June 1, 2019
Summer Reading to Support Your Creativity
Each year about this time, I share the books that I’ve read that I think you might like to pick up this summer, or share with a friend.
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019)
A question that I’m asked a lot is, “How do you write a book?” Many people are curious to know how someone goes through the actual process of creating something that was born in the imagination. When he set out to write consistently in his blog, Mason Currey was curious about this exact topic. What could he learn from great artists, composers, writers, dancers, philosophers?
Currey’s exploration turned into one of my all-time favorite books for supporting creativity, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. It’s a beautiful, compact hardcover full of short vignettes on the routines of creators from Benjamin Franklin to Buckminster Fuller.
This book is not prescriptive; it doesn’t tell you what you should do to make room for your own craft. Its vignettes describe approaches that are as distinct as individuals. Daily Rituals proves that there is no one right way to design your own practices and it inspires you to do the same.
Just the other month, Currey came out with another book with even more stories of the creative routines of past and contemporary women creators. I learned about so many women I’d never even heard of, while gaining more insights into distinct creative processes and empathy for those who dedicate their lives to creating.
The dancer Martha Graham’s words, quoted in Daily Rituals: Women at Work, summarize the meaning the book has to me:
“You can spend every evening talking with your friends and colleagues about your dreams, but they will remain just that—dreams. . . Talk is a privilege and one must deny oneself that privilege.”
In other words, figure out a routine that works for you to dedicate time to making the mark you want to make.
Who should read: Those who want to make their own creative marks on the world. People who are curious about well- and lesser-known famous artists and how they actually got their art done. Makes an excellent graduation gift for women writers, theater majors, dancers, artists.
(New York: HarperCollins, 2018)
I’ve found each of Todd Rose’s books compelling and insightful. Square Peg catalogues his journey from terrible student and high school dropout to Harvard professor. The secret: As he finally started to understand himself and his individual strengths and motivations—and ignore the experts—Rose was able to progress in his life.
End of Average is a compelling argument against evaluating and educating people in the context of average metrics. Rose argues that no one is average; when we use averages we marginalize individual strength and possibility. I couldn’t agree more, and Dark Horse takes the argument further.
At Harvard, Rose and his colleagues are studying the lives of people who have become unlikely successes. They may have started as poor students or low-end workers but have now achieved prominence in fields from dog training to astronomy to custom suit making. What are the secrets of these come-from-behind achievers?
The number one commonality that emerged from their research is that these “dark horses” prioritize fulfillment in their lives. They don’t blindly take the dictated path, but understand their own micro-motivations, learning strategies, and strengths. They “engineer their passion” by putting these all together with the opportunities that present themselves.
“The key to attaining fulfillment and excellence is a mindset that empowers you to fit your circumstances to your unique interests and abilities . . . Harness your individuality in the pursuit of fulfillment to achieve excellence.” (20)
Dark horse stories are read in the context of the shift that Rose says is now taking place in our world, moving from an Age of Standardization to an Age of Personalization. He describes the dark horse mindset, and asserts that this approach is valid and indeed essential for longterm satisfaction in today’s world. In two words: “Individuality matters.” (11)
Who should read: Educators, parents, and anyone who has been criticized by others for taking a winding path in their lives and careers—or those who are considering doing so.
(New York: Henry Holt, 2018)
Even if you love social media and plan to always keep your accounts, I highly recommend this book. Jason Lanier helps us analyze the differences among platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google, gaining at least an awareness of the degrees of agency we are trading away to use them. As one of the original inventors of virtual reality, Lanier knows what he is talking about. Here are some of the most poignant statements from the book:
The problem is relentless, robotic, ultimately meaningless behavior modification in the service of unseen manipulators and uncaring algorithms. (23)
The unplanned nature of the transformation from advertising to direct behavior modification caused an explosive amplification of negativity in human affairs. (20)
With nothing else to seek but attention, ordinary people tend to become a$*holes, because the biggest a$*holes get the most attention. (30)
If, when you participate in online platforms, you notice a nasty thing inside yourself, an insecurity, a sense of low self-esteem, a yearning to lash out, to saw someone down, then leave that platform. Simple . . . Your character is the most precious thing about you. Don’t let it degrade. (51-52)
We have given up our connection to context. Social media mashes up meaning. Whatever you say will be contextualized and given meaning by the way algorithms, crowds, and crowds of fake people who are actually algorithms mash it up with what other people say. (65)
Who should read: Anyone who uses social media, Google, and the internet in general.
The Non-Obvious Guide to Being More Creative by Kathryn Haydon
(Washington, D.C.: IdeaPress Publishing, Sept 2019)
Though it won’t be here in time for summer, we had to put this on your reading list to preorder now so you can maximize your creative thinking next fall.
I wrote this book as part of The Non-Obvious Guide Series.
Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.