I begin with a question: When was the last time you picked a writing instrument - a pen, a pencil, a highlighter, an apple pencil or any illustrator, and just created something? Just anything? Without fear or worry about being judged? Most of us hesitate and if I may daresay, are scared. As many of us grew up, we relegated creativity to others and left our child-like spontaneity and instincts of creation somewhere in history. 

Reshma Budhia’s I am, a book on creativity and design thinking, is a rare book of simplicity at multiple levels. For starters, it is simple enough for children as well as adults. It is a story of two kids with a problem big enough in their world (most of us adults don’t appreciate the enormity of worries in kids’ lives), and how one helps the other. It isn’t just a narration of two kids figuring out the perfect gift, but how Budhia strikingly weaves in the Design Thinking process unknown to the reader. At the end of the story, she puts together the learning in a constructive manner. And if this wasn’t enough, the book has the most creatively designed charming illustrations, with an elegant combination of subtle colours. 

As I read the book, my mind pulls out the debated ‘lateralization of brain function’ or the ‘brain dominance theory’, about the two hemispheres of the human brain, which finds its origin in the work of the neuroscientist and Nobel Laureate Roger W Sperry. The human brain’s left hemisphere makes us behave and take decisions more logically, rationally and in a data-oriented manner, while the right hemisphere is best with emotions, uses imagination and is intuitive. The two hemispheres need to communicate and collaborate with each other to live wholly, to work better and to not just exist. We should use both sides actively in our personal and professional lives. What I’ve usually seen is, it is considered more fashionable to be logical and data oriented rather than intuitive, expressive and creative. One at the cost of the other can be harmful for every sphere of our lives. The book emphasizes activating the creative side in us and if: 

- There exists a link between creativity and problem solving? Creativity is required to solve problems and challenges, however, the usual refrain is, ‘I can’t solve a problem creatively, because I am not creative enough’. This is a stereotypical lens, which needs to be shattered. 

- To be creative, you need to be an artist? Creativity is by most, associated with art. The book breaks this stereotypical outlook through the story. 

- We can have a neutral and non-judgmental way of looking at the world and the particular challenge? Can we believe in self-efficacy and give ourselves a chance? I am tackles it in an endearing way through its narration and illustrations. 

- There can be processes or tools which when taught young can hold us in good stead for the rest of our lives? 

Bringing in Design Thinking 

Budhia cleverly brings in the entire process of defining a problem, redefining it (if required), art of asking deep questions to understand users, empathy, using frames to look at the problem, ideating, making choices, early prototyping, implementing and iterating. A seemingly complex problem brought to its knees, so to say. 

The illustrations in the book make it so effortless to read and understand, it is almost deceptive. With that, Budhia ingeniously drives home the point of creativity as a problem-solving mindset. The book stands for all that she wants readers to learn – new ways of thinking through creativity, empathy and above all through simplicity. I only wish there was more than one story illustrated in the book, maybe with a different context. But then maybe, the simplicity of it might have gotten lost. 

I am will hopefully be picked off the shelf by both children and adults. Maybe it is time for a book classification specifically at that intersection.

(The reviewer is Associate Dean, Bhavan’s SPJIMR) 

About the book

Book Review: I Am 

By Reshma Budhia 

Published : Paper Towns Publications 

Price: Rs 1,199, Pages; 41 

Check out the book on Amazon here