Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Review From User :

For those unfamiliar with Ed Catmull, he is best known as the president of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Full disclosure: I work for the latter. Before I came to work at Disney, I knew of Ed Catmull as a technological innovator in the field of computer graphics and animation. He was essential in the development of the alpha channel, z-buffer, texture mapping, and a number of other technologies that make digital animation possible. After years of problem solving in the technical space, he found himself in charge of a thriving company (Pixar) and devoted his problem solving acumen to management and the problem of keeping creativity alive. This book is a record of that effort, his successes, his failures, and the lessons he learned along the way.

I haven't read much in the way of management books, so it's hard for me to compare Creativity, Inc. with others in that field, but Catmull has a particular advantage when it comes to credentials and credibility. Pixar has released 14 animated features; every single one of them a box office phenomenon, and Pixar enjoys the most consistent critical success of any studio. Similarly, Disney Animation has seen a resurgence under Ed's and John Lasseter's leadership, with an ever-improving slate of hits.

What makes those statistics so impressive is that creativity is a legendarily fickle beast: success often leads to complacency, what-worked-before is encoded as rule and takes away the flexibility to innovate, population and budgets get blown out of proportion until the constraints that provided inspiration disappear, and as a result creative streaks tend to be frustratingly unsustainable.

Ed Catmull shares the story of his early days in computer graphics and his uncertain transition into management, giving specific examples of things that worked and did not work. There are numerous anecdotes about his interactions with Steve Jobs and the various directors at Pixar, and deep reflection on the roles of personality, pride, bias, objectivity, failure, success, teamwork and the various permutations thereof. Eventually Pixar is acquired by Disney, with the unusual result of Ed and John being placed in charge of Disney Animation. This provides a test bed to try Pixar's management philosophy out on a new population of talented but struggling filmmakers.

The conclusion is that there are no easy answers or set rules for keeping creativity alive. Anything that can be stated as a maxim is already half-way obsolete as the repeated words become divorced from the reality of the situation. Instead, creativity requires constant vigilance: searching oneself for biases, trying things in new ways, picking talented people and allowing them to have a voice, keeping your communications open and independent of your organizational structure, knowing when to cut your losses in the interest of pursuing excellence, failing often and not seeing failure as something to be protected against, and so on. I can't summarize all the insights, and their explanations are helpful - so read the book!

I'll sum up by saying Creativity, Inc. should be of interest to managers of all stripes - even in businesses that aren't traditionally seen as creative - as well as to anyone who follows the history of technology or animation. Ed Catmull is an extremely smart person, and it's nice to see someone with his perspicacity and concern for others in such a prominent position. The book won't win any awards for flowery prose, but it was a quick read, and Ed Catmull has a very pragmatic, introspective, and unclouded approach to problem solving that will benefit everyone.


Category: Art, Computer

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.”

Part 1

Part 2