books, especially ones as packed with excellent insights and tips such as these (and there are dozens more where they came from!).

So don’t be in a rush to get through them all! You have your entire lifetime to build your creativity.

With each book, you’re sure to see an amazing difference in the way you perceive the world around you — I know I sure did. 

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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