Creativity, Inc. – Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

August 25, 2017

You can read the full description of the book on Amazon, but here is a quick overview from the publisher:

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.”

The book is partially a management book with the history of Pixar and its films mixed in for good measure.

Why I’m Recommending It:

There were so many great ideas that I took from this book, but I want to highlight three of them:

  • Honesty and Candor
  • The Brain Trust
  • Notes Day

We all know that we should be honest, but Catmull argues that there “are often good reasons not to be honest.”  (There are times that we actively choose not to say what we really think in order to protect someone else or allow them to save face.)  Instead, he argues that candor is more important than honesty.  Candor is “forthrightness or frankness.”  It communicates “not just truth-telling, but a lack of reserve.”  At Pixar, they view candor as an open, positive sharing of ideas with a goal of improving the overall product/film.  Everyone, from every level of the organization is encouraged to be candid with one another and share their thoughts (and ideas on how to solve the problem) as long as it helps the overall goals.

I see Honesty and Candor as critical to every business relationship.  Like all of us, I know that there are times that I’m not as candid as I should be.  But I’m actively working to be as honest and candid as I can with everyone that I work with.

Pixar’s “Brain Trust” is a collection of smart, passionate people within Pixar that help solve problems the creative team is facing by providing honest (and candid) feedback.  Their goal is to “push [Pixar] toward excellence and to root out mediocrity.”  The Brain Trust is an excellent idea that helps to provide an outside perspective on problems and suggest potential solutions to the problem when others are too close to the problem.

The Brain Trust essentially describes why I enjoy consulting so much.  My teams and I get to act like a Brain Trust for our clients and provide an outsider’s creative perspective on how to transform the client’s activities.  It also reminds me that I too can benefit from engaging others within my company to provide a fresh perspective on the proposals and deliverables that I create.

In 2013, Pixar started conducting an annual event called “Notes Day.”  The event was inspired by the film industry’s process of providing notes on the scenes filmed the prior day, but instead of movies Notes Day is an opportunity to provide constructive feedback on how the organization functions. Pixar employees at all levels and disciplines are encouraged to join in any session they want to learn more about what their colleagues do or provide feedback on a Pixar process.

I think this opportunity to learn and provide feedback is critical to a company’s success. I’ve taken some of the ideas from Notes Day and tried to change up our quarterly Town Halls to take this focus.


Favorite Quotes:

The responsibility for finding and fixing problems should be assigned to every employee, from the most senior manager to the lowliest person on the production line.

You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility.

Learn More:

The book is available in Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle Edition, and as an audiobook from Amazon.  You can also read a preview of the book below: