Here are my notes from Creativity, Inc – Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull. Ed is the President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation and this book is one of the top leadership books I’ve read. I highly recommend you buy a copy and read it.
My job as a manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, an swatch for the thing that undermine it.
When faced with a challenge, get smarter.
You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility.
Don’t make the mistake of confusing the communication structure with the organizational structure. Anyone should be able to talk to anyone else, at any level, at any time, without fear of reprimand.
Accepting mediocrity has destructive consequences.
If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.
Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas. Find, develop, and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop and own good ideas.
A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lake of candor ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments. Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid with each other. Be in charge of the environment, not just the meeting.
Early on, all of our movies suck. We dare to attempt these stories, but we don’t get them right on the first pass.
The Pixar Braintrust
The Pixar Braintrust is made up of people with a deep understanding of storytelling and usually, people who have been through the process themselves.
The Braintrust also has no authority. They do not prescribe how to fix the problems they diagnose. They test weak points, they make suggestions, but it is up to the director to settle on a path forward. Ideas become great when they are challenged.
In these meetings, the film – not the filmmaker – is under the microscope. The Braintrust is benevolent. It wants to help. And it has no selfish agenda.
People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. People need to be wrong as fast as they can.
A good not essays what is wrong, wha tis missing, what isn’t clear, what makes no sense. A good note is offered at a timely moment, not too late to fix the problem. A good note doesn’t make demands; it doesn’t even have to include a proposed fix. But if it does, that fix is offered only to illustrate a potential solution, not to prescribe an answer. Most of all, though, a good note is specific. “I’m bored,” is not a good note.
If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it. Leaders must talk about our mistakes and our part in them to make it safe for others to do so.
When experimentation is seen as necessary and productive, not as a frustrating waste of time, people will enjoy their work – even when it is confounding them.
“From 1994 to 2010, not a single Disney animated film would open at number one at the box office. I believe this was the direct result of its employees thinking that their job was to feed the Beast.”
When someone hatches an original idea, it may be ungainly and poorly defined, but it is also the opposite of established and entrenched – and this is precisely what is most exciting about it. Protect the ugly babies.
If the majority of your people aren’t engaged in the work that drives your revenue most of the time, you rise being devoured from the inside out.
Hold lightly to goals and firmly to intentions.
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably mor meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unking to new talent, new creation. The new needs friends.
– Anton Ego in Ratatouile, written by Brad Bird
In a freak accident, 90% of Toy Story 2 was erased on a matter of seconds. To reassemble would have taken thirty people a solid year.
To think you can control or prevent random problems by making an example of someone is naive and wrongheaded. We want people to feel like they can take steps to solve problems without asking permission.
No one – not Walk, not Steve, not the people of Pixar – ever achieved creative success by simply clinging to what used to work.
Hindsight is not 20/20. We aren’t aware that the majority of what we think we see is actually our brain filling in the gaps. Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to favor information, true or not, that confirms their preexisting beliefs. Our mental models are not reality.
- Daily meetings – solving problems together. Everyone at Pixar shows incomplete work, and everyone is free to make suggestions
- Research trips – The Ratatouille team went to France, an Ostrich was brought to headquarters to inspire animators working on Up, many of the crew on Finding Nemo became Scuba certified. “When we are accurate, the audience can tell. It just feels right.”
- The power of limits. Popsicle sticks stuck to a wall represented a person-week – the amount of work a single animator could accomplish in a weeks time.
- Integrating technology and art
- Short experiments – “better to have train wrecks with miniature trains than with real ones.” – Joe Ranft
- Learning to see
- Postmortems – 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.
- Continuing to learn
Leadership is about making your best guess and hurting up about it so if it’s wrong, there’s still time to change course.
Driving the train doesn’t set its course. The real job is laying the track.
People should work there because they want to, not because a contract requires them to, and as a result, no one at Pixar was under contract.
Fixing things is an ongoing, incremental process.