Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull
Narrator: Peter Altschuler
Published: April 8th 2014
Genres: Audiobook, Non-fiction
Format: Audiobook (12 hrs and 52 mins)
“What does it mean to manage well?”From Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, comes an incisive book about creativity in business—sure 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 Animation—into 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 culture—but 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 admired—and 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 movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed—was 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 don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead. • It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s 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 company’s 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 change—it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.
Creativity, Inc. was so inspiring to me. It broke down the creative process into steps that I could wrap my mind around. It showed me that despite the fact that these were experienced, award-winning film makers, they struggled with doubt and fear on every project and they had specific ways of combatting that. After reading this, I felt like I could do something big. I could write a book (which is a very similar process to making movies in a lot of ways). It was a life-changing, eye-opening book for me.
Here are some of the specific things I took away from this book:
- Solving problems is like trying to uproot an oak tree. It’s huge and takes a lot of attention but you can do it. But often we forget the little saplings that sprouted from the oak tree. We overlook them because they are small or we’ve gotten used to them. It’s important to solve those small problems, too.
- People are more important than ideas. People come up with the ideas after all.
- Candor is so important when creating something. It’s different than honesty. People will withhold things when they are being honest for the sake of feelings. Candor means holding nothing back.
- You must immerse yourself in a project during the creative process but then you lose perspective because you are so immersed in it. Candid feedback is essential for successfully combatting this problem.
- Obstacles to total honesty (aka candor): fear of looking stupid, fear of offending, fear of retaliation, fear of being a know-it-all, fear of being dismissed.
- Create a visual mental model to deal with the fear and uncertainty of creating something. My favorite example was the idea of digging up a dinosaur but there were a ton of examples. The mental models were there to remind you that a) it’s okay to not know everything now and b) that you could do it if you stuck with it.
What this book isn’t: it is not a memoir of Pixar’s history. There is a brief history and description of changing technology and how it applied to Ed Catmull’s life in making the first computer animated film. But Ed’s inspiration behind writing this book was to write a how-to process of staying an amazing company. He didn’t want to be a one hit wonder. He also wrote this because he achieved a huge life-long dream and he said to himself “Now what?” kind of like in
Rapunzel sorry Tangled. Ed made it his goal to keep Pixar great and this was his journey in figuring out how to do that. You’ll find his advice more applicable to creative projects like books or movies but he makes an effort to show how this process is good no matter what project you do.
As far as the audiobook itself, the narrator was great but there was so much great info that I had to keep stopping it and writing stuff down!
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