Book Review – “Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull

Today I thought write a book review from a book I read a month or so back. Creativity, Inc..
But instead of writing a lengthy response and analysis, I thought I’d put down my favourite quotes from the book and comment in bullet points on these on why I think it’s important.
I always read with a pencil (probably why I don’t like ebooks) and the following is what I’ve highlighted from the book.
“Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. It is easy to say you want talented people, and you do, but the way those people interact with one another is the real key. Even the smartest people can form an ineffective team if they are mismatched. That means it is better to focus on how a team is performing, not on the talents of individuals within it” (p. 74)
  • Team of Champions vs. Champion Team. There is little point in having a bunch of smart Type A personalities who won’t back down on their ideas. You will get nowhere, and will have nothing to show but conflict.
“When we trust the process – we or perhaps more accurately, when we trust the people who use the process – we are optimistic but also realistic. The trust comes from knowing that we are safe, that our colleagues will not judge us for failures but will encourage us to keep pushing the boundaries. But to me, the key is not to let this trust, our faith, lull us into the abdication of personal responsibility. When that happens, we fall into dull repetition, producing empty versions of what was made before” (p. 81)
Also adding to this theme is something echoed later in the book:
“That kind of openess is only possible in a culture that acknowledges its own blind spots.” It’s only possible when managers understand that others see problems they don’t – and that they also see solutions.” (p. 175)
“What interests me is the number of people who believe that they have the ability to drive the train and who think that this is the power position – that driving the train is the way to shape their companies’ futures. The truth is, it’s not. Driving the train doesn’t set its course. The real job is laying the track.” (p. 140)
  • You want people to feel happy in teams? Give them autonomy. You want to make them perform? Allow them to take (logical) risks, fail, learn, try again.
  • This to be ties into what Peter Diamandis says in his book BOLD about the importance of Skunkworks. People are driven by Intrinsic rewards : Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. Makes you question your compensation structure right?
“The key is to look at the viewpoints being offered, in any successful feedback group, as additive, not competitive. A competitive approach measures other ideas against your own, turning the discussion into a debate to be won or lost. An additive approach, on the other hand, starts with the understanding that each participant contributes something (even if it’s only an idea that fuels the discussion – and ultimately doesn’t work). The Braintrust is valuable because it broadens your perspective, allowing you to peer – at least briefly – through others’ eyes.” (p.101)
“If we start with the attitude that different viewpoints are additive rather than competitive, we become more effective because our ideas or decisions are honed and tempered by that discourse. In a healthy, creative culture, the people in the trenches feel free to speak up and bring to light differing view that can help give us clarity”  (p.174)
  • Pixar’s Braintrust sounds truly incredible. Getting people to check their egos in at the door clearly leads to better, stronger and more successful ideas.
“If I start on a film and right away know the structure – where it’s going, the plot – I don’t trust it” [Pete Dokter] says. “I feel like the only reason we’re able to find some of these unique ideas, characters, and story twists is through discovery. And by definition, ‘discovery’ means you don’t know the answer when you start.” (p. 109)
  • This pretty much defines teamwork to me. I love the use of “Ugly Baby” in the book to describe that every idea (including the first attempt at Toy Story) is pretty much awful. It’s only when the idea is manifested in a team environment that it becomes beautiful.
  • The bigger lesson I see from this is : Stop trying to make something perfect before showing it to anyone. Make it as good as you can then as soon as you can show it to the team / your peers. Let them poke holes in it. Let them make you consider something you didn’t. “Discovery” is the key to a project’s success – and this is partly you and partly everyone else. My best work has only come after many iterations from honest feedback and input from others.
“The mechanisms that keep us safe from unknown threats have been hardwired into us since before our ancestors were fighting off saber-toothed tigers with sticks. But when it comes to creativity, the unknown is not our enemy. If we make room for it instead of shunning it, the unknown can bring inspiration and originality.” (p. 158)
  • This forms the fundamental basis for Julia Cameron’s fantastic book The Artist’s Way,.which prescribes the solution that people should get up and write three pages of whatever’s on their mind first thing in the morning as a method for clearing the “censor” which inhibits creativity. Seth Godin refers to the same principle as “Lizard Brain”. We naturally only trust proven methods and ideas, often to our own detriment. We block new things out because they scare us.
  • Lesson here is to find a method for unblocking the creativity, and destroying your sensor / lizard brain.
“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’re doing.” (p.220)
  • “What gets measured gets managed” is a good quote but also limiting. Trying to measure the future is often trying to predict it. There’s too many variables you have no idea about. I measure everything I can but don’t let it inhibit what I’m doing. You’ve got to leave something to chance.
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” Alan Kay – Apple’s Chief Scientist (via Ed Catmull) 
  • That quote sums up leadership to me.
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One thought on “Book Review – “Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull

  1. Pingback: Book Review – “Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull | Charlie's Blog

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