The Power of Intuition

By Gary Klein

The very same things are what excited me and disappointed me the most in this book. It presents intuition as a very no-nonsense ability that is critical for effective decision making, and gives advice on how to train to be better at it. Exactly what I wanted! On the other hand, it describes "intuition" as simply the ability to learn to detect patterns and apply past experiences to current situations, without consciously realizing  you've made that match - which is rather less romantic than I might hope for something as big and spooky as "intuition" to be. Once I set aside my childish disappointment, though, I found this book to be full of gems, and more importantly, to include detailed instructions on how to practice and train your team on these skills. I was expecting some help on decision making and ended up walking away with great techniques for leadership and creativity as well. 

Get it here.

The Consolations of Philosophy

By Alain de Botton

This book provides a great overview of the tradition of Western philosophy. Besides providing useful summaries of some of the major thinkers and what their philosophy can do for you in your life, it shows the the connecting threads between thinkers that might seem totally unrelated at first glance. Each chapter gives a brief thumbnail of the biography and thinking of a major philosopher, which is great, but what's really useful about this book is that every chapter addresses a specific concern that everyone faces - such as unpopularity, money, and frustration. Alain's style is warm and gentle, with a hint of detached humor that makes for enjoyable reading. If you've ever thought "I wish I knew more about philosophy", this is the place to start.

Get it here.

Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

By Robert Pirsig

Despite my initially somewhat negative reaction to this book, it has become one of my "operating manuals" for life. Even when I first read it and disagreed with much of what it said, I found a lot of compelling food for thought. Paradoxically, the very thing that made me uncomfortable initially has become its greatest value to me: the questioning of received ideas of values and building new ones up from scratch. A fascinating look at depth, focus, and quality. 

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The Artist's Way

By Julia Cameron

I have to admit that if I picked this book up sight unseen and flipped through it, I would likely have put it back on the shelf - it has a lot of markers for being a bit too "woo woo" or "touchy feely" for my usual tastes. Fortunately, it came highly recommended by a bunch of well-grounded people that I respect, so I decided to give it a shot, and I'm glad I did. The basic premise is that everyone can be creative, but most of us have developed the idea that we're not allowed to or have otherwise blocked our access to our creative selves. To counteract this, it provides a twelve week guided program to lead to greater creativity. I'm not very far into the program, but already I am seeing the benefit of its two core habits: Morning Pages and Artist Dates. If you are already convinced that you could be more creative with some help and don't need as much back up, consider going straight to the workbook.

Get it here.

Jeff RussellCreativity
Strategy: A History

By Lawrence Freedman

Man oh man am I loving this book. It puts out a comprehensive record of thinking about the concept of strategy in western thought from the Bible and Homer all the way to modern theorists. Along the way, Freedman provides analysis of the strengths and shortcomings of the various formulations and their applications. Despite what might turn into a dry, intellectual subject, the book is quite clear and readable, moving briskly through trends and eras of thought. For me, it's greatest value is highlighting the connections and influences between figures as disparate as Thucydides, Machiavelli, and John Boyd. I suspect that I will be coming back to my notes on this and its bibliography for years to come. 

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The 4-Hour Chef

By Tim Ferriss

Besides being a phenomenal "learn to cook from nothing" cookbook, this also actually a book on how to learn anything. Meta-learning is like catnip to me, and I was already a huge Tim Ferriss fan when this came out, so I snapped it right up. Apparently it hasn't done as well as his other books and it was dealing with it's rough release that led him to start his podcast. I was shocked to learn this, because to me it was more of what I had gotten in The 4 Hour Workweek and The 4 Hour Body, but better refined and figured out. The frameworks in this book are invaluable companions to other "how to learn" frameworks like Scott Young and Cal Newport. Even if you're already a master cook, check this book out for it's advice on how to deconstruct a skill and ask experts the right questions to fast track insights and skills.

Get it here.

The Elements of Style

By William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White

I mentioned this book in my post on Storytelling Resources, but I thought it deserved its own call out. An incredibly slim book, you can read and understand it in an evening, but will likely return to it again and again. This book clearly lays out the rules of modern American usage and style, favoring concise, vigorous prose. Even if you enjoy waxing more eloquent, this provides a great starting place from which to depart. It's also admirably organized, with a detailed table of contents and clear headings for the rules it propounds, making it ideal as a reference work (which it will be for the vast majority of its usefulness, since it will only take an hour or two to read it the first time). If you write at all for your living or for pleasure, you should have this book in easy reach at all times.

Get it here.

Jeff RussellStorytelling, Writing
Leonardo da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson

I have long irrationally avoided biographies, despite encountering a few excellent ones like Team of Rivals, so I decided I needed to remedy that to read one about a personal hero of mine. Leonardo stands as the archetypal "Renaissance Man", with achievements in art, architecture, science and more all under his belt. His brilliant and beautiful notebooks make any journaler feel inadequate. And yet, one of the most reassuring parts of this book is that it seems unlikely that Leonardo was as set apart intellectually as an Einstein or a Newton, nor as naturally artistically gifted as a Michaelangelo. Instead, Leonardo learned everything through a combination of insatiable curiosity and determined attention and focus. He was also able to turn his varied interests and propensity for abandoning projects into a firm set of multidisciplinary knowledge that spurred creative insight across fields. So he's something of a role model for those of us who worry we didn't win the genetic lottery or feel a lack of focus. This book is fantastic and humanizing while still highlighting the key takeaways from his life that we can enjoy in our own.

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Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative

By Will Eisner

Written by a giant of the sequential art field, this book covers the insights from decades of creating and teaching about the use of comics to tell stories. Eisner defends and establishes the usefulness and seriousness of the form as a literary medium, capable of addressing themes and issues that matter. The central tenet of the book is that the visuals must be shaped by the needs of the story and not the other way around - otherwise you get lured into meaningless set pieces that serve no purpose but to show off something that looks good. It covers a lot of the same ground as the other works we've discussed on Storytelling, but does so with beautiful illustrations (duh) and a very different focus than works addressed primarily to crafters of prose.

Get it here.

Save the Cat!

By Blake Snyder

Tim Ferriss recommended this book for writers of all kinds, despite its focus on screenwriting. I came to it in order to get a variety of perspectives on storytelling (speaking, writing fiction, writing screenplays, and so forth). Despite the fact that I often watch movies and think "I could have written something better than that!", I have no particular ambition to become a screenwriter, but I have nonetheless found this little book quite helpful. It's advice to get really clear about what your story is about applies across the board, and I appreciate its brass tacks focus on the fact that for anybody to ever experience your fantastic art, you have to sell it, which means people have to want to buy it. Definitely check it out if you're looking for a quick, fun read on how to write punchy things that get people's attention.

Get it here.

Turning Pro

By Steven Pressfield

We've talked before about War of Art and it's discussion of Resistance, the force within us that stops us from creating and achieving what we might. Well, Turning Pro is Pressfield's "how to" on overcoming that force, and it mostly comes down to doggedly showing up to do the work every day, regardless of how inspired you're feeling. While I find War of Art more inspirational overall, this work is a great companion that gives you concrete steps of what to do when you commit to following the advice in WoA.

Get it here.

The Story Grid

By Shawn Coyne

This book has been on my list for a long time, but I only just now got around to reading it, and man was I missing out! It breaks down the mysterious art of writing a story that "works" into comprehensible and testable steps. That's what I think is most remarkable about this book: not that it tells you the components of a story that works (we've been getting that since Aristotle), but that it gives you tools to tighten up the feedback loop on your stories - you can evaluate your success or failure and make adjustments using these tools. You still have to put in the work and get inspired by the Muse, but all of the guesswork is removed. It has a really strong emphasis on writing fiction, but the lessons are applicable to any sort of storytelling.

Get it here.

Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentation

By Dan Roam

I've been using the approach outlined in this book for years now, thanks to some fantastic mentors at work, but I only just got around to reading it. I don't know what took me so long to get to it - it was great, and it only took me a little over two hours to read even taking a lot of notes. The basic premise of the book is that you should tell the truth, you should tell it as a story, and you should present the story with pictures as much as possible. It goes into more detail on how to make all of that happen of course, but if you're only ever going to read one book on how tell a story that people will care about, read this one. The four presentation Storylines (Presentation Underlying Message Architectures, or PUMAs) are worth the price of admission alone.

Get it here.

Simple Rules

By Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt

This book identifies six types of "simple rules" that offer enough guidance to be useful but enough flexibility to respond to complexity. More exciting than that, it walks through how to create your own simple rules for work and life. Unless you're my kind of geek, it's not the sexiest topic in the world, but for one thing, it's shockingly useful, and for another, the authors use a conversational tone that makes for pleasant reading. Whether you're looking to make better decisions about investing, dating, or your company's strategy, this book has you covered.

How We Got to Now

By Steven Johnson

I worry a bit that this is becoming the Steven Johnson fan club, but I am really enjoying his books recently. This one takes a look at history through the lens of what was made possible through the development of some key technologies, like glass and sanitation. Besides providing a plethora of fun trivia, like the fact that in the mid nineteenth century it was more practical to raise the entire city 10 feet than to tunnel under it to install a sewer system, or that chlorinating water reduced infant mortality by ~40%, the book provides a fascinating reframe of how we normally process history. Instead of looking at decisions made by individuals or trends embodied in governments and cultures, it asks "what couldn't have happened without this technology that did happen after it was invented?" Maybe not as immediately useful as Where Good Ideas Come From, but it's possibly a more approachable and enjoyable introduction to Johnson's style. Definitely check it out.

Synchronicity

By Carl Gustav Jung, trans H.F.C. Hull

If you're like me, you probably have a vague idea of Jung from high school English classes, and something about archetypes. Maybe you heard he was an important influence on Lucas when he made Star Wars. If you studied psychology, you may have gotten a brief discussion about how he was important psychologist for a while, but we've moved past his outdated theories. Well, I'm here to tell you that Jung is both weirder and smarter than you probably think, and that makes it worth reading his stuff for yourself. Synchronicity is a perfect introduction because it is short and enjoyably mind-bending. Jung basically argues that disparate events can be meaningfully linked in ways besides causality. If nothing else, it is an enjoyable mental exercise to wrestle with such an alien concept, and who knows, you might gain a richer understanding of your own experience of the world. 

Buy it here.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

By Julian Jaynes

I just couldn't resist a book about where the voice in your head comes from when today's post is about imagining other people's voices. I have no idea at how well regarded this book is currently as a credible explanation of where consciousness came from, but it makes a fantastic tool for imagining what if the world really were that way? What would it mean? The book argues that "consciousness" - an almost unending voice in your head that narrates your thoughts and what's going on and is perceived as "yourself" is actually a rather recent phenomenon. Jaynes says that the Old Testament documents a culture going through the transition, and that you see similar evidence in Mesopotamian history as well. There's nothing immediately practical here, but it's enjoyably mind-blowing. Plus, season one of Westworld will make a lot more sense, so there's also that.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellScience, Psychology
Extreme Ownership

By Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

This one is not explicitly about creativity, but I think you'll find it more helpful in that respect than you might think at first glance. Written by a pair of Navy SEAL officers who served together in Ramadi, Iraq when it was at its worst, this book lays out deceptively simple principles for effective leadership. I say deceptive because simple does not mean easy. Following the straightforward advice is much harder than understanding it. Which brings us to creativity: this book's advice on building discipline will help you immensely in building the habits you need for quality creativity. If you want to get a taste, or if you read the book and can't get enough, check out the Jocko Podcast.

Buy it here.

Ego is the Enemy

By Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday has been behind a lot of what I've talked about here and a lot of the links I've shared, but I haven't called him out explicitly yet. He's a modern day exponent of an ancient philosophy, and though my interest in stoicism predates my exposure to Holiday, I have found his works useful and engaging. He's best known for The Obstacle is the Waywhich has been hugely influential with top performers from the business world to the NFL, but I have found this book more useful personally. It is a systematic analysis of how prone we all are to excessive self regard and the ways that destroys you - whether you are aspiring, achieving, or failing. Ego also hinders true creativity because it stops you from the real work you need to push limits and discover new frontiers.

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellStoicism, Philosophy
The One Minute Workout

By Martin Gibala, Christopher Shulgan

Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi like to joke about how much their book titles sound like infomercials, but I have to admit that this book has them beat by a mile - One Minute Workout? That's even crazier than six minute abs. What you find when you actually dig in, though, is a thorough discussion of the science and benefits of High Intensity Interval Training. Even better, it presents a variety of HIIT workouts you can try out for your own health. Bang-for-buck-wise, HIIT is the king of exercises. Even better, training your heart to speed up and slow down regularly has dramatic effects on your brain's ability to do the same - so following the workouts in this book will help you not only be healthier, but more creative to boot. Not a bad deal for one minute (plus another 9 of warm up, cool down, and rest - but I can't blame them for the catchy title).

Buy it here.

Jeff RussellExercise, Wellness