Published on: June 20, 2014
by Kevin Coupe
Ed Catmull has a pretty cool job - he's the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, maker of films such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo, and the president of both Pixar and Disney Animation. He's also the author, with journalist Amy Wallace, of a new business and management book, entitled "Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming The Unseen Forces That Stand In The Way Of True Inspiration," which is one of the best books of its kind that I ever have read.
To be sure, Catmull has an advantage. He can write about the specific challenges involved with producing a sequel to Toy Story or write about dealing with Steve Jobs (who was CEO of Pixar, having acquired the company from Lucasfilm in 1986). He's got great raw material, and he makes the most of it.
While the spine of the book is the evolution of one of the most remarkable companies in the entertainment business, which completely rewrote the rules of animation, the meat of the story is about leadership and management, and so many of the themes he sounds and stories he shares are absolutely relevant to people in any industry.
"I've made a policy of trying to hire people who are smarter than I am," he writes. "The obvious payoffs of exceptional people are that they innovate, excel, and generally make your company - and, by extension, you - look good." But he also argues for getting past the fear that sometimes inhibits one from taking risks, from hiring people who have more potential than experience. Ultimately, it comes down to this: '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."
"Unleashing creativity," Catmull writes, "requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear, Doing all these things won't necessarily make the job of managing a creative culture easier. But ease isn't the goal. Excellence is."
What really struck me in reading "Creativity, Inc.," is that in so many ways, every business needs to have a creative culture. From page to page, I saw Catmull's comments and stories as having great application in almost any company that wants to create a culture that focuses on excellence and understands that is the people throughout the organization - not just the folks in the executive suite - who make it possible to achieve it.
"Creativity, Inc." is a great book - full of wonderful stories, fabulous lessons and totally accessible. Go buy it, and make it part of your summer reading stack. I think you'll find it to be an indispensable source of inspiration.
- KC's View: