5 Books On Ideas To Expand Your Creative Thinking
From time to time on my blog I write up a list of 5 books or so on different topics. There’s been two posts on The Best Books on Film Editing 1 & 2, Books on Storytelling, Books for Creatives, Books on Avid, Books on Marketing and more. This time I thought I’d share some of my favourite books on ideas, which are guaranteed to get your mind whirring and generate some fresh creative thoughts!
Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson
Where Good Ideas Come From is a brilliantly readable book and if you want a good taster for it you can simply watch Steven Johnson’s TED talk, but if you don’t want to spoil it all just grab and copy and prepare to be inspired.
Essentially the book takes you through seven key principles that can facilitate the generation of really good ideas, from which you can draw out some very practical pointers such as the importance of writing everything down, and being connected to as many people and stimuli as possible, and sticking with slow hunches.
“Chance favours the connected mind.”
That makes it sound all very simplistic but Johnson’s narrative approach uncovers tons of fascinating insights based on characters as diverse as Charles Darwin and Tim Berners-Lee. A very enjoyable and valuable read.
The Decisive Moment – Jonah Lehrer
“I was flying a Boeing 737 into Tokyo Narita International Airport when the left engine caught on fire.” If you’re looking for an opening line that will grab your attention you can’t do much better than that! So begins Jonah Lehrer’s insightful and intriguing The Decisive Moment, which is all about how we make decisions and how we can learn to make better ones.
Lehrer writes in a similarly anecdotal style to Johnson or Gladwell (though not as brilliantly as the later) whilst drawing on a detailed understanding of neuroscience to weave together a gripping book about the power and process of decision making. One of my favourite parts of the book is Lehrer’s analysis of the stock market and his proposal for a relatively fool-proof investment strategy: “Since the market is a random walk with an upward slope, the best solution is to pick a low-cost index fund and wait… Don’t buy or sell a single stock.” In doing so Lehrer reckons you can out perform the average ‘active’ investor by nearly 10 percent. Entertaining, informative and a mind expanding read.
Little Bets – Peter Sims
The subtitle to Peter Sims’ Little Bets is ‘How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries’ which is a pretty good summary of what the books all about and the chapter titles are also as equally didactic; Failing Quickly to Learn Fast, Problems Are The New Solutions or Learning a Lot from a Little. And although some of these Silicon Valley axioms have become common knowledge its still highly engaging to read about them in detail.
Although it’s been a while since I first read it I recently picked it up again as I wanted to refresh myself on some of the creative and practical implications of Sims’ findings, of which there are plenty to be found.
For a book from a business writer it is a thoroughly enjoyable ramble through stories about creative giants like Pixar and Apple and business behemoths like Amazon or Google, whilst providing plenty of opportunity to absorb the wisdom of taking small steps and following them through to creating market shaping breakthroughs.
“In this era of ever-accelerating change, being able to create, navigate amid uncertainty, and adapt using an experimental approach will increasingly be a vital advantage. The way to begin is with little bets.”
Cognitive Surplus – Clay Shirky
In the Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky suggests that if we could combine just a sliver of the world’s free time (you know the time spent making cat gifs etc) we could collectively achieve some really mammoth creative tasks in no time at all.
As an example Shirky roughly estimates that it took 100 million hours for the connected world to create Wikipedia. To put that into perspective American’s watch roughly 200 billion hours of TV every year, with 100 million hours of that being just the commercials consumed in a single weekend.
By thinking in terms of this level of abundance (a lot like Chris Anderson’s FREE) even tiny changes in the way people spend their time can have a massive impact:
Imagine that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people continue to consume 99 percent of the television they used to, but 1 percent of that time gets carved out for producing and sharing. The connected population still watches well over a hundred trillion hours of TV a year, 1 percent of that is more than one hundred Wikipedia’s worth of participation per year.
I really enjoyed reading Cognitive Surplus, which is full of tales of numerous creative endeavours that are already harnessing the connected world’s free time, and if you’re after some mind-expanding ways of viewing the world, this is just the ticket.
The Wisdom of Crowds – James Surowiecki
In The Wisdom of Crowds, the essential premise put forward is that that in the right circumstances groups of people are far better at making wise choices than individuals.
In the following quote Surowiecki demonstrates the basic gist of this principle with some revealings statistics from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
“Everything we think we know about intelligence suggests that the (phone a friend) smart individual would offer the most help. And, in fact, the ‘experts’ did okay, offering the right answer – under pressure – almost 65% of the time. But they paled in comparison to the audiences. Those random crowds of people with nothing better to do on a weekday afternoon than sit in a TV studio picked the right answer 91% of the time.”
Throughout the book Surowiecki lists the characteristics of what composite elements can work together to make a group think more wisely. This kind of insight is useful in a lot of creative contexts when you think about how group decisions are made on creative problems, budgets, processes etc. Or when you’re market testing a new product, service or idea. The wired world provides handy metrics for what the most popular, and hence potentially most successful course of action might be, which is why I think this kind of book is well worth a read for the connected creative.