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

Here are my comments on the book:

What can we learn from the founder of animation company Pixar, Ed Catmull? As cliche as it may be, Catmull repeatedly addressed the importance of great leadership and teamwork. He attributes a large portion of Pixar’s success to the culture he instilled that enabled workers to feel like they’re working in a safe environment where creativity is able to thrive. Here are some of the points to the book:


1. You can turn what you love doing into a living. Each time I read up on or learn about the success of companies, businesses, and people, a common recurring theme that I come across is that someone was passionate about what they were doing. Not sure how to begin? Just start as that’s the most important thing. Start small with what you’re doing and the ideas to grow will come. Don’t think that you need to know everything before you begin turning that passion into a profit as you’ll never know everything. With the case of Catmull, he admired both Disney and Einstein who then inspired him to turn his love of cartoons, design, and computers into the animation company that we all know now as Pixar. When I was a kid, I used to plunk myself down on the living room floor of my family’s modest Salt Lake City home a few minutes before 7 P.M. every Sunday and wait for Walt Disney. Specifically, I’d wait for him to appear on our black-and-white RCA with its tiny 12-inch screen. Even from a dozen feet away—the accepted wisdom at the time was that viewers should put one foot between them and the TV for every inch of screen—I was transfixed by what I saw. Each week, Walt Disney himself opened the broadcast of The Wonderful World of Disney. Standing before me in suit and tie, like a kindly neighbor, he would demystify the Disney magic. He’d explain the use of synchronized sound in Steamboat Willie or talk about the importance of music in Fantasia. He always went out of his way to give credit to his forebears, the men—and, at this point, they were all men—who’d done the pioneering work upon which he was building his empire. He’d introduce the television audience to trailblazers such as Max Fleischer, of Koko the Clown and Betty Boop fame, and Winsor McCay, who made Gertie the Dinosaur—the first animated film to feature a character that expressed emotion—in 1914. He’d gather a group of his animators, colorists, and storyboard artists to explain how they made Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck come to life. Each week, Disney created a made-up world, used cutting-edge technology to enable it, and then told us how he’d done it.He later states in the book, It is the notion that if you carefully think everything through, if you are meticulous and plan well and consider all possible outcomes, you are more likely to create a lasting product. But I should caution that if you seek to plot out all your moves before you make them—if you put your faith in slow, deliberative planning in the hopes it will spare you failure down the line—well, you’re deluding yourself. For one thing, it’s easier to plan derivative work—things that copy or repeat something already out there. So if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal. Moreover, you cannot plan your way out of problems. While planning is very important, and we do a lot of it, there is only so much you can control in a creative environment. In general, I have found that people who pour their energy into thinking about an approach and insisting that it is too early to act are wrong just as often as people who dive in and work quickly. The overplanners just take longer to be wrong (and, when things inevitably go awry, are more crushed by the feeling that they have failed). There’s a corollary to this, as well: The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it. The nonworking idea gets worn into your brain, like a rut in the mud. It can be difficult to get free of it and head in a different direction. Which, more often than not, is exactly what you must do.


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2. Hard work and dedication precedes “luck” which, in my opinion, basically means readiness meets opportunity. I believe that those who are self made didn’t get lucky. Sure they may have gotten a helping hand here and there but on a whole they got to where they are because of their hard work and dedication behind the scenes that got them there. I don’t think Catmull would have been able to meet George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, had he not been so dedicated to learning about computer graphic design. This is why it’s key to get started on what you’re passionate about. After, the ideas will come if you stay dedicated to learning how to improve and refine what you’ve made. On May 25, 1977, Star Wars opened in theaters across America. The film’s mastery of visual effects—and its record-shattering popularity at the box office—would change the industry forever. And thirty-two-year-old writer-director George Lucas was only getting started. His company, Lucasfilm, and its ascendant Industrial Light & Magic studio had already taken the lead developing new tools in visual effects and sound design. Now, while no one else in the movie industry evinced even the slightest desire to invest in such things, George resolved in July 1979 to launch a computer division. Thanks to Luke Skywalker, he had the resources to do it right. To run this division, he wanted someone who not only knew computers; he wanted someone who loved film and believed that the two could not only coexist but enhance one another. Eventually, that led George to me. One of his key people, Richard Edlund, who was a pioneer of special effects, came to see me one afternoon in my office at NYIT wearing a belt with an enormous buckle that read, in huge letters, “Star Wars.” This was worrisome, given that I was trying to keep his visit a secret from Alex Schure. Somehow, though, Alex didn’t catch on. George’s emissary was apparently pleased with what I showed him, because a few weeks after he left, I was on my way to Lucasfilm in California for a formal interview.


3. Your team or group of people in your network is a key contributing factor to your success. A reason why certain companies thrive and others don’t is due to the fact that thriving companies have a solid team that support and push each other. Even if you don’t have a business/company, those who are a part of your “team” or those who are around you make a difference in the quality of your life. We operate and perform as well as those similar to who we spend our time with the most. Having said that, have a think of those in your life or business whose vision of success doesn’t align with yours and are slowing you down. Seriously contemplate finding and replacing them with others who share the same vision and dreams as you do. One version didn’t work at all, and the other was deeply affecting. Why? Talented storytellers had found a way to make viewers care, and the evolution of this storyline made it abundantly clear to me: 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. The takeaway here is worth repeating: Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. It is easy to say you want talented people, and you do, but the way those people interact with one another is the real key. Even the smartest people can form an ineffective team if they are mismatched. That means it is better to focus on how a team is performing, not on the talents of the individuals within it. A good team is made up of people who complement each other. There is an important principle here that may seem obvious, yet—in my experience—is not obvious at all. Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.


By Ryan Timothy Lee


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My rating:
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Check out the book here:

Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK


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