One of the best gifts we can give ourselves as creative pros is to regularly fill our minds with challenging thoughts and commune with great minds. In the same way that  the kind of food we eat affects how our body performs and grows, the stimuli we put into our mind affect our capacity to think systemically and generate new ideas when we need them.

Breadth of stimuli will give us lots of data points to draw from when we’re doing our work. But we also need to sit with, think about, process, and apply stimuli that challenges our existing thought patterns and helps us to see the world in new ways. It’s also important to recognize that thought without action is largely useless. Unless we’re willing to apply what we learn, it will be of little value to us.

With that in mind, here are five insightful (and intentionally a bit lesser known) books that could – if you allow them – significantly change your creative game:

Orbiting The Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie

Gordon MacKenzie held the title of Creative Paradox at Hallmark. (Yes…that was his official title.) In this gem of a book, he shares how to draw from the resources of corporate life without getting sucked into the bureaucracy. It’s a quick, highly visual read, but is packed full of nuggets that have helped me reframe the role of the corporate creative.

“Orville Wright did not have a pilot’s license.” – Orbiting The Giant Hairball

The Everyday Work of Art by Eric Booth
I wrote about this book in a recent post. Eric Booth argues that life is best lived when treated as art and approached with an artist’s method. What I love most about Booth’s approach is that it is a strong argument for stepping back from the chaos of life and work in order to notice patterns. It offers suggestions for how to do this is small ways throughout your daily routine.

Where we invest our attention, that is what we become. – The Everyday Work of Art

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore
The “P” word is the bane of nearly every creative’s existence. Procrastination kills our drive and is a self-perpetuating cycle that eventually drags us under. Neil Fiore offers several strategic bits of advice based on his experience as a psychologist and trainer, all designed to help you get moving – now – on your most important work.

The three major fears that block action and create procrastination are the terror of being overwhelmed, the fear of failure, and the fear of not finishing. – The Now Habit

Accidental Genius by Mark Levy
I must admit that I was thoroughly unaware of this book until about two months ago. I was chatting on the phone with Julien Smith, and was sharing with him that I’d hit a bit of a block in thinking through my next book. He suggested I check out Mark Levy’s book, so I did. After applying his principles for a few days, I blazed through my writing and finished the project. Levy suggests using “free writing” as a means of unlocking hidden creative ideas and potentially useful insights. It’s unbelievably effective.

By writing continuously, you force the edit-crazy part of your mind into a subordinate position, so the idea-producing part can keep spitting out words. – Accidental Genius

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
This book was instrumental in helping me parse the difference between “occupation” (how I make my living) and “vocation”, or the deep, resonant themes that define my best work. Palmer shares reflections from his own journey of discovery, through depression, and onward to unlocking his role as an educator and writer.

Vocation at its deepest level is, “This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.”

So…there are a lot of oft-discussed books that I’ve (intentionally) left off. Your turn: what are some life-altering books that you’d add to this list? Add one here.

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