Book: Creativity Inc.

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Ed Catmull is a CEO of Pixar – studio responsible for such amazing movies as Up, Wall-e and Toy Story.

He took upon himself to protect the creativity of Pixar and find out what needs to be done to protect and fuel expression. Seeing how successful companies turn into “Beasts that have to be fed”, how they are losing the drive and creative spark that propelled to the top in the first place, he decided to be ever-vigilant and purposefull in how he protects Pixar from the inevitable calcification of minds and processes.

This book is a chronicle of his findings and a good guide for anyone wanting to reproduce his amazing results.

Amazon Link

Key takeways

  • Key to Creativity is candor – less loaded synonym of honesty. Candid, constructive feedback, but also a mandate for honest expression about ridicule
  • Preparation and getting the details right is what separates good from the great. During the production of Ratatuille, team was flown to Paris to meet and dine if the restaurants of famous chefs. Later, that team had a pleasure of visiting Paris sewers where the protagonist lived
  • Ownership of the production process by every member of the production line is key. That concept was supposedly the key to Japanese manufacturing excellence (in the 50s the Japanese products were considered much worse than we think of Chinese products today). Once every employee was empowered to stop the production line, the efficiency went through the roof. People felt responsible and they came with the ideas for improvement
  • You can only be considered a creative company if you are open to failure, empower employees to go off the script and not tie them with too many rules
  • I would like for my work environment to empower me better in my daily tasks. Since I work remotely, the office straight from Pixar is out of the question, but my coworking space can help accomplish that.

Similaries to Automattic

I have a great pleasure of working at Automattic. Very successfull company in its own right. But since we are considered more of  a technology company than an art studio, I never considered us to be a Creative business. Reading this book really drew my attention to the fact that our management has put a lot of effort into securing our creative freedom and I am very grateful for that opportunity. I’ll let myself annotate quotes from the book by pointing out similarities in A8C.

  • In that way, creativity is more like a marathon than a sprint.
    – 
    I don’t think I have heard any phrase more often from our CEO Matt Mullenweg. We are in Marathon, not a Sprint.
  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
    – 
    We have about 110 internal blogs for sharing thoughts and comments. In fact, apart from Slack we have NO OTHER method of day – to day communication, so the default mode is always including everyone into conversation and making it public. I have suggested multiple ideas and all of my comments were treated very seriously
  • Many managers feel that if they are not notified about problems before others are or if they are surprised in a meeting, then that is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.
    – Our CEO Matt Mullenweg is hosting “Townhalls” every month were people can ask any question without any previous heads up. You can put him on the spot and he will tell you honestly how it is.
  • 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 often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
    We really adopted Facebooks “Move fast and break things” adage. We have a special page with a photo of last person that broke our system
  • 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. If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
    – I don’t have a specific example for that, but during by 1-year tenure I have worked in many surprising capabilities
  • A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
    Since Slack and internal blogs are our primary methods of comunication, there really is no other way. Sometimes it’s scary when CEO jumps in to your teams discussion, but you can talk to whomever you like.
  • Be wary of making too many rules. Rules can simplify life for managers, but they can be demeaning to the 95 percent who behave well. Don’t create rules to rein in the other 5 percent—address abuses of common sense individually. This is more work but ultimately healthier.
    We have one rule: “use common sense”. I once embarked on an expedition to find out If I can expense $1400 chair. I was told to use my common sense. It is hard for me, since i am not a reasonable person. Anyways, I expensed it and opted out to buy the desk from my own money. If there were a rule, I would end up with mediocre chair and mediocre desk.
  • Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.
    – 
    I wont even tell you about the project we are doing right now, but I never felt as happy and challenged in my job before.

Fun facts

  • Pixar actually started out as a division of Lucasfilm, later sold adopted by Steve Jobbs and woring together with Disney until release of Toy Story
  • During the production of Toy Story 2, whole movie was erased from the server by runaway `rm -rf` command. Of course there were backups, but these failed as well. Fortunately, one employee was working from home and the had backup on her private laptop. They ended up losing only 6 days of work
  • Ed Catmull and John Lasseter also repaired Disney Animation corporate culture letting them find their way. Disney merged with Pixar, but both companies are functioning on their own terms.

My highlights

  • What they miss is that the unifying idea for this building isn’t luxury but community. Steve wanted the building to support our work by enhancing our ability to collaborate.
  • The lesson of ARPA had lodged in my brain: When faced with a challenge, get smarter.
  • Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.
  • Experimentation was highly valued, but the urgency of a for-profit enterprise was definitely in the air. In other words, we felt like we were solving problems for a reason.
  • While George wanted this new video-editing system in place, the film editors at Lucasfilm did not.
  • THERE IS NOTHING quite like ignorance combined with a driving need to succeed to force rapid learning.
  • In other words, the Japanese assembly line became a place where workers’ engagement strengthened the resulting product. And that would eventually transform manufacturing around the world.
  • You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility.
  • If we had done some things right to achieve success, how could we ensure that we understood what those things were? Could
  • Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. It
  • That means it is better to focus on how a team is performing, not on the talents of the individuals within it.
  • Advertisers look for words that imply a product’s value and use that as a substitute for value itself.
  • People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process.
  • Telling the truth is difficult, but inside a creative company, it is the only way to ensure excellence.
  • The place, called the Poet’s Loft,
  • Steve Jobs was known for changing his mind instantly in the light of new facts, and I don’t know anyone who thought he was weak.
  • Self-interest guides opposition to change,
  • Real patterns are mixed in with random events, so it is extraordinarily difficult for us to differentiate between chance and skill.
  • What’s needed, in my view, is to approach big and small problems with the same set of values and emotions, because they are, in fact, self-similar. In
  • Complex environments are, by definition, too complicated for any one person to grasp fully.
  • The better approach, I believe, is to accept that we can’t understand every facet of a complex environment and to focus, instead, on techniques to deal with combining different viewpoints.
  • our models of the world so distort what we perceive that they can make it hard to see what is right in front of us.
  • we don’t typically see the boundary between new information coming in from the outside and our old, established mental models—
  • we unknowingly get caught up in our own interpretations, we become inflexible, less able to deal with the problems at hand.
  • is that people who work or live together—people like Dick and Anne, for example—have, by virtue of proximity and shared history, models of the world that are deeply (sometimes hopelessly) intertwined with one another.
  • Dailies, or Solving Problems Together Research Trips The Power of Limits Integrating Technology and Art Short Experiments Learning to See Postmortems Continuing to Learn
  • Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.
  • several members of Ratatouille’s team went to France and spent two weeks dining in extraordinary, Michelin-starred restaurants, visiting their kitchens, and interviewing their chefs. (They also trudged through the Paris sewers, where many a rat makes his home.)
  • an ostrich was brought into Pixar’s headquarters to inspire the animators who were modeling the giant bird character.
  • We are striving to tell you something impactful and true. When attempting to make good on that promise, no detail is too small.
  • They place an object upside down, for example, so that each student can look at it as a pure shape and not as a familiar, recognizable thing (a shoe, say).
  • Consolidate What’s Been Learned
  • Teach Others Who Weren’t There
  • Don’t Let Resentments Fester
  • Use the Schedule to Force Reflection
  • Pay It Forward
  • The problem comes when people think that data paints a full picture, leading them to ignore what they can’t see.
  • 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 are doing.
  • Instead, there was something about an apprentice lighting technician sitting alongside an experienced animator, who in turn was sitting next to someone who worked in legal or accounting or security—that proved immensely valuable.
  • It taught everyone at Pixar, no matter their title, to respect the work that their colleagues did.
  • Similarly, in Japanese Zen, that idea of not being constrained by what we already know is called “beginner’s mind.”
  • In that way, creativity is more like a marathon than a sprint.
  • But seeking to eliminate failure was in this instance—and, I would argue, most instances—precisely the wrong thing to do.
  • able to move the focus away from the notion of the “right” way to fix the problem to actually fixing the problem—a subtle but important distinction.
  • “What can we learn from best practices at other companies?”
  • Steve had a remarkable knack for letting go of things that didn’t work.
  • He didn’t hold on to an idea because he had once believed it to be brilliant. His ego didn’t attach to the suggestions he made, even as he threw his full weight behind them.
  • he knew how important it was to construct a story that connected with people.
  • As we walked out of the vault, Steve stopped in the hallway and said he had been working on a list of three things he wanted to do—and I remember the words precisely—“before I sail away.”
  • “What this scene really needs is a Buddhist monk lighting himself on fire.”
  • But to focus too much on this is to miss something important. He recognized that many rules were in fact arbitrary. Yes, he tested boundaries and crossed the line at times.
  • We frequently support the idea of pushing boundaries in theory, ignoring the trouble it can cause in practice.
  • Some people call it arrogance; I call it confidence. But it was basically a belief that he could do anybody’s job better than they could.
  • know that when you distill a complex idea into a T-shirt slogan, you risk giving the illusion of understanding—and, in the process, of sapping the idea of its power.
  • An adage worth repeating is also halfway to being irrelevant.
  • Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.
  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, 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 brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.
  • 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, then that is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.
  • Careful “messaging” to downplay problems makes you appear to be lying, deluded, ignorant, or uncaring. Sharing problems is an act of inclusion that makes employees feel invested in the larger enterprise.
  • 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 often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
  • 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. If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
  • A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
  • Be wary of making too many rules. Rules can simplify life for managers, but they can be demeaning to the 95 percent who behave well. Don’t create rules to rein in the other 5 percent—address abuses of common sense individually. This is more work but ultimately healthier.
  • Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.
  • 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.
  • Do not accidentally make stability a goal. Balance is more important than stability.
  • 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 is not the goal. Making the product great is the goal.

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