Summary and key lessons from Creativity Inc. (2018 update)

On January 22th, 2018 I finished reading Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull (Pixar’s current president) and Amy Wallace.

I found this book to be full of great nuggets for creative people in all fields. I’m personally in the fields of technology and music and I could relate to many stories and ideas from the book.

This time, I’ve been listening to the audiobook and it took me a while to get used to the narration but after a while, I started enjoying it and it helped me understand and process the book remarkably well. Audio quality was great too.

I enjoyed the combination of great lessons with amazing stories to reinforce them. This book will take you throughout the journey of Pixar from its founding days until 2014 and feels very current.

I believe that some of the lessons here are priceless and ageless and can fit a wide range of people from different work environments. I’ll definitely revisit these ideas in the next few months while I manage and grow my companies. What an awesome journey that book was! 😍

Key Lessons (written while listening)

* In the dotted list I write the key lesson and in the numbered list below each dot, I occasionally write my interpretation and extension to the lesson in the form of my own ideas.
  • Stay loyal to your original vision. Otherwise, you will eventually lose passion for what you do and won’t be able to stand out.
  • Think big.
    1. On Pixar, it all started with the idea of making a fully communicated theatre movie.
  • Shoot for high-quality products.
  • The right team is more important than the right idea.
    1. The right team will either fix a mediocre idea or replace it.
    2. The wrong team will not be able to execute a remarkable idea.
  • Trust people, not the process.
  • It’s ok to use the handle as long as you don’t forget the suitcase.
  • The story is king.
    1.  Reminds me of a reference to “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.
  • Be candor with your work environment. Encourage sharing ideas and criticism in a candid way. Use straight talk.
  • Creativity has to start somewhere. We default to wrong. Embracing candid feedback and the iterative process. Reworking, reworking, and reworking again until a flawed idea becomes great.
  • You may get lost somewhere along a complex creative project. It’s natural. Start over, patiently.
  • Create an environment where everyone has vested interests in one another’s success. Give the people both freedom and responsibility and encourage sharing notes with each other even if they are challenging.
  • Seek the root cause of problems and don’t be defensive to your ideas. You are not your idea. Your idea is challenged, not yourself. Enable yourself to focus on the problem,  not the person.
  • Create a story for others, not for yourself. Give up control.
  • We are the doctors and our ideas are the patients.
  • Candor is only valuable info the person on the receiving end is open to it and willing if necessary to let go of the things that don’t work.
  • Look at feedback as an additive, not competitive. Even if it’s an idea that fuels the discussion and doesn’t work out.
  • Embrace candid feedback and constructive criticism without getting defensive to ensure excellence.
  • Failure is a bad is a perception to taught in school. Thought mistakes are painful it’s beneficial for growth and originality. Be wrong as fast as you can to learn faster. Do not be driven by the desire to avoid failure.
  • Make failure something people can face without fear by talking about your mistakes and don’t run from it. The cost of failure is an investment in the future.
  • Pick a path and go down with it. Explore it thoroughly.
  • Teach your craft and create a culture that rewards those who nurture their people.
  • A good manager is one that his team takes ownership in solving problems reliably and autonomously.
  • Efficiency, if forced, may kill creativity and originality.
  • Conflict is essential for the balance of the business ecosystem. Business needs all seasons to survive.
  • Hold your goals lightly and your intention firmly. Adjust your goals as you learn. Strive to get it right, but not necessarily the first time. Build a culture that protects the new.
  • A growing business will change. There is no growth of success without change.
  • When you feel the world is crashing down and all is lost, force yourself to make a list of what’s really wrong so you realize it’s not that bad.
  • Randomness is part of our lives. Unlike patterns, we can’t recognize it but it effects anything.
  • Approach small and big problems with the same set of core values. Small problems are big problems in the making.
  • Our understanding of the fact that shaped our past is severely limited, just like the future is vague. Acknowledge the hidden facts and occurrences in our lives.
  • It’s better to have train racks with miniature trains than with real ones.
    1. Make small experiments, worst that can happen is that they’ll fail. It’s better to discover these mistakes earlier than while things are in the late stages of production.
  • You can learn to set aside misconceptions and ignore them while considering a problem to increase perceptivity and look at the environment around a problem, leading to better solutions.
  • Revisit past success and failure. Self-assess to become exceptional.
  • A lot of things that are hidden can’t be measured. Use data but don’t trust it solely because it does not paint the full picture.
  • Seek beginners’ mind. You’re like likely to create something new this way.
    1. Referenced from the Japanese Zen.
  • To avoid failure makes failure more likely.
    1. Sometimes when you are being too conscious of your actions and try not to fall too hard, you are quick to crash.
    2. Trust your body that it knows what to do.  If you think too much and fear, you will crash.
  • Rely on your guiding principles,  intentions, and goals. Not on being able to predict the future.
  • Be decisive and forgive yourself if your initial decision is misguided. Move fast.
  • You can’t control the elements. There will be good days and bad days but eventually, you’ll get to the other side (of the tunnel) to a bright light. That’s part of the game!
  • Use your skill and knowledge not to duplicate but to invent.
  • Never stop moving forward.
  • Things change constantly as they should; with change comes the need for adaptation and fresh thinking.
  • Persist in staying true to your vision.
  • The future is not a destination, it’s a direction. (My personal favorite)

Conclusions (quoted from the final part of the book)

  1. Give a good idea to a mediocre team and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are, they’ll get the idea right.
  2. When looking to hire people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.
  3. Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better even if it seems like a potential threat.
  4. If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest an idea, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources, inspiration can and does come from anywhere. It isn’t enough merely to be open to ideas from others, engaging the collective brain power you work with is an active ongoing process.
  5. As a manager, you must cox ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.
  6. There are many valid reasons why people aren’t candid with one another in a work environment. Your job is to search for those reasons and address them. Likewise, if someone disagrees with you, there is a reason. Our first job is to understand the reasoning behind their conclusions. Further, if there is fear in the organization there is a reason for it. Our job is:
    1. To find what’s causing it.
    2. To understanding it.
    3. To try and root it out.
  7. There is nothing quite as effective when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints as being convinced you are right.
  8. In general, people are hesitant to say things that might rock the boat, brain-trust meetings, dailys, postmortems and notes day are all efforts to reinforce the idea that it is OK to express yourself. All are mechanisms of self-assessment that seek to uncover what’s real.
  9. If there is more truth in the hallways than in meetings, you have a problem. Many managers feel that if they are not notified about problems before others are or if they are surprised in a meeting that is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.
  10. Careful messaging to downplay problems makes you appear to be lying, deluded, ignorant or uncaring. Sharing problems is an active inclusion that makes employees feel invested in the larger enterprise.
  11. The first conclusions we draw from our successes and failures are typically wrong. Measuring the outcome without evaluating the process is deceiving.
  12. Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is over far greater than the cost of fixing them.
  13. Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur.
  14. If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill-prepared to lead. Similarly, it is not the manager’s job to prevent risks, it’s the manager’s job to make it safe to make them.
  15. Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.
  16. Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up. It means that you trust them even when they do screw up.
  17. The people ultimately responsible for implementing a plan must be empowered to make decisions if things go wrong even before getting approval. Finding and fixing problems is everybody’s job. Anyone should be able to be able to stop the production line.
  18. The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal, it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make, rather by their ability to solve problems.
  19. 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 and that’s as it should be.
  20. A company communications structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everything should be able to talk to anybody.
  21. Be wary of making too many rules, rules can simplify life for managers but they can be demeaning to the 95% who behave well. Don’t create rules to rain in the other 5%, address abuses of common sense individually. This is more work but ultimately, healthier.
  22. Imposing limits can encourage a creative response, excellent work can emerge from uncomfortable of seemingly untenable circumstances.
  23. Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.
  24. An organization as a whole is more conservative and resistant to change than the individuals who comprise it. Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change. It takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.
  25. The healthiest organizations are made up of departments whose agendas differ but whose goals are interdepended. If one agenda wins, we all lose.
  26. Our job as managers in creative environments is to protect new ideas from those who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge there must be phases of not so great. Protect the future, not the past.
  27. New crises are not always lamentable, they test and demonstrate a company’s values. The process of problem-solving often bonds people together and keeps the culture in the present.
  28. Excellence, quality and good should be earned words, attributed by others to us. Not proclaimed by us about ourselves.
  29. Do not accidentally make stability a goal. Balance is more important than stability.
  30. Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Working on our processes to make them better, easier and more efficient, is an indispensable activity and something we should continually work on but it isn’t the goal. Making the product great is the goal.

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