Do musicians, artists, writers and business innovators have something you don’t have?  Is creativity something you are born with or is it a skill you can learn?

Gerard Puccio, who chairs the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, the first department of its kind, believes not only can you learn creativity, but that you had better. He argues that being creative is not a luxury; it is essential to surviving in today’s business world.

The idea for the department, which offers the world’s only Master of Science degree in creativity, has its roots in the innovative ideas of Alex Osborn, the mid-20th Century New York advertising executive who is the inspiration for the Sterling Cooper character in TV’s Mad Men. Osborn is credited with popularizing brainstorming, his way of provoking creative thinking.

One of the ways Puccio teaches creativity is by asking students to make a connection between a random object and a problem. The exercise (which is similar to several theater warm-up games) forces students to make new connections. These connections are the basis of the creative problem-solving techniques we can use in any kind of business.

Books On Creativity

Short of taking classes at Buffalo State (or at your local theater company), what can you do to boost your creative power at work? Here are a few books to get you started.

The Innovative Team by Chris Grivas and Gerard Puccio (2012)

Puccio and Grivas, an organizational and leadership development consultant, demystify the process of creative thinking in the workplace by creating a business fable. They tell the story of the transformation of a fictional business team from dysfunctional to creative.

The book is written as a guidebook for managers and team leaders who need ideas for jump-starting creative thinking. The basic four steps are clarifying the problem, generating ideas, developing solutions and implementing action.

Favorite quote: “We are not all equally creative, but we can improve our creativity. Sorry to say that we are not all Edisons, Fords, Zuckerbergs, Rowlings, Spielbergs or Angelous. The good news is no matter what your natural set point is for creative thinking, it can be enhanced through training and practice.”

Brain Rules by John Medina (second edition 2014)

You know from personal experience how creative thinking comes naturally to some people while others have to really work at it. Yes, we all do seem to be “wired” differently. But why does this happen and how can we unlock our creative side?

In this fascinating book, molecular biologist John Medina describes how the brain works and how we can learn to unlock certain abilities. Among many other topics, he discusses how stress, exercise and sleep can change the way we learn and how “use it or lose it” applies to our cognition and memory skills.

This book offer ideas for better using your brain, and when you get right down to it, that is the key to creativity.

Favorite quote: “If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what a brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a cubicle. And if you wanted to change things, you might have to tear both down and start over.”

Dear Theo by Vincent Van Gogh and Irving Stone (1937, paperback published 1995)

This is not a how-to book, but rather a glimpse into the mind of a creative genius. Almost every night, Vincent Van Gogh poured his heart and soul out in letters to his brother, Theo. Stone has edited the actual 1670 pages of Van Gogh’s letters into what he calls a “swiftly flowing, continuous, normal-sized book” There are 480 pages in the 1997 paperback.

You will think about creativity and the creative mindset in a new way after reading this book.

Favorite quote: “Try to walk as much as you can, and keep your love for nature, for that is the true way to learn to understand art more and more. Painters understand nature and love her and teach us to see her. If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere.”

Disciplined Dreaming by Josh Linkner (2011)

Josh Linkner uses his experience in business and as a jazz musician as well as the advice of the many artists, entrepreneurs and CEOs he has interviewed to offer a five-step process for workplace creativity. The steps are: ask, prepare, discover, ignite and launch, and he teaches them through real-life stories and practical examples and exercises.

This book could provide the framework you need to get the ideas flowing in your office.

Favorite quote: “Businesses have systems and processes for everything, from answering the phone to taking out the trash. Remarkably, most companies have no such system for the one thing that matters most: developing and growing creative capacity…Companies that have “innovation processes” often stifle the creativity of their organizations by making those processes too rule driven, formal and restrictive.”

Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko (second edition 2006)

Most of the best ideas are simple. We think, “Why didn’t I come up with that?” This is a book that helps you realize you can. Michael Michalko offers techniques and tools for thinking differently and for approaching problems in new ways.

Each chapter begins with a quote from The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Michalko theorizes that Tzu’s principles apply to creativity in the workplace and in life as well as to warfare.

Favorite Quote: “If you act like an idea person, you will become one. It is the intention and going through the motions of being creative that counts…Give your mind a workout every day. Set yourself and idea quota for a challenge you are working on, such as five new ideas every day for a week…The more ideas you come up with, the greater your chances of coming up with a winner.”

Can You Learn To Be Creative? Here Are Some Books On Creativity To Help