How to create & innovate
These are the books I read when I need some creative inspiration
When I was at primachool, a rather awful teacher told me that my problem was that I had too many ideas buzzing around in my head. That I was “a dreamer.” Seriously! Those kinds of harsh words stick with you.
But strangely I’m grateful. From an early age, I’ve been fascinated by where ideas come from, why some come to fruition, and why so many never see the light of day.
I took this curiosity into my early career and even got a job as an “inventor” with an innovation consultancy in New York. If there was a place to explore ideas, this had to be it, or so I thought. Sadly, it wasn’t. I quickly discovered how bad most workplaces are at nurturing the creative process - from inspiration to completion. Sure, there was brainstorming and ‘cool’ people who were allowed to explore ‘cool’ things in ‘cool’ rooms but, for the most part, true creative immersion rarely happened. And so, I started to wonder why.
I read a lot. And I tried to constantly keep making things.
So here is my three-word summary of two decades of reading about the creative process: Curiosity drives everything.
Curiosity enables you to look for differences. Notice connections.
Then you want to learn more about it.
The more you learn, the more you care about it.
The more you care, the more you want to learn.
All the above creates forward momentum – the fuel needed to play the creative long game.
My three-point summary of what gets in the way of creative work:
Thinking you can only do creative work in certain ways, with certain tools and in certain moods (and waiting for that perfect state to happen.)
Waiting for permission to start.
Constantly feeling like you’re ‘too busy’ to prioritize creative work.
I’ve found in my own work that blaming, procrastination, romanticising, impatience, and abandoning work when it gets difficult (all baddies of creativity) usually come back to one of these three things.
Here are my top four book recommendations (from a very large pile) on the creative ‘living’ process:
1. The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin
Wow, this new book is a gem. I never knew that Inspiration comes from the Latin—inspirare, meaning to breathe in or blow into. Much of the book is about how we create and hold the space to welcome the new.
It doesn’t come from our continual quest for efficiency and productivity - crossing items off a to-do list! Rubin writes:
“Sometimes disengaging is the best way to engage.”
2. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (and she has a great podcast series on the topic.)
If you find it hard to start projects or often blame circumstances or other people for interfering with your process, read this book.
At the heart of it lies a simple idea: “done is better than good.” Gilbert writes:
“When I refer to ‘creative living,’ I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”
3. Where Good Ideas Come From by(or watch his TED Talk).
The book explores one of my favourite concepts for creativity, the ‘adjacent possible’ – evolution + innovation = the realm of possibilities.
When we think about important inventions – from a flush toilet to a battery – we often don’t know enough about the kind of environment that breeds them. Ideas react to the environment in which they’re born. Some are too early, others too late.
Reading Steven’s newsletter - aptly named the- is like fertilizer for ideas.
“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries.”
4. The Messy Middle by(who also writes the newsletter )
The creative process is a journey from exploration to completion. We all experience highs and lows (and lulls) at certain points.
Understanding why they happen and how to get them through is the key to not abandoning projects when they get tough or stale. The idea that stuck with me is his idea of ‘finishing.’ Belsky writes:
“Finishes come in all shapes and sizes and are never as certain (or desirable) as they seem. In fact, finishing should never be the end goal, and you shouldn’t aspire to ever feel truly ‘finished’; life loses value when the challenge dissipates.”
Belsky is saying that a finish is just a stop on the path to something else.
One last thought: it took me a long time to join the dots between creativity and trust.
Here’s the connection…Don’t think that anything that’s out of your control is in your way. Remember, trust is a confident relationship with the unknown.
MORE FROM RETHINK WITH RACHEL.
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Here are some links to further reading recommendations from the Rethink archive:
Rethink Recommendations on Beliefs: After reading and researching a lot on the complicated and thorny topic of beliefs, here are my top recommendations on where you can start to dig deeper yourself.