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

I adore Pixar Animation films and that is hardly a unique opinion.  Ever since 1995’s Toy Story, almost every one of their films has connected with me in a deeply personal way.  The first ten minutes of Up wre-e-ecked me, as did the conclusion of Toy Story 3.  Pixar Animation is one of the world’s most successful film studios and not only because they employ wonderfully creative people.  It takes great management to bring all the pieces together to deliver a consistently superior product.

I heard great buzz about Creativity, Inc., Pixar President Ed Catmull’s book about his rise to his current position and his discussion of his management style.  It had been included on several business-related Best Of lists and my local Barnes & Noble had a whole shelf devoted to it.  Working in a management position myself, I am always on the lookout for guidance so a management book by the head of one of my favorite film studios piqued by interest.  Though Catmull states Creativity, Inc. is not a memoir, it certainly reads like one.  He delves into his past, discusses his dream of making the first computer-animated feature film, the relationships he developed and work he performed on his road to Pixar.  He brings you into the creative meetings, discusses the successes and failures at Pixar (did you know Toy Story 2 was almost scrapped?!).  It is a wonderful peek into one of my favorite companies.

Some of the management tips Catmull offers seem like common sense:  Establish a culture of open discussion and encourage all employees to share their ideas, treat others with respect and kindness.  I know some managers prefer a Machiavellian approach, a behavior I have witnessed first-hand and find disgusting and reproachable, but I would hope most people would already behave in the manner Catmull suggests.  This does not make Catmull’s advice dismissible.  I am just disappointed that there has to be a book about it.  These are not just guidelines for successful management.  They are guidelines for life in general.  The saddest part is that some people do not behave in this manner automatically.  Why is nasty the standard operating behavior for so many people?

“As leaders, we should think of ourselves as teachers and try to create companies in which teaching is seen as a valued way to contribute to the success of the whole.”

It is comforting to read about these nuggets of advice being successfully implemented at a profitable company.  I was about three-quarters of the way through the book when I had the sudden realization that it sure would have been a grand idea to write Catmull’s management tips down in bullet points so I could at least refer to them later.  Fortunately, Ed Catmull knew what I wanted before I did because there is an appendix called “Starting Points” that collects all of his suggestions in short, easily digestible reminders.  Some might be tempted to take a short cut and read just this appendix, but I urge prospective readers to take the time to experience Catmull’s book in its entirety. 

So here is my own “Starting Point”:  If you are already a collaborative manager who gives credit where credit is due, read this for the pleasant memoir and confirmation that your method works.  If you are on a power trip, read it to learn you don’t have to be a jerk to your employees to get them to work hard for you.  Maybe watch a Pixar film or two while you’re at it and learn compassion, cooperation, inspiration, loyalty, leadership, friendship.