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Summary

Edwin Catmull, president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, documents the struggles of Pixar in its early days and the lessons he learned in starting and maintaining a creative company culture.

Review

Delightful, sincere and filled with important lessons, “Creativity Inc” embodies some of the very same ideals that are found in the films produced by the company that it writes about. Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace do a superb job detailing the challenges involved in managing Pixar and, later, Disney’s Animation Studios. This is a book is filled with candor, actionable advice and stirring anecdotes that, while targeted at creative workforces, can be applied to organizations of any size and field.

Key Points

  • good things can hide good bad things
    • eg: Pixar product manager didn’t like working there but did it because of making history
  • right people and chemistry more important than good idea

  • want candor not honesty #star

  • other ideas are not competitive but additive

  • use brain trust to help build idea

  • failure is investment of future #star

  • leaders need to admit failure

  • balance of feeding the beast and protecting new baby
    • feeding the beast is producing hit after hit and keeping the lights on
  • dailies: everyone get together to review scenes, okay to show incomplete work to director

  • research: know your subject
    • eg: ratatouie, fly to restaurant,
    • eg: nemo, making sure fish can be flushed down toilets
  • limits, don’t think how to stop people from screwing up but how to make people solve problems creatively
    • eg: use popsicle sticks representing man hours
  • little experiments, Pixar shorts with no commercial value and 2 million expenditure, pioneer new techniques and goodwil

  • mental models: people have preconceptions of how things are
    • useful for everyone to do art class
      • remove mental modal
      • eg: do chair but have it upside down or paint negative space
  • post mortems, have them

  • have mental model for solving problems

  • communication structure should not mirror organizational structure

Anecdote

  • wally originally saved eve but that was too predictable so eventually, eve go against programming and save wally

  • in toy story, wasn’t believable that woody would want to not go back
    • woody talk to squeaky penguin at beginning to introduce that toys can be abandoned
    • introduce Jessy to make stakes compelling for woody
  • bad projects are everyone rowing the boat but not moving anywhere

  • Pixar university, have people of all levels mingle
    • unify company

People

  • Edwin Catmull: President of Pixar and Walk Disney Animation Studios
  • John Lasster: Chief creative officer of pixar and disney
  • Amy Wallace: http://www.amy-wallace.com/about/

Quotes

All quotes are excerpts taken from Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

  • “Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”
  • “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.”
  • “Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.”
  • “When faced with a challenge, get smarter.”
  • “Fear can be created quickly; trust can’t.”
  • “Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.”
  • “The future is not a destination - it is a direction.”
  • “What is the point of hiring smart people, we asked, if you don’t empower them to fix what’s broken?”
  • “Making the process better, easier, and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on—but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal.”
  • “it is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.”
  • “Quality is the best business plan.”
  • “We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways. Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them.”
  • “Instead of saying, ‘The writing in this scene isn’t good enough,’ you say, ‘Don’t you want people to walk out of the theater and be quoting those lines?’ It’s more of a challenge.” #inspiration
  • “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is a maxim that is taught and believed by many in both the business and education sectors. But in fact, the phrase is ridiculous—something said by people who are unaware of how much is hidden. A large portion of what we manage can’t be measured, and not realizing this has unintended consequences. The problem comes when people think that data paints a full picture, leading them to ignore what they can’t see. Here’s my approach: Measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure the vast majority of what you do. And at least every once in a while, make time to take a step back and think about what you are doing.”
  • “isn’t enough to pick a path—you must go down it.”
  • “If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, then why the hell are you sailing?” he says. “You have to embrace that sailing means that you can’t control the elements and that there will be good days and bad days and that, whatever comes, you will deal with it”
  • “The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal—it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.”
  • “Trusting others doesn’t mean that they won’t make mistakes. It means that if they do (or if you do), you trust they will act to help solve it.”

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