It's so easy to get stuck in ruts and fall into habitual patterns with your work. Even the most creative and prolific people struggle with this from time to time. That's when it can be helpful to have a tool to shake up your thinking and behavior and to force you to explore new avenues of thought.

Below is a list of excellent, but often overlooked books that can help you re-frame your work and unlock new ideas. (There is a full list containing dozens more recommendations on my bookshelf.)


Orbiting The Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie

MacKenzie was the former Creative Director at Hallmark. He argues in this highly enjoyable book that the mission of a creative professional is to avoid getting pulled into the bureaucracy - the "hairball" - of the organization, and to maintain distance and perspective so that creativity can flourish.

"Orville Wright did not have a pilot's license." - Gordon MacKenzie


Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis

This book is an exploration of how the most productive teams in recent history flourished, and some of the lessons that we might be able to apply to our own team environment. These "Great Groups", as Bennis calls them, include PARC, The Manhattan Project, and the early days of Apple and Disney.

"People who are trying to change the world need to be isolated from it, free from its distractions, but still able to tap its resources." - Warren Bennis


Cracking Creativity by Michael Michalko

If you're looking for methods to jog innovative thoughts, this is your tool. Michalko has packed this book full of lateral thinking tools, and strategies for re-framing your problem and seeing what you're not even looking for.

"Geniuses think productively, not reproductively. When confronted with a problem, they ask themselves how many different ways they can look at the problem... instead of asking how they have been taught to solve it." - Michael Michalko


Powers Of Two by Joshua Wolf Shenk

Most of us do our work in collaboration with others, which introduces unique complexity into the creative process. Shenk examined creative duos throughout history (John Lennon/Paul McCartney, Marie and Pierre Curie, Steve Jobs/Steve Wozniak) to deconstruct how their collaborations functioned and to extract lessons for effective collaboration.

"The star may present as swaggering and all-powerful, but this is a symptom of profound uncertainty. It's natural, then, for the star to associate with someone who is quietly self-assured -- who can assure him. The front person may still need to be seen as in control - that's often part of the shtick. But he is constantly watching his bellwether." -- Joshua Wolf Shenk


At its heart, this book is about opening up to new ways of approaching your life with creativity and artistic intent. It issues a challenge to consider the ruts and habitual patterns that are keeping your best insights locked up, and offers strategies for re-structuring your life for moments of serendipity.

"Your habits are metaphors for who you are. Francis Bacon wrote that, 'Habits are the daughters of action.'" - Eric Booth


BONUS: Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention my own book, The Accidental Creative, which is about how to structure your life and habits to help you deal with the pressure of the create-on-demand world.


Answers don't live in books, but the ideas books contain can help you re-frame your work and experiences so that you are looking in the right places for insights. Make certain that you are filling your mind with inspiring, challenging stimuli that will fuel your creative process.