Book Review: Creativity, Inc.


I almost always read books with a pen in my hand.  I mark up books like a dog on a leash, randomly drawing, scribbling notes, and making arrows.  There's probably some sort of consistency to my scrawl, but I'm not sure what it is. Fiction or non-fiction get identical treatment because making notes help me stay focused, improves my comprehension, and gives me the ability to quickly find parts I enjoy.

Most of the time, this "system" works.

However, my marks weren't a great help as I devoured Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull since I highlighted something on every solitary page.  This is interesting to me since the book has been on my shelf for about a year.

For 12 months I have been missing out on such goodness!!!

Creativity, Inc is subtitled "overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration," and yes, I see the irony in my inability to overcome the unseen forces keeping me from reading!

Ah well.  These insights are in my head now and this book now ranks in my top five business reads ever.

Simply fantastic!

I'm going to shower you with quotes below so you can get a feel for the wisdom.  However, if you think about how great Pixar movies are and imagine the same quality in a book about leadership, team work, and creativity, well you're getting the picture.

Also, imagine a book that isn't just talking about collaboration in theory, but instead gives you a behind the scenes look at how collaboration works when making your favorite movie.  Catmull takes us on the highs and lows of creating something from nothing and he does it with stories about all of our favorite Pixar movies.  His authority on the subject matter (and his pairing with an excellent business writer) make this an absolute essential read if you are leading a team.

Let's get started with some nuggets!

One of my favorite tidbits is when he describes managers who "hate to be surprised in meetings."  He describes people who want to be briefed about everything before going into a meeting as operating out of a place of fear (paranoia is my word!).  His thoughts:

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

Catmull doesn't leave the observation there:

"The antidote to fear is trust.... Fear can be created quickly; trust can't.  Leaders must demonstrate their trust-worthiness, over time, through their actions - and the best way to do that is by responding well to failure.

Be patient. Be authentic. And be consistent. The trust will come."

Yes!!  I also LOVE the way he describes how effective leaders practice humility.  Humility works not just on a personal, nice-guy level, but because growth happens when you know you don't know it all.  To wit:

“I believe the best managers acknowledge and make room for what they do not know—not just because humility is a virtue but because until one adopts that mindset, the most striking breakthroughs cannot occur. I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear. Moreover, successful leaders embrace the reality that their models may be wrong or incomplete. Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it.”

Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes!

Woven throughout the book is the importance of taking risks and failing:

“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”

And then, just to drive the point home...

“If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it.”

 What if we really all believed this??  Think about the breakthroughs you could have.  Think about how people would thrive.  From what I can tell about the Pixar culture in general and Ed Catmull in particular, personal growth is highly valued.

As part of that mix, Catmull believes in building the right team. If you've ever read Good to Great, you've heard Jim Collins advocate for getting "the right people on the bus."  This theme echos throughout Creativity Inc.

“Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.”

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

Catmull has authority in making this statement because of how many struggles Pixar has had (and worked through brilliantly).  He 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.”

But how do you make things better?  Well, there's a lot to be said about critical feedback:

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.”

“You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.”

I'm barely getting started on my 317 pages of marks.  I could spend another thousand words quoting this man.

I KNOW you'll be seeing lots of his thoughts in posts to come. Do yourself a favor and overcome the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration - buy (AND read) this book!