Recommendations: Creativity and Problem Solving

Last modified on March 10, 2012   About this page

Creativity and Problem Solving

The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall
The Storytelling AnimalJonathan Gottshcall discusses why stories are so pervasive in our lives, in a well written, compelling book that explores the science, history, and future of stories and storytelling. Among other things, the book covers why children and adults create and consume fiction, the science of dreams, the role of stories in influencing (and defining) history, and what technology means for the future of stories. Not just full of interesting facts, many chapters start out in the manner of a compelling story, drawing you into learning about the science and history of story telling, proving the point stories are a great way to learn. Many of my favorite technical books interlace stories with technical details. If you are curious about how the mind works, and in the science and role of stories, or even just want some great examples of how to use story to make a point, read this book. (This review is based on a pre-publication review copy).

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Just My Type by Simon Garfield
Just My Type Since typography is a highly visible part of user experience, it is an area anyone who builds applications with user interfaces should be familiar with. This book is full of history, facts, and trivia, and pointers to where to find more information. Typography geeks will find many references to familiar facts and sources as well as updated information. Those who are not familiar with some of the classics of typography will learn enough to get a sense of whether they want to learn more. Everyone will discover much about fonts and typography to inform decisions about what font to use when the next open a rich-text editor. Everyone who uses fonts, who is not otherwise schooled in typography should give this book a look. And even those who are experts may benefit from Garfield's perspective.

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The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
The Checklist ManifestoThis is a book written by a surgeon, talking about how doctors, structural engineers, pilots and others use checklists to manage complexity and manage risk. While reading it, I kept thinking of all the things the scenarios he described has in common with software projects, and how the checklists reenforced the same values that agile software teams hold dear. Gawande illusrates how checklists help people be more creative, more productive and solve problems by allowing people to focus on the novel parts of a problem. What I especially liked was the recurring theme of how complex problems are best solved by teams and not heroic individuals, and how processes, like those guided by checklists can help foster teamwork. This is an easy to read book that helps you understand what all complex endeavors have in common, regardless of profession, and gives you one approach to managing this complexity. Read it if you want to understand how to write good checklists and use them effectively, and to address the negative perceptions colleagues have about processes and checklists.

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Getting Things Done by David Allen
Getting Things DoneA simple approach for keeping of track of what you want to do, doing what's important, and ignoring what's not. While the concepts are simple, the book is worth a read to understand the execution.

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Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising
Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New IdeasThe material in this book is excellent, having been developed over a number of years. In addition to wonderful, well written, patterns that advise you on how to spread ideas, this books is full of stories that help you to understand how to use the patterns effectively to influence people, overcome roadblocks, and spread new ideas. Anyone who has new ideas to share will benefit from this book including: Managers and Team members, Professionals and Volunteers, people in industry and those in community organizations.

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Communication Gaps and How to Close Them by Naomi Karten
Communication Gaps and How to Close ThemIf you work with or live with other people you should read this book. It is filled with information on understanding how communication gaps happen, and practical advice for resolving commuunications issues with other people. Most of the advice seems obvious, yet it if often the obvious that one needs to be reminded of. Among the extremely practical bits of information in the book is are dicussions of communication models (so that you can understand why communication might break down), and a chapter on how to write Service Level Agreements.

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Requirements by Collaboration: Workshops for Defining Needs by Ellen Gottesdiener
Requirements by Collaboration: Workshops for Defining NeedsThis book is about running requirements workshops and more. Requirements workshops are an important tool for understanding what you need to build. The techniques in this book will be useful in many other group discussion settings, and will help you have more productive meetings. The book discusses, among other things, roles in workshops and decision rules (deciding how to decide). Each chapter ends with a list of excellent references that you can use to probe further on techniques. Anyone who is involved in group decision making should own a copy of this book, read it, and refer back to it often.

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Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work by Rob Austin and Lee Devin
Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists WorkThe principles that this book discusses: Release, Collaboration Ensemble and Play are extremely relevant to creating effective software teams. The principles are inspired by observing how theatre companies work, but they also have a basis in lean manufacturing. If you work as a software developer or manager and have ever worked on a theatre production (community theatre or at school) a light will go on immediately. If you haven't The data that the authors provide about lean manufacturing practices and software development will convince you that there is a lot that we can learn from this metaphor. The theatre examples will be helpful in explaining how the principles work if you need to communicate them to a manager who does not understand software development. Buy this book and place it along side your books on agile software development; you will want to read it and refer back to it frequently.

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Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
FlowThis book discusses the psychology of optimal experience, in other words, happiness. This books is not a how-to book, but rather a why book. Reading this book may give you great insights into how to enjoy all aspects of your work and private life.


Writers' Workshops & the Work of Making Things: Patterns, Poetry... by Richard Gabriel
Writers' Workshops & the Work of Making Things: Patterns, Poetry...This is a unique book. It tells you about the writers workshop process. The writers workshop process has its origins in the creative writing community, and has been used in the software patterns community. Richard Gabriel explains how the process can also be used in other domains where creative effort is involved, such as reviewing marketing materials. I book for two reasons. First it provide great insight into the creative process (as applied to anything) and the values that are used in the writers workshop can benefit anyone who creates things, even if they don't use the workshop process. Second, if you do want to use writers workshops, this book explains the hows and whys of them. I had been involved in workshopping software patterns since 1995, and I though that I pretty much understood what they were about. I learned a lot reading this book. I recommend this book for anyone who involved in the creative process(of any sort): Software engineers, writers, teachers, and students.


Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency by Tom DeMarco.
Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total EfficiencyThis is an excellent book that explains very clearly how working longer hours with fewer resources in the quest for efficiency is counter productive for knowledge work, such as software development. This is a quick read, with many interesting stories to support the assertions that the book makes. The book is targeted at managers but also makes the point that leadership can happen at any level in the organization.


The Psychology of Computer Programming, Silver Anniversary Edition by Gerald M. Weinberg
The Psychology of Computer Programming, Silver Anniversary EditionA classic book! This is the original text with comments by Weinberg at the end of each chapter on what he'd say differently now. It is easy to get past the examples which revolve around batch systems, and realize that the core ideas in the book are still valid.

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Becoming a Technical Leader : An Organic Problem-Solving Approach by Gerald Weinberg.
Becoming a Technical Leader : An Organic Problem-Solving ApproachThis book has lots of good information for technical people at all levels. This book even has some good work-style and problem solving ideas for non-technical people.

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The Secrets of Consulting by Gerald Weinberg.
The Secrets of ConsultingEveryone consults, according to Weinberg, and you'll find lots of useful stuff here, whether you are a full time employee, contract employee, or someone who is considering consulting.

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More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultants Toolkit by Gerald Weinberg.
More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultants ToolkitThis book talks about how you can keep yourself focused on doing the right things. The text and examples are geared to consultants, but most everyone will find these "tools" useful.

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Systems Thinking by Gerald Weinberg
Systems ThinkingThe three books of the 4 volume Quality Software Management series I've read (Volume 1: Systems Thinking , Volume 2: First-Order Measurement , and Volume 3: Congruent Action ) had really good stuff on the people issues that affect software development. Even if you are not a manager, these books provide you with information on how to work more effectively with team members and managers alike, and, understand, if not justify some annoying management practices. (I haven't yet read Volume 4: Anticipating Change , but there is probably valuable stuff in there as well.)


First-Order Measurement by Gerald Weinberg
First-Order MeasurementEven if you are not a manager, the books in this Quality Software Management Series provide you with information on how to work more effectively with team members and managers alike, and, understand, if not justify some annoying management practices.


Congruent Action by Gerald Weinberg
Congruent ActionEven if you are not a manager, the books in this Quality Software Management Series provide you with information on how to work more effectively with team members and managers alike, and, understand, if not justify some annoying management practices.


Journey of the Software Professional: A Sociology of Software Development by Luke Hohmann
Journey of the Software Professional: A Sociology of Software DevelopmentThis book really made me think about my work, both day to day and career-wise. Covers practical approaches to improving culture, communication, and work environment. My favorite chapters were Avoiding Bad Working Environments and Working In a Poor Environment .


How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living by Rushworth M. Kidder.
How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical LivingThis book describes a framework for analyzing and resolving ethical dilemmas. It does not provide you with answers, but it does provide a great way of thinking about the issues and how to resolve them. The text has examples based on real situations: from life-and-death scenarios, to the more banal, but still difficult.

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Difficult Conversations : How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen.
Difficult Conversations : How to Discuss What Matters MostAn excellent resource on how to approach issues at work and at home. Should be required reading for everyone who is part of a team or a relationship.

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Getting to Yes : Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury.
Getting to Yes : Negotiating Agreement Without Giving InThis is one of the "classic" books on negotiation, and still worth a read. This book is worth reading if you need to negotiate anything(requirements, assignments, schedules) as part of your job. It also has some insights that will help in personal relationships.

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Getting Past No : Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation by William Ury.
Getting Past No : Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to CooperationThis book builds on Getting to Yes . If you find yourself in having trouble making headway in negitiation situations, it is worth a read. But read Getting to Yes first.

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Are Your Lights On? by Gerald M. Weinberg.
Are Your Lights On?An easy to read, entertaining book that illustrates quite clearly what some people never really learn: you need to know what the problem is before looking for a solution.