If you want to learn about creativity, who better than the head honcho of one of the biggest creative conglomerates in the world to help you out? Creativity, Inc. combines author Ed Catmull’s personal reminiscences of his childhood and his rise through the ranks of Disney and Pixar with the lessons he’s learned along the way and how he believes they can help the average person achieve their creative goals. The book is loaded with great leadership insights as well as stories any fan of the Pixar films will love to hear.
Ed Catmull, president, Pixar Animation & Disney Animation, plays a very important role in the life of children and adults across the globe. And his organisation is the acknowledged leader of ‘creativity’, at the forefront of creating fun, inspiring, creative, inquisitive and happy moments in the lives of millions. Fourteen animated movies, all box-office successes! Pixar has seen creativity translate into success like perhaps no other organisation in the world. If you have ever wondered how Pixar has managed to create magic again and again, this book holds the answer to all your questions.
Creativity does not happen through magic. Nor is it something you can master once and then have control over. What is deemed creative today, is old hat tomorrow. For organisations that depend on creativity, it’s a dangerous situation to be in. If creativity leads to failure, that might lead to a lack of confidence, or unwillingness to think out of the box anymore. If creativity leads to success, that might lead to complacence and unwillingness to stretch the limits. This book presents what Pixar does to stay creative. What’s the secret to a successful innovation project? Fail early, fail fast, fail fearlessly. Every early failure is a door that closes on future wasted time, allowing you to focus on opportunities with potential.
As Catmull says, there is no set way to be creative, or to keep the creative fires burning. It’s a continuous, ever-evolving process. He should know. He is someone who helped countless others be creative. Another interesting insight shared by him goes: “Don’t fear randomness, embrace it – realise that successful innovation owes a lot to random opportunity and random events.” He believes rules, procedures and processes can be reassuring but that can also kill innovation. Be fearless about doing things differently.
Every chapter has lessons on creativity and different aspects of it. My favourite lessons are from two chapters that, in my opinion, form the crux of this book. Chapter Four, “Establishing Pixar’s Identity” is about the “Braintrust”, a group of ‘idea people’ at Pixar who analyse the emotional aspects of a movie – a huge part of Pixar’s success. Catmull refers to something I have always believed in: getting the right team with the right dynamics is perhaps even more important than getting the right idea.
Then there is Chapter Ten, “Broadening Our View” that focuses on eight different mechanisms that let the Pixar staff get into a new frame of mind. They include Dailies, problem-solving sessions, research trips, the power of limits, integrating technology and art, short experiments that allow people to try out a new idea in a small way, learning to see to set aside preconceptions, post-mortems and continuing to learn as time goes on – things that can be implemented in teams across industries.
The book has some brilliant quotes which are highly inspirational and thought provoking. In one, Catmull says, “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” This, from a leader of an organisation full of creative people and creative processes. So, when he offers his own take on creativity and how it spreads its tentacles across an organisation, it’s a highly insightful read.
According to Catmull, creativity is not an accident. It does not happen by chance. Instead, fostering creativity is a painstaking process and a tough one. If you love studying great humble leaders and their means, this is a must read.