March 22, 2017

Book Reflection: Creativity, Inc by Amy Wallace and Ed Catmull

I got this book as a Christmas present last December and I took my time reading it since I'm quite familiar with the corporate history of Pixar having previously read the book "The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company" by David A. Price.

Pixar is one of my favorite companies. I love the story of how they started out as a hardware company but ended up as one of the most success movie companies in recent history.

I love how their history and development involved with both Lucasfilm and Steve Jobs.

Oh, and of course, we all love their movies.

Being written by one of the founders of Pixar, this book actually delves a lot deeper than just a narration of the corporate history and development of Pixar. There are genuine insights found in the pages of the book. It is a true inside look at how Pixar has managed to remain true to their original vision and values despite a changing landscape and rapid growth.

Creativity, Inc by Amy Wallace and Ed Catmull

I find it amazing that this book opens and shares so many of the tools (secrets?) that Pixar uses that are integral to their unique creative culture.

From the use of a creative council called the "Braintrust" to the company-wide planning session called "Notes Day", the book sheds light on how Pixar creates magic on-screen and the different challenges that faced the company as they grew from a small startup to a publicly listed company to a division of Disney.

The book is much closer to a manager's guidebook than it is to a corporate narration. While the authors use many stories taken from Pixar's history, they all serve the purpose of driving home clear points to help illustrate the key management techniques that one needs to employ to create a creative culture that thrives with time.

Below are some key things stood out to me as I read this book.

Candor vs Honesty

One key takeaway for me was the importance of candor. Pixar uses this word instead of honesty because telling someone to "be honest" has a negative connotation that the person was being dishonest to begin with.

I like this philosophy a lot. Being straightforward and candid not only allows a culture of openness to thrive, but it also builds trust internally.

Tearing Down Ideas, Not People

At Pixar, people don't tear ideas down for the sake of tearing the idea down. They do so with the express purpose of trying to build on it. The target of the criticism is the idea, not the person who had the idea.

This is powerful stuff. And easier said than done. 

It goes against many corporate cultures where personalities (and their standing/reputation) play an important part in day to day activities. Also, a lot of people take criticism personally, it's just human nature. 

A Magic Solution?

This book is a great read for people looking for tools they can use to develop their own creative culture in their own organizations. 

Just like other management books, reading this and learning from it is not going to be a magic pill that transforms your organization from zero to creative hero overnight. Pick and apply only what will build on your long term goals for your team and organization.

The success or failure of your organization to develop a creative culture will still depend on the leaders who dictate the big picture goals and set the direction and the people who will be applying and trying to execute the plans to achieve the goals.

All this book provides is a fantastic case study using a culturally relevant company that we all love.