Book Review | Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace

BOOK REVIEW

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

AUTHOR: Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

PUBLISHER: Random House

RELEASE DATE: April 8, 2014

GENRE: Business, Nonfiction, Leadership

BUY LINKS: Amazon | B&N 

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 Storytrilogy, 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. (Description from Goodreads)

MY THOUGHTS

(***Please note that this review may contain spoilers***)

I wanted to read this book for two reasons, 1) I really love Pixar and their films and 2) I’m reading lots of books to gain more knowledge on leadership.

I’ve always been fascinated with the success of Pixar, especially after the merge with Disney. So picking up a book written by one of the founders of Pixar was a no brainer. I wanted to know how Pixar got started, what its challenges were, and how they became successful. Ed Catmull’s stories of Pixar didn’t disappoint and I loved reading about the how they overcame challenges and successfully created some of my favorite films like Cars, Ratatouille, and Brave.

Obviously, the other goal of this book was to provide some insight into what it takes to lead a creative company, but I think many of the lessons Catmull discusses can be used in a company that isn’t necessarily a “creative” company. I think it can resonate with all companies in different ways.

There are common themes throughout the book that really resonated with me; change, challenges, and culture. As someone who’s been in a leadership role myself, I know that these three things are really important in a company. Then trying to create a culture that embraces change and challenges is even more difficult and I think it’s admirable that the Pixar leadership team was able to achieve that. They even made sure that when it seemed people weren’t speaking up and challenging the status quo they pressed the reset button and had, what they called, “Notes Day”.

Notes Day came about when the leadership team needed to decrease the budget by 10% without impacting creativity and quality. So they decided to ask everyone in the company, but would also achieve the issues they were facing where people might have been having a hard time expressing their concerns or ideas. Notes Day was a full day of all Pixar employees attending seminars on topics that could help decrease the budget, but also improve the company overall. Pixar’s employees were so engaged and got to meet so many different people from other departments. It was a huge success to the company.

I really liked that Pixar is so much about the people and culture that they would get all their employees involved to solve a problem that you usually see decided at the top of a company only. I can’t think of another company that got every single person, no matter their job title or level, to help solve a company wide problem. It’s impressive in my opinion and a testament to the culture Pixar’s founders created.

The idea of change and overcoming challenges was also something that was throughout the book. These two things are ALWAYS present in any company. I feel that I am like Catmull in the sense that I embrace change and challenges. Both are inevitable and I’d rather embrace it. I want to be a part of something that takes a company to the next level.

So reading this book just made me happy overall. I was happy to know more about Pixar, but also happy that a successful leader was talking about things I already believed in. It made me feel I was on the right track with my career and the way I see the world.

Favorite quotes:

  • “Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”
  • “No one-not Walt, not Steve, not the people of Pixar-even achieved creative success by simply clinging to what used to work.”
  • “Since change is inevitable, the question is: Do you act to stop it and try to protect yourself from it, or do you become the master of change by accepting it and being open to it? My view, of course, is that working with change is what creativity is about.”

I highly recommend this book if you want to know more about the inner workings Pixar and you want to be in a leadership position one day. It’s also a good read even if you don’t have a leadership role, but want to act more like a leader within the company you work for.

OVERALL RATING

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

WEBSITE

Edwin Earl “Ed” Catmull, PhD is a computer scientist and current president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, DisneyToon Studios, and Pixar Animation Studios. As a computer scientist, Catmull has contributed to many important developments in computer graphics. (Bio from Goodreads)

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