Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Summary

  1. One of the founders of Pixar, Ed Catmull, describes Pixar’s history and their creative process. Amazing to hear how difficult of a battle it is to have a great company that lasts.
Key Takeaways
  1. The culture at Pixar is unlike any other but what really sets it apart is its willing to acknowledge that it will face many problems and be blind to them
  2. Released toy story to huge acclaim and had to battle Disney to do it their way. Catmull lost his way a bit after this as one of his life goals had been achieved
  3. Wanted to understand why fantastic leaders of great companies often make very obvious, stupid mistakes. What was blinding them? – found that often so preoccupied with competition that they ignored other destructive forces
  4. Founders of Pixar (jobs, Lasseter and Catmull) goal was to create a company and culture that far outlived them. This book is about how that culture was built
  5. Best managers make room for things that cannot see, must loosen the control (not tighten it), and encourage candor
  6. In this period when computers and graphic design were improving by leaps and bounds, Catmull (now at Lucas Film) experienced tremendous push back from people who were afraid of change that would slow them down short term but improve their productivity 1,000 fold long term. Must have buy in from the community you are trying to serve!
  7. Visual polish matters much less if you get the story right
  8. John Lasseter got fired from Disney and then joined Lucas Film. Steve came in s year later when he bought the department from Lucas film and the three of them founded Pixar
  9. When good situations coexist with bad, people are unlikely to complain as they’ll be labeled complainers. Watch out for these situations and be proactive in getting a constructive feedback from people
  10. Pixar mantras – story is king, trust the process
  11. Pixar managed to do the impossible – revamp Toy story two in record time and make it better than the original
  12. Meeting the team right is more important than getting the idea right. They can either fix a mediocre idea or throw it out
  13. Merely saying something or repeating a mantra means nothing without action and dedication to that mantra
  14. Hallmark of a great organization is people feeling the freedom to be honest and candid. Lack of candor, over time, will degrade team dynamics and quality of work
  15. Candor only works if the person on the receiving end of the feedback is open to change
  16. People want honesty and direction from their leaders but also to let them know when they messed up and to be included in the correcting of course decisions
  17. Best leaders are able to understand and communicate to people’s different points of view (condominium metaphor where every person lives on a different floor and has a different view – point of view)
  18. Catmull goes on a meditation retreat every year in order to become more mindful
  19. Very difficult but important to determine what is impossible and what is simply a humongous reach
  20. Can’t let past success make you afraid of taking risks and perhaps failing
  21. It is vital not to become attached to your idea. Jobs and the leaders at Pixar were able to let go of ideas if proved wrong and not take criticism personally
  22. Principles for creativity:
    1. Give a good idea to a mediocre team and they’ll screw it up, give a mediocre idea to a good team and they’ll work wonders (get the team right)
    2. When looking to hire, give potential to grow more weight than current skill level
    3. Always hire people smarter than you; do not discount ideas from unexpected sources
    4. Must coax ideas out of your staff; managers job is to address reasons people aren’t candid
    5. Never be convinced you are right – always be open
    6. Do not measure outcome independent of process
    7. Must be willing to fix things as they pop up and understand their nature if they were unseen
    8. Not manager’s job to prevent risks but to make it safe to take them
    9. Trust means your trust them even when they screw up
    10. Finding and fixing problems is everybody’s job
    11. Show early and show often (iterate)
    12. People should be able to talk to anybody
    13. Do not create too many rules as it belittles people
    14. Impose strategic limits to force people to think differently
    15. It takes substantial energy to move a group
    16. Don’t confuse the process with the goal
What I got out of it
  1. Really interesting overview from Catmull on Pixar’s process. Inspiring to hear how much he and the whole team at Pixar cares

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