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Creativity, Inc.

Author: Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace
Title: Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
Published: Apr 8, 2014

I picked up this book as soon as I saw it was coming out. I’ve always loved Pixar films. They’re entertaining and extremely well made. I don’t know much about the animation business, but they always seem to be pushing the envelope and leading the industry.

The book, written by Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, details a bit of the history of Pixar as well as some overarching themes of their company that have helped them to produce so many box office hits. Ed lays out some foundational elements that he believes have shaped the company so far – particularly candor and honesty.

I expected to read quite a bit about how Pixar is run and how they develop movies. Catmull definitely delivered. He described in detail the Braintrust meetings, where company leaders get together in an honest and open environment to discuss the progress of movies in production. He goes on to stress the importance of being upfront and honest with feedback even delving into some experiences where allowing a movie to flounder cost them quite a bit of man hours and finances for a film that never hit theaters. Even more, Catmull described many of the roadblocks they have run into along the way and offers potential solutions.

At the end, the book discusses the Pixar merger with Disney, a huge undertaking no doubt. Catmull describes how he has attempted to fiercely protect the culture at Pixar and the difficulties of managing two huge creative companies at once.

This book certainly wasn’t a how-to when it comes to cultivating a creative culture. There isn’t a step-by-step guideline in the book that leads to creative genius being formed. Instead, Catmull relies mainly on past experiences and reflects back on how those experiences drove decisions and pushed the company forward. I found the book to be interesting and informative from the point of reading about the origins of Pixar. As for take home implementation, readers can find that to. Although a few of the ideas that Catmull reflects back on may not be possible for smaller creative groups, the underlying message is certainly applicable. If nothing else, it’s interesting to read about the history of Woody, Buzz, and all of your favorite digital characters.

Reading Notes

If we made something that we wanted to see, others would want to see it, too.

We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute.

For all the care you put into artistry, visual polish frequently doesn’t matter if you are getting the story right.

Instead of merely repeating an action, workers could suggest changes, call out problems, and—this next element seemed particularly important to me—feel the pride that came when they helped fix what was broken.
(In reference to Deming’s approach on assembly lines)

You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.

Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality).

One trick I’ve learned is to force myself to make a list of what’s actually wrong. Usually, soon into making the list, I find I can group most of the issues into two or three larger all-encompassing problems. So it’s really not all that bad. Having a finite list of problems is much better than having an illogical feeling that everything is wrong.

To think you can control or prevent random problems by making an example of someone is naïve and wrongheaded. Moreover, if you say it is important to let the people you work with solve their own problems, then you must behave like you mean it.

Which brings us to one of my core management beliefs: If you don’t try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.

“We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it—and stop there,” as Mark Twain once said, “lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.

While the allure of safety and predictability is strong, achieving true balance means engaging in activities whose outcomes and payoffs are not yet apparent.

The Hidden—and our acknowledgement of it—is an absolutely essential part of rooting out what impedes our progress: clinging to what works, fearing change, and deluding ourselves about our roles in our own success.

Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.

…in Japanese Zen, that idea of not being constrained by what we already know is called beginner’s mind

Include people in your problems, not just your solutions.

What is the point of hiring smart people, we asked, if you don’t empower them to fix what’s broken?