Box of Crayons Blog


Amy Whitaker’s Five Essential Books for Thinking Like an Artist at Work

I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Whitaker last year. Amy is the author of the book Art Thinking: How to Carve Out Creative Space in a World of Schedules, Budgets, and Bosses, and she’s on a mission to prove that business can be both a creative and a liberal art. (In our interview, we explored how to take a creative stand at work, even if you aren’t in a “creative” job.)

So there really is no one better to be my guest blogger on the topic of thinking like an artist at work. Follow Amy on Twitter @theamywhit, and scroll down to see how to connect with her.

Book 1: Let My People Go Surfing

By Yvon Chouinard

The founding of the clothing store Patagonia was like an art project — from Chouinard’s honest ambivalence about being a businessman, to the need to have a manifesto of the values of one’s business. The book also tells some hilarious stories — like the one of a woman asking if the fleece pullovers were made of real fur and Chouinard’s colleague deadpanning that it was rare Siberian poodle — that remind us of the specificity and play in creative work of any kind.

Book 2: The Ten Commandments for Business Failure

By Donald R. Keough

The former president of Coca-Cola was asked to write a how-to-succeed-in-business book. He wrote this instead. Someone at such a high perch of leadership can truly tell you how important being a good human being is, and how many failures of management are actually failures of imagination.

Book 3: Bird by Bird

By Anne Lamott

Although technically a book about writing, any book with a chapter called “Shitty First Drafts” has many lessons to impart on the messy insides and incremental steps of creative work. Lamott has a spiritual groundedness about failure that humanizes the realities of inching forward, even within performance-driven settings of the workplace.

Book 4: Creativity, Inc.

By Ed Catmull

The founder of Pixar (writing with Amy Wallace) explains how the Pixar teams come together in a “brain trust” to discuss ideas with candor and grace, to help their “ugly babies” of early ideas grow — with the same gangly adolescence of an actual person — into their polished finished films. There’s a lot of love and deep mutual respect in the midst of all their creative excellence.

Book 5: Duveen

By S.N. Behrman

Based on a series of New Yorker essays published in around 1950, this book chronicles Lord Duveen, the most epic art dealer of all time, whose uncanny ability to sell anything seeded the industrial-magnate collections underpinning most major American museums. Whereas the other books on my list here speak to the artistry of building, this one hilariously takes on the performance of selling.


About Amy

Amy Whitaker is the author of Art Thinking (Harper Business, 2016), which has been featured in the Financial Times, Vanity Fair, Self, Success and elsewhere. With both an MBA and an MFA, Amy is a creativity champion, a business explainer and a human Venn diagram. She is also an assistant professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School. From 2015 to 2016, Amy was the first entrepreneur-in-residence at the New Museum Incubator in New York.

Connect with Amy

Twitter: @theamywhit

One Response to Amy Whitaker’s Five Essential Books for Thinking Like an Artist at Work

  • hans lang

    Michael. Your site continues to be a emerald mine of ideas. From a Canadian who became an Aussie to an Aussie doing the Canadian thing..cheers mate. Hans

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