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Thoughts on Creativity Inc

Before reading Creativity Inc by Pixar President Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace I wasn’t entirely sure what I could learn from a book written for creative leadership. I love Pixar and all they create but learning how their company runs didn’t really seem appealing to me at first. Well it turns out I was wrong. I learned quite a lot about my own creative endeavors as well as some thought provoking tips for life. Mr. Catmull has devoted his life to learning how to build not just a successful company but a sustainable creative culture and he shares his knowledge with the readers. Catmull’s purpose for writing this book is to not only to tell, but also to teach through his learned experiences. He talks about how he has seen many creative companies go off the rails and he wonders why? How does one build a successful company with a sustainable creative culture? He asks these questions and gives his answers to why.

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Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration is so much more than just a book for managers, it’s a wonderful tale of how Pixar was created while intertwining Catmull stories of how he became a manager himself and helped build Pixar in to the household brand that it is today. The book begins with a very young Catmull and his inspiration from Walt Disney. From there he explains how he gave up on his dream of becoming a feature film animator. Making the most of his talent in math he studied physics and computer science at the University of Utah. After finishing at UU he moved on to work at Lucasfilm and finally came full circle to his boyhood dream of working at Disney. Catmull tells an engaging story of how he fosters creativity at all the companies he’s worked at. “If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.”

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If you’re reading this post, I’m assuming that you’re a creative person and you’re interested in how the creative process works. Well this books process is broken up into four parts: “Getting Started,” “Protecting the New,” “Building and Sustaining,” and “Testing What We Know.” Throughout all of these sections he focuses not as much on the process, but more about finding the right people. It seem’s to me that this is more of the process at Pixar than anything. Be flexible and give creative people the ability to do what they do. Personally, I wish more companies had this motto but at least for the companies I’ve worked for these values are a little hard to come by. The book is not all about the Pixar process, it also gives fun insights into their movies like, did you know that the first plot for the movie Up revolved around a King that lived in a floating castle and his two sons were vying for who would be the next to sit on the throne. That’s nothing like the movie I saw. So how did they get there? Well, Pixar has A group of people called the “brain trust.” The brain trust is a group of Pixar’s most trusted creative people who get together every 3 to 6 months to try to work out problems with their movies. The movies are presented and this brain trust gives their suggestions on what is working and what’s not. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in these meetings!

The most poignant thing that I took away from the book is “Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.” That’s a quote straight from the book. I wrote it down because it really speaks to me. It’s something that I don’t do in my own creative process and need to begin to incorporate. Another quote that I loved is along the same lines, “if you seek to plot out all your moves before you make them—if you put your faith in slow, deliberative planning in the hopes it will spare you failure down the line—well, you’re deluding yourself. For one thing, it’s easier to plan derivative work—things that copy or repeat something already out there. So if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal.” I hate to just copy this quote and be unoriginal, but there’s so much truth behind these comments I can’t help but want to share them.

My main take away from Creativity Inc. is that Ed Catmull is a very smart guy. He and Amy Wallace have written a brilliant book with tons of insight into the creative process. It’s amazing what Pixar has accomplished and it’s fabulous to get a look at there creative process and how they foster creativity. I personally listen to my books and I can’t wait to start this one again.