To Top

16 Books Every Creative Should Read

The best books on creativity, leadership and design.

In a world where people now officially have a shorter attention span than goldfish (serious – read this) bite-sized information often trumps a good book. But I still believe that you constantly have to keep seeking out new ideas and perspectives so you can keep evolving your palette on creativity, design and everything that touches your creative process. I have found the ability to develop your palette is an essential skill that goes constantly overlooked because people think that their talent alone is enough to create great ideas or designs. I think that would be true if we were just creating art for art’s sake but since we are creative designs and experiences that are going to be used by other people we need to start with a constantly evolving context of what else those people are experiencing.  It gives you a measuring stick and insights into what works and what doesn’t. It gives your palette context. You can then use your palette to know when you have created an idea that stand out from the crowd. But you also have to understand that this cycle consumption and developing your palette never stops no matter how long you have been in the industry. It has to continue because your palette has to be constantly evolving to keep up with changes in society, psychology, technology and design. I have seen many great creatives who think that they know it all or that they don’t need to keep up this constant evolution are the ones who quickly find their work and their careers in the dumpster.

You also have to understand that no book, article or tweet is ever going to be a silver bullet to great thinking and creativity. This is because all of this new information is great but all it will do is give you a way to evaluate your creative process not revolutionize it because every single person has a different way that they connect the dots in their process. So it’s up to you to take these new insights / perspectives and figure out how to apply them to the way you create ideas.

So with so many book out there how do you know which ones are any good? This is a list of the books that I always keep on my iPad, I re-read the most and are the ones that I give to my teams to read.


One of the biggest challenges I find with leading creatives is all levels is that very few of them really understand their creative process and know how to summon their best creativity on demand. These books are my favorites on how to get to know and strengthen you creative process.

Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality
By Scott Belsky – Buy it here

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day
By Todd Henry – Buy it here

The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice
By Todd Henry – Buy it here


Once you understand you creative process then the next part is having the ability to express and sell your ideas through a unique perspective. These books are my favorites on how to find and use your voice to be a more effective creative and leader. 

Louder than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice
By Todd Henry – Buy it here

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All
By Tom Kelley – Buy it here

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
By Simon Sinek – Buy it here


Even if you understand and can express your ideas managing your career is a whole different problem. These books are my favorites on how to make the most of your career to be able to do the type of work and get the types of opportunities you really want.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind
By Jocelyn Glei – Buy it here

Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career
By Jocelyn Glei – Buy it here


The world desperately needs a lot more people who really understand how to lead and inspire creative teams to do great work and overcome the political challenges that can stand in the way of that work seeing the light of day. 

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
By Ed Catcall – Buy it here

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
By Simon Sinek – Buy it here


The reality is that there is no substitution for hard work in being successful. This book by David Pye is my favorite on understanding the nature and art of the workmanship that you need to put into your craft,

The Nature and Art of Workmanship
By David Pye – Buy it here


Many people find a huge challenge when they go to work on a client-side creative team because there are just a lot of different challenges than you will find working in an agency. This book by the late Gordon MacKenzie is one I re-read at least once a year because it is a simple and funny reminder of how to overcome the hairball of corporate creativity. 

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace
By Gordon MacKenzie – Buy it here


Over the years I have had to put a huge amount of work into becoming a great public speaker because it is a skill that did not come naturally to me at all. These are my favorite books on how to become a better and more effective public speaker. 

Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life
By Tom Asacker – Buy it here

Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds
By Carmine Gallo – Buy it here


Innovation is another subject where a lot of people talk about it but few people really understand how to actually create and launch innovative ideas. This book from IDEO looks at the 10 different types of people who you need on any project to be able to get to real breakthrough on a regular basis.

The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization
By Tom Kelley – Buy it here


Finally here are two books that I really like about how to create stronger and more resonant brands that can really connect with consumers.

The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers into True Believers
By Douglas Atkin – Buy it here

The Business of Belief: How the World’s Best Marketers, Designers, Salespeople, Coaches, Fundraisers, Educators, Entrepreneurs and Other Leaders Get Us to Believe
By Michael Port – Buy it here


I would love to hear from you about it there are some other books that you really love, have gottena lot out of or have seen have a positive on your team. Feel free to tweet @sdgates any of those books so I can add them to the list.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More in Creative direction