Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
Publisher: Random House
Published: 4/8/2014
“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.

Creativity, Inc By Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace

Key Insights

It’s the goal to be creative and innovative in the development of your company.

But, oftentimes creativity gets stifled because of the fear of risk, as risk often can lead to a loss in profits.

In “Creativity, Inc” Ed Catmull uses anecdotes to tell his success story. Catmull is the founder of Pixar and has created a multi-billion dollar company out of his dream.

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

He delves into the mistakes management oftentimes make which hinder the creative aspects of the business. And, as a result stops them from growing.

Catmull explains what you need in a creative team in order for it to succeed.

Key Points

  • Honest Employee Feedback

In a hierarchical structure, it’s hard to tell your boss how you really feel. Likewise, it’s hard to present ideas for the company’s improvement, even if they’re genius. This results in a lot of problems going unfixed, simply because no one has the guts to tell the guy in charge.

Feedback systems are important for company success. For example, with Pixar, a Notes Day was established in order to give employees the chance to speak their ideas on the improvement of the company. It was a safe space for open dialogue because the employees knew the boss wanted to hear it.

By employees being able to speak their minds, they feel greater accountability for their work. If they spot a problem, they will be more likely to address it rather than ignoring it.

Workers should feel that their concerns are valid and that their ideas will be taken seriously. And, that environment needs to be created by the leader.

Ed Catmull of Pixar makes the effort to talk to all of his employees individually so that they know they are valued in the company.

  • Fear of Failure

People don’t like change. This is because they correlate it to failure. For example, if a new system is put into place at work and they are not familiar with it, they will hate it because it brings stress upon them. They think that the new system will make them fail or make a mistake.

Teachers expect their students to make mistakes, as it’s just another part of learning. And, business is no different. The environment the leader establishes should promote the idea that making mistakes is ok. Without mistakes, there are no new innovations.

When companies are unwilling to explore ‘the new’ and make changes, they become stagnant and inflexible which can take away a lot of new opportunities for them.

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

Catmull believes in having a goal, but being flexible with it. Goals are not meant to constrain you, but rather direct you.

  • Shortcomings

As humans, we tend to more easily accept information that confirms our opinions. This can be a problem because it hinders us to be able to see issues from different perspectives.

Leaders can avoid this confirmation bias by admitting that sometimes their employees have better ideas than them.

Catmull took an idea from an employee about the animation production process which ultimately made it faster, more precise, and more efficient. By listening to an employee, he was able to improve his whole company’s process.

  • The Drive For Excellence

Employees want to work for a greater goal. They do not want to work on meaningless tasks that are not contributing to something bigger than them.

That’s why companies must have a common goal to strive toward. The goal doesn’t even have to be specific or include profits, sales, or data. It could be as simple as that each employee performs to the best of their ability.

When employees know that what they are doing is important to the overall project, they will work a lot harder. A company is a team, and all parts must work together.

  • People Are Important

The success of a company doesn’t always include new and innovative ideas. The most vital part of a company’s success is the people behind it.

It doesn’t matter how good your idea is. If you don’t have the right people backing you up, you won’t be successful.

“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.”- Ed Catmull

For example, think about the products you use on a daily basis. All of those products are the sum of people working together. It wasn’t just a great idea, there is a great team behind it.

Teams that are full of diversity tend to be more successful because their differences allow them to see more sides of the product and any issues that may arise. A diverse team of people compliments each other and helps a company’s success.

  • Managers Need to Trust

Micromanagers do not help a company to success. Employees want to feel like they are trusted and appreciated. They do not want to be questioned or badgered in the workplace. This is detrimental to creativity and the company’s morale.

Catmull has a strict rule in which he only hires people that he believes has more knowledge than him. He wants his employees to use their creative initiative.

“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.”- Ed Catmull

Though a lot of managers may be afraid that these smart employees might rise up and take over, Catmull understands that to create a strong company, you must have a smart team.

  • Don’t Avoid Risk

The manager’s job isn’t to say ‘no’ to taking risks. Rather, their job is to help their company recover once it has taken a fall.

By having recovery plans in place from the start, there is little to worry about. And, it’s not just the manager picking up the pieces. Because it is a team environment, everyone works together to mend the company.

In a company, you have to accept failures easily and be prepared to overcome them.

Also, by allowing employees to fail early helps them to overcome failures in the future. That is why it’s important for leaders to foster an environment in which their employees can explore and discover without the fear of failure.

If a company does have a failure, it’s important to set up a meeting for employees to discuss what went wrong, so that they can reflect and do better next time.

  • A Creative Work Environment

Every part of a company is important, including the physical environment. Nobody wants to stare at gray walls all day long, especially when you are trying to think creatively. That’s why a workplace’s environment should promote creativity.

Catmull of Pixar encourages all of his employees to decorate their workspace so that it is personalized.

Another way Catmull encourages creativity in the workplace is by getting rid of the 9-5 rigid schedule. Catmull allows two personal workdays a month where employees can come in and utilize all the equipment for personal projects.

This helps the employees to remain happy and it gives them time to exercise their creative brains the way they want to. And, as a result their work for Pixar improves.

The Main Take-Away

By fostering a creative environment for your employees, which is free from the fear of risk-taking, your company will work more efficiently as a team. Change, risk, and failure are necessary for creative companies. But, by being prepared, your team can quickly recover from a failure.


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