In the vast ocean of self-help and entrepreneurship books out there targeted at the young creative, which ones will actually leave you changed, unable to see the world how you did before? I’m an obsessive non-fiction junkie, and if you ever meet me in person, ask me to show you my iBooks library. It’s an endless scroll of business and mindset buzzwords that all melt into each other, patiently waiting for me to read one day.
Here are seven books that have completely changed the way I saw creativity, business or life. They’re not in a particular order apart from the first, Creativity Inc, being my favourite book of all. The one thing all of them have in common is that they’re designed to make you better in some way or form. I sincerely hope you’ll give them a read soon, and feel as empowered to take action as I did.
TL;DR: Written by Pixar’s CEO and co-founder (along with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter), Ed Catmull dissects what it means to manage well. He goes into great detail about Pixar’s humble beginnings, and the why behind every decision along the way. Catmull is an incredibly emotive, warm writer. The book is largely about Pixar’s operational behind-the-scenes, but he generously and nonchalantly dishes wisdom throughout. He reveals Pixar’s renowned techniques and ideals, which shed light into the animation studio’s immense success. Example points: Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
Read This If:
- You’re a Pixar fangirl.
- You hate their Cars franchise.
- You’re nosy about what Steve Jobs was like from a non ass-kissing perspective.
- You’ve ever wondered what it was like to run the world’s most influential animation studio.
- You want to learn how to manage a highly effective creative team, when to delegate, how to motivate people, how to treat your employees, and when to take risks.
- You want to consistently top your own creative work.
“To be a truly creative company, you must start things that might fail.”
“There are two parts to any failure: there is the event itself, with all its attendant disappointment, confusion, and shame, and then there is our reaction to it. It is this second part that we control.”
“You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.”
“To ensure quality, then excellence must be an earned word, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.”
TL;DR: Deep work is the ability to completely immerse yourself into a mentally demanding task with focus, free from distraction. Newport proposes that it is only with this kind of true immersion that we will be able to accelerate our understanding and grasp of information, and produce better results in less time. It’s a fantastic read; truly enlightening on how distracted we are and how immediate we require entertainment in 2016. It’s an ode to leaning into boredom and discomfort, with great actionable advice you can apply to your life right away.
There were some parts of this book that I felt were speaking about me personally, and I couldn’t help but nervously sweat a bit while twiddling my thumbs. It was a needed wake up call to correct my distraction habits.
Read This If:
- You literally can’t go a minute without needing to be entertained in some way, be it checking your notifications on your iPhone or task-switching to YouTube videos as soon as your work becomes a little bit difficult.
- Boredom is your enemy.
- You’re a chronic procrastinator.
- You’re super easily distracted.
- You want to create high-quality work at a faster rate.
- You’re one of those people who has 29380928 tabs open at the same time.
“Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.”
“If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.”
“Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the “mental wrecks” in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.”
“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.”
4 Hour Work Week
TL;DR: I have an unabashed crush on Tim Ferriss, which I was perfectly fine with keeping to myself until I Googled his age and discovered he’s 39. I’m 23. I’ve known twenty-somethings to have affairs with 40-somethings, so this is only a little bit weird, right? Right?! :/
Out of all book recommendations here, this is the only one that I’ll admit could be suffering from mild bias. No apologies, I just love Tim.
Although I’m an avid listener of his podcasts, I only got around to reading The 4 Hour Work Week very recently. It turned out to be highly ironic as the mobility/time-focused lifestyle I’d been cultivating over the last three years is exactly what Ferriss preaches in this book. He’s all about maximizing efficient work, freeing you to dabble in other interests (his include tango dancing, Chinese, and scuba diving) and automating income. Clearly, we’re soulmates. Don’t tell my boyfriend this. Anyway, this book is a must-read for any millennial, in my humble opinion. Creative or not.
Read This If:
- You’re unexplainably drawn to INTJs.
- You think the mainstream 9-5, marriage, kids and retirement thing is outdated AF and you want to experiment with alternative lifestyles.
- You want to automate your income to have more free time to explore other interests.
- You have a thing against rules that don’t make sense to you.
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
“Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant. Being selective – doing less – is the path of the productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest.”
“Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.”
TL;DR: Greene superbly demonstrates his case for apprenticeships that span over many years as a means to achieve true mastery at a craft with the detailed research he has done on real life examples, both historic and modern: We learn how Charles Darwin hated ships, but sailed for years around the world studying biology, which is eventually how he came up with the first inklings of the whole evolution idea. We learn about Mozart’s dedication to composing, Albert Einstein’s curiosity, and other greats in their earlier, failure-ridden years.
It’s inspiring to say the least, and the book does a fantastic job in convincing you that by patiently putting in the time and work required, you, too, are capable of mastery. Which you are, by the way. 🙂
Read This If:
- You want to deeply commit yourself to your creative work and elevate its quality.
- You want to eventually be a master or a leader in your creative field.
- Persistence, patience and/or dedication come difficultly to you.
- You’ve always wondered how the greats, like Charles Darwin, Mozart or Henry Ford, accomplished what they did, and how they rose to the top.
- You want a lifelong love affair with what you do for money.
“There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.”
“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.”
“If we experience any failures or setbacks, we do not forget them because they offend our self-esteem. Instead we reflect on them deeply, trying to figure out what went wrong and discern whether there are any patterns to our mistakes.”
“Most people don’t have the patience to absorb their minds in the fine points and minutiae that are intrinsically part of their work. They are in a hurry to create effects and make a splash; they think in large brush strokes. Their work inevitably reveals their lack of attention to detail – it doesn’t connect deeply with the public, and it feels flimsy.”
“If you are doing something primarily for money and without a real emotional commitment, it will translate into something that lacks a soul and that has no connection to you. You may not see this, but you can be sure that the public will feel it and that they will receive your work in the same lackluster spirit it was created in.”
TL;DR: Wee little disclaimer – I read Eat Pray Love because it appeared on my mum’s bookshelf one day, and really wasn’t so keen. Luckily, Big Magic is entirely different. It asks you to embrace curiosity, let go of needless suffering, and does so in the most empathetic, warm, tender-hearted way. Big Magic was the big bear hug my creative soul didn’t know it sorely needed.
Creatives are often crippled by their own expectations that their work has to be something. Something great, grand, beautiful, or helpful. Gilbert expertly reminds you with her tender prose why you love creating in the first place. Because it lights up some part of your inner being, right? And that’s all that matters.
Read This If:
- You’re a fearful creative.
- ‘Eat Pray Love’ made you wary and doubtful of more Gilbert-isms.
- Your creative soul needs a big ol’ hug. Maybe a cuddle.
- You’re sick of that follow your passion bullshit and being pressured to turn your creative outlets into a viable income.
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”
“You’re not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words, it also doesn’t have to be important. For example, whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book in order to help other people I always think ‘Oh, please don’t. Please don’t try to help me.’ I mean it’s very kind of you to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”
Ego is the Enemy
TL;DR: Ryan Holiday is one of those people I want to become. At 29, he’s done enough for multiple lifetimes. He dropped out of college at 19 and became the Marketing Director of American Apparel at age 21 or something ridiculous, and ran international, controversial campaigns at the brand’s height of success. Soon after he wrote a bestselling novel (yeah, that’s right, Ego is the Enemy isn’t even his first), and became a household name.
I tried getting into this book by listening to the audiobook, narrated by Holiday himself. There’s some solace in knowing that he isn’t good at everything, because his voice actually makes the book seem worse than it is. So, yeah, go with the traditional paperback or Kindle version on this one.
Ego is glorified everywhere we look in contemporary society: on TV, on social media, so it’s quite a counter-intuitive notion to actively suppress it.
I’m particularly drawn to the idea of practicing humility and removing the self from work because it’s quite a Kiwi trait, and I find myself feeling like a dickbag whenever I know ego has come into play, anyway. Holiday sums it up best. “You will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness, and as a result, you will be liberated to accomplish the world-changing work you’ve set out to achieve.”
Read This If:
- You often look to external sources to validate the worth of your work.
- You feel the crests and troughs of success and failure more than you think you should.
- You’re interested in the active practice of humility.
- You want to consistently produce high-quality work without being so emotional about things.
- You’re an egotistical douchebag 😉
“Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.”
“Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It’s more “Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am.” It’s rarely the truth: “I’m scared. I’m struggling. I don’t know.”
“One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible. And certainly ego makes it difficult every step of the way. It is certainly more pleasurable to focus on our talents and strengths, but where does that get us? Arrogance and self-absorption inhibit growth. So does fantasy and ‘vision’.”
“The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”
It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be
TL;DR: A classic pocket bible essential for any creative entrepreneur. Paul Arden is one of the world’s top advertising gurus, and this little book is as funny as it is valuable. It’s all his little golden nuggets of wisdom packed into one powerful concentrated punch. As the title suggests, it’s all about turning the unthinkable and the impossible into achievable successes. There are anecdotes, quotes, facts, all of which are super easy to digest.
Stash somewhere you can easily reach for a shitty day pick-me-up, or when you’re just feeling a bit blah and need an injection of creative hustlin’ mojo.
Read This If:
- You lack the attention span to get through a conventional novel.
- You want a bunch of powerful manifestos to go to time and time again.
- You don’t think you’re currently that great, but you know you want to be incredible someday.
- You’re a bit hesitant on ‘selling’ yourself.
You’re a millennial. Yeah, that’s everyone who’s reading probably. Seriously though, INHGYA, IHGYWTB such a timeless little piece (but has the worst shorthand ever).
“If you always make the right decision, the safe decision, the one most people make, you will be the same as everyone else.”
“Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you go, and fix it along the way.”
“Be your own worst critic. When things go wrong it’s tempting to shift the blame. Don’t. Accept responsibility. People will appreciate it, and you will find out what you’re capable of.”
“Your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have.”
That’s all from me, creative souls.