Creativity, Inc. By Ed Catmull

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A fantastic business book meets memoir that essential reading for all managers and employees in a creative field! From Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, comes an incisive book about creativity in businesssure to appeal to readers of Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and Chip and Dan Heath.Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animationinto the meetings, postmortems, and Braintrust sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culturebut it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admiredand so profitable.As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged a partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his founding Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Nine years later, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movies successand in the thirteen movies that followedwas the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention, such as: Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you dont strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead. Its not the managers job to prevent risks. Its the managers job to make it safe for others to take them. The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them. A companys communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody. Do not assume that general agreement will lead to changeit takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.










  • C R E A T I V I T Y , I N C .O V E R C O M I N G T H E U N S E E N F O R C E S T H A T

    S T A N D I N T H E W AY O F T R U E I N S P I R A T I O N

    E D C A T M U L Lw i t h A m y W a l l a c e

    R A N D O M H O U S E C A N A D A

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  • S T A R T I N G P O I N T S


    Here are some of the principles weve developed over the years to enable and protect a healthy creative culture. I know that when you distill a complex idea into a T- shirt slogan, you risk giving the illu-sion of understanding and, in the process, of sapping the idea of its power. An adage worth repeating is also halfway to being irrel-evant. You end up with something that is easy to say but not con-nected to behavior. But while I have been dismissive of reductive truths throughout this book, I do have a point of view, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the principles that I hold most dear here with you. The trick is to think of each statement as a starting point, as a prompt toward deeper inquiry, and not as a conclusion.

    Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fi x it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are that theyll get the ideas right.

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    When looking to hire people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.

    Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.

    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.

    It isnt enough merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an ac-tive, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.

    There are many valid reasons why people arent candid with one another in a work environment. Your job is to search for those reasons and then address them.

    Likewise, if someone disagrees with you, there is a reason. Our fi rst job is to understand the reasoning behind their conclusions.

    Further, if there is fear in an organization, there is a reason for it our job is (a) to fi nd whats causing it, (b) to understand it, and (c) to try to root it out.

    There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.

    In general, people are hesitant to say things that might rock the boat. Braintrust meetings, dailies, postmortems, and Notes Day are all efforts to reinforce the idea that it is okay to express your-

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    self. All are mechanisms of self- assessment that seek to uncover whats real.

    If there is more truth in the hallways than in meetings, you have a problem.

    Many managers feel that if they are not notifi ed about problems before others are or if they are surprised in a meeting, then that is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.

    Careful messaging to downplay problems makes you appear to be lying, deluded, ignorant, or uncaring. Sharing problems is an act of inclusion that makes employees feel invested in the larger enterprise.

    The fi rst conclusions we draw from our successes and failures are typically wrong. Measuring the outcome without evaluating the process is deceiving.

    Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you wont have errors to fi x. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fi xing them.

    Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur. If you dont always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.

    Similarly, it is not the managers job to prevent risks. It is the managers job to make it safe to take them.

    Failure isnt a necessary evil. In fact, it isnt evil at all. It is a nec-essary consequence of doing something new.

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    Trust doesnt mean that you trust that someone wont screw up it means you trust them even when they do screw up.

    The people ultimately responsible for implementing a plan must be empowered to make decisions when things go wrong, even be-fore getting approval. Finding and fi xing problems is everybodys job. Anyone should be able to stop the production line.

    The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.

    Dont wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. Itll be pretty when we get there, but it wont be pretty along the way. And thats as it should be.

    A companys communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

    Be wary of making too many rules. Rules can simplify life for managers, but they can be demeaning to the 95 percent who be-have well. Dont create rules to rein in the other 5 percent address abuses of common sense individually. This is more work but ultimately healthier.

    Imposing limits can encourage a creative response. Excellent work can emerge from uncomfortable or seemingly untenable circumstances.

    Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.

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    An organization, as a whole, is more conservative and resistant to change than the individuals who comprise it. Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change it takes substantial en-ergy to move a group, even when all are on board.

    The healthiest organizations are made up of departments whose agendas differ but whose goals are interdependent. If one agenda wins, we all lose.

    Our job as managers in creative environments is to protect new ideas from those who dont understand that in order for great-ness to emerge, there must be phases of not- so- greatness. Protect the future, not the past.

    New crises are not always lamentable they test and demon-strate a companys values. The process of problem- solving often bonds people together and keeps the culture in the present.

    Excellence, quality, and good should be earned words, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.

    Do not accidentally make stability a goal. Balance is more impor-tant than stability.

    Dont confuse the process with the goal. Working on our pro-cesses to make them better, easier, and more effi cient is an indis-pensable activity and something we should continually work on but it is not the goal. Making the product great is the goal.

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    Copyright 2014 Edwin Catmull

    All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or

    mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief

    passages in a review. Published in 2014 by Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, a Penguin Random House Company, and simultaneously in the United States of America by Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, New

    York, and in the United Kingdom by Transworld Publishers, a division of the Random House Group Ltd., London. Distributed in Canada by Random House of

    Canada Limited.

    Random House Canada and colophon are registered trademarks.

    Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

    Catmull, Edwin E.Creativity, Inc. : overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true

    inspiration / Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace.

    Issued also in electronic format.

    ISBN 978-0-307-36117-2

    1. Creative ability in business. I. Wallace, Amy, 1962 II. Title.

    HD53.C38 2014 658.4094 C2013-900740-7

    Book design by Diane HobbingJacket design: Andy Dreyfus

    Jacket illustration: Disney Pixar

    Printed and bound in the United States of America

    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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