Creativity, Inc.

This book… is about the ongoing work of paying attention – of leading by being self-aware, as managers and as companies.

- Creativity, Inc., page xvi

Making the first full length digitally animated movie was no small feat. Especially when the current technology and practice was limited to short films. Now that it’s commonplace we expect it, but before the first one existed (Toy Story), it was only a dream and vision by Ed Catmull.

Isn’t that the case with everything?

Before the existence of something, it has to be created in someone’s mind. And aren’t you creating something every day?

Whether it’s a new thought or experience or item for yourself or someone else, you are a creator.  And that means you need the ideas in Creativity, Inc.

A major part of this book is the ‘Inc.’ part. To ‘incorporate’ means you need to create with other people as part of a business. And no one does that more than Pixar or Disney Animation Studios. Those amazing box office record breaking movies don’t just happen. They start out as an idea, and a not-very-good story. But through the collaborative creativity of everyone involved, they become the masterpieces we continually enjoy.

What Ed has discovered is that when you marshal a group to create something, unseen forces emerge to try to destroy that effort. So he learned how to overcome them. First, by learning how to see them. He focuses on creativity because that is his business, but the concepts Ed reveals apply to any business, whether you’re a bank, shoe retailer, grocery store, or non-profit. We are creative beings, and when we work together with others in any capacity we are creating, and thus need trust and collaboration and good leadership.

This book is about how to create an environment that nurtures those critical elements. Through the engaging stories of success and failure at Pixar and Disney Animation Studios as they developed those well-known, heart capturing movies, Ed Catmull provides validated truths about leadership, creativity, and self-awareness.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Uncover the unseen

"Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it."
- Creativity, Inc., page xvi

You’ve done it too. Read about the stories of companies who made obvious bonehead mistakes, and thought, “What did they do that for?” Maybe you’ve seen it in your own company.

Well, have you ever made a mistake? Or, do you know everything?

Something that might seem obvious to you, may not have been obvious to them, at the time.

Sure, we make decisions based on the information we have, and we should try to get as much as we can, but the dangerous decisions come when we think we know something, or take something for granted, or assume we know the answers (we all know what happens when we do that), because there is always something you don’t know.

This is what Ed calls “The Hidden”. It’s the stuff we’re blind to, and we don’t even know it, so we’re not even looking for it. Discovering these unseen forces requires major self-awareness that you have a limited ability to see, understanding that your worldview is not the only one that exists, and accepting the fact that what you see and know is inevitably flawed. That is a difficult request for smart, driven, successful people who usually end up leading an organization. But Ed believes (and I agree) that it’s our duty to find ways to heighten our awareness of these unseen forces.

Ed lists several levels of the unknown, from the limited communication you receive just because you’re a manager (or other positions of authority), to the danger of being successful, which can lead you to believe that you’re doing everything right.

I will try to keep my mind open to alternative viewpoints and realize that others see problems I don’t, and they see solutions too.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Increase trust with candor

""…without the critical ingredient that is candor, there can be no trust. And without trust, creative collaboration is not possible.""
- Creativity, Inc., page 87

If you ask the question whether you should be honest or not, most people would say, ”of course,” but sometimes honesty is tricky when you’re asked what you think about someone’s idea (all those hidden ramifications). So Ed decided to use the word ‘candor’ instead, to explain the behavior that is critical to a healthy creative culture.

One of the mechanisms they started using at Pixar to ensure that they were embracing candor in a way that pushed them toward excellence was called ‘the Braintrust.’ Its premise was that if you put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid with one another, you would produce the best possible product. It is one of the most important traditions at Pixar, and you will see it mentioned at the end of the credits in every movie.

If you think of a tight-knit working group who gets along, respects each other’s knowledge and capabilities, and can be completely open and candid with each other, even getting into heated debates, then you have a group full of trust and candor. Some people dream of having that experience. I have experienced it, and plan to develop those features more in every group I work in.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Protect the new

"…when someone hatches an original idea, it may be ungainly and poorly defined, but it is also the opposite of established and entrenched – and that is precisely what is most exciting about it."
- Creativity, Inc., page 132

Ed calls them ‘Ugly Babies’. These are the first mock-ups of their films. They are not yet fully developed, but awkward and uninformed, vulnerable and incomplete. Truly ugly. They need nurturing, which means time and patience, in order to become the beautiful masterpieces we enjoy at the theater.

The same is true for most any idea. “Originality is fragile,” says Ed. “If while in this vulnerable state, it is exposed to naysayers who fail to see its potential or lack the patience to let it evolve, it could be destroyed. Part of our job is to protect the new from people who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not-so-greatness.”

This is such a valuable concept that seems to go against much of the prevailing thought of ‘getting it right the first time.’ But that idea was specific to a production environment where rework is seen as costly and undesirable. In a creative process, making the process cheaper, easier, or consistent is a worthy aspiration, but it is not the goal. “Making something great is the goal.” And that takes iterations.

I plan to protect the new by not being a naysayer and respecting others’ ideas by encouraging them to continually evolve and improve their idea.

Creativity, Inc. was one the best books I’ve read all year on leadership and creativity. It’s packed with more thought provoking concepts than I can cover, so my recommendation is to read the whole book.

Uncovering the unseen requires open trust and candor, and a diligence in protecting the new.

What unseen forces are standing in your way of true inspiration? (I guess you can’t tell me if you don’t see them!)

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Rex Williams

ABOUT Rex Williams

I'm a curious connector of people and ideas. I crave learning new things and invoking a creative twist to my methods. By day, I work as an engineer, general problem solver (and recently video producer) at the Boeing company as I fight the status quo and start movements, but after work I hang out with entrepreneur and rabble-rouser types online (like this group...
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