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REVIEW: Art Thinking

REVIEW: Art Thinking

PRODUCT (Book):  ART THINKING:  How to Carve Out Creative Space in a World of Schedules, Budgets, and Bosses

Author:  Amy Whitaker

Publisher:  Harper Business (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) [2016]


In her book, ART THINKING, author Amy Whitaker points out, “If you are making a work of art in any area of life, you are not going from a known point A to a known point B.  You are inventing point B.  You are creating something new – an object, a company, an idea, your life – that must make space for itself.  In the act of creating that space, it changes the world, in however big or small a way.”  (The emphasis in this thing is mine.)

In that one paragraph, Whitaker states the whole premise of this wonderment of a book.  She tells you upfront that what she calls “Art Thinking” is a process of operation rather than an object.

STANDING IN AMBIGUITY

The hell of it all is this:  in order to get all the way to that point B you’re aiming for,  you have to get comfortable standing in that most uncomfortable space of all – the space of not knowing where you are going and knowing even less about how you’re going to get there.

Ancient Taoists call this stance “standing in ambiguity.”  They didn’t particularly like it either, but they did get good at doing it.

Whitaker points out that the whole point of Business-with-the-capital-B is putting prices on things and knowing their “value” ahead of time.  However, if you’re in the middle of inventing that all-important point B, there is no way you will be able to even begin to predict what this thing you are building can be priced at and whether it can be “scaled” or expanded or whatever the latest buzz-word is for making the thing huge.

She points out that the core assumptions of economics – efficiency, productivity, and knowable value – work best when the organization is already at cruising altitude.  When the point B is already defined and it’s sitting there looking back at you, you can do all the economic voodoo mumbo-jumbo to it and work it so that the world beats a path to your door.  All that stuff won’t help you launch your new thing when your plane is just four wheels and a lawn-mower engine strewn all over the ground.

Frankly, when a new business is still in the Dreamtime, the world just isn’t interested.  The real is dreams are worth less than a fraction of a penny apiece.  They are not exactly in short supply.  (Most people have a couple of dozen floating around in their heads at any given time.)

The problem, of course, is that as Henry Ford once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”  It just does not work that way.

HOW TO MOVE IT ON DOWN THE ROAD

What Whitaker attempts to do with this book is to give you mindsets and strategies for moving  your new and wondrous marvel down the road to point B where there’s a catapult all set up and ready to launch it whenever it gets there.  She gives you all kinds of ways of moving that can help you pull your baby New Thing out of the Dreamtime so it can toddle around charming the heck out of everybody and maybe make you a pile of lucre or whatever.

Whitaker also tells you that the process for getting from A to B can be iterated over and over again, even when the business is up and running or maybe taking off into the stratosphere.   Once that happens, the point at which the New Thing that you birthed into the world and are getting scaled up to all kinds of heights then becomes your new point A.

The world has already skooched over to make room for your New Thing and it owns that spot that used to be your unknown point B.  (The old point A is no longer particularly relevant; it’s just history.)

If you like (and sometimes even if you don’t) you get to repeat the whole process again, sending out yet another expedition through the ambiguous Not-Knowing place towards your next point B.

Whitaker does point out a business truth:  “…companies can grow by two means.  They can grow by scaling up to the most efficient level of production.  Or they can grow artistically by the alchemy of invention.”

CALLING ALL WANNA-BE WIZARDS….

In this book, Whitaker gives lessons and tips for wanna-be wizards bent on manifesting and refining their dreams while they continue to build the world-as-they-want-to-know-it.  She does it very well.

There are seven art mindsets that Whitney explains.  For each one she plunks you down into a particular way of seeing and gives you stories and insights about how to make the thing work in the business world.  The titles for her chapters are like an inventory list of the tool-belt she’s handing you.  Her explanations of them are mind-expanding.

  • From a Wide Angle…where you zoom out and see everything from a wide-angle view
  • In the Weeds…where you change your focus from outcome to process and you compare your work in progress to other people’s finished projects
  • To the Lighthouse…where you trade outcome goals in for questions that can guide you forward
  • To Make a Boat…where you manage risk by taking a portfolio view and by owning the upside of what you’re creating
  • To Be in the Fray…where you assign roles and adopt the tools of conversation to set up your culture and to manage your project
  • To Build a House…where you build artistic business models working within the design constraints of capitalism itself
  • To See the Whole…where you navigate the complexity of organizations and disciplines to tackle the Big Questions of the day.

FINAL WORD

I do highly recommend this as a book for your resource shelf.  It is one you’ll keep coming back to when you need to change the channels in your head and it’ll definitely get you thinking new thoughts about the way you are moving.

Here’s another poem….


AMBIGUITY

Here’s a thought:

It is the ambiguity

Of everything that

Gives life its taste.

 

Not knowing

What comes next

Sends a frisson through

The whole of you

Lighting up your being

Like a thunderbolt,

Cuts through a night sky

Tearing through the firmament.

 

And trying to be sure,

Avoiding all uncertainty,

Becomes a fence of gorse

That keeps you in one small place,

Prickling at you as you try to move

Against its living thorns

And you come away bleeding

From a million little poke-holes.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  via Amazon.com

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