May 24, 2020

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull: how to take your leadership to infinity and beyond

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About the Book

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.”


About the Author

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. 

Ed Catmull is co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. He has been honored with five Academy Awards, including the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for lifetime achievement in the field of computer graphics. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Utah. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and children.


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BIG IDEA 1 (3:38) – Leadership creates creativity.

One of the things that drove the Pixar leadership team of Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs and John Lasseter was protecting Pixar from the forces that ruined many businesses. They had seen business grow, only to implode upon themselves, and they wanted to avoid this happening at Pixar. 

They therefore focused on helping smart people work better together. They worked on methods for better collaboration and creativity for better outcomes. Ed said that to do this effectively, you have to assume that the people you’ve hired are talented individuals.

He talked about the idea that good leaders can help creative people stay on the path to excellence, no matter what business they’re in.  This is breaking the idea that to be creative or solve problems you have to be in the arts or technology. 

Also as a leader you need to admit that you might be wrong or that you don’t know the answer. You need to see yourself as a teacher and put your ego aside to help people learn.

BIG IDEA 2 (6:08) – Find the right team.

You can’t possibly understand everything and therefore you need as many viewpoints as you can. Once you have the great people and expertise in the team you need to give them the autonomy to do their best work – getting the right team means getting ideas right.  There is no hierarchy in Pixar, they really value the work of the creatives and pride themselves on being filmmaker-led.

In order to find the right team and nurture them, you have to be open about the problems you are facing. That is why it is important to be open to learning about solving those problems.

BIG IDEA 3 (9:04) – Challenge everything.

PIxar is famous for their ‘braintrust’ process for feedback. They fully embrace the fact that everything sucks at the start. The braintrust makes the breakthroughs for films because of their candid and regular feedback – it’s saved many of the films we know and love from being disasters.

They embrace the fact that everyone gets stuck but the braintrust is not about solving the problem, it’s about asking the questions and providing the right challenge to make things better. It shows the importance of peer review and collaboration.  In the book Ed states that “ideas only become great when they’re challenged and tested”.

Music By: Monomer – No Backing Vocals Song by Leroy Wild

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