"Everybody Has The Potential To Be Creative"
"Is this your view? Or you are sharing someone else's belief?" *Prasna had arrived.
"It is indeed my view. What I have written here are the exact words by Ed Catmull, President of PIXAR ANIMATION and DISNEY ANIMATION.
"How do you know him?"
"I don't know him. It is a quote from his book CREATIVITY, INC. Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration."
"Are you writing a review of the book?"
"No. I want to share my thoughts on why I like the book."
"Go ahead. I won't interrupt your writing."
Ed Catmull is a person who has 'been there and done that' when it comes to leading employees to perform their best. He talks about nurturing a creative culture in his book. Not an easy job. He talks about meetings, mistakes, post-mortems. Because he speaks from his experience, there is a ring of authenticity in the book.
"The ideas in the book were developed over a period of forty-five years," says Ed.
Amy Wallace, a journalist who has written for GQ, Wired, The New Yorker, and The New York Times magazine has co-authored the book. It is Ed's story, and I suspect Amy has helped capture the nuances of Ed's story. In a manner, Ed may not have been able to do himself.
There are four parts to the book. Each section has a set of chapters. In a way, it reads like the birth of a new idea and how to develop it to its potential. So we have Getting Started, Protecting The New, Building And Sustaining, and Testing What We know.
There is an insightful afterword which has two major topics.
The Steve That We Knew and Thoughts For Managing A Creative Culture.
The book is conversational in style, and there is a wealth of insights in every chapter of the book. I am not going to write a review of the book. Instead, I am just going to share a collection of insights that made me sit up, gave me an 'AHA' moment.
Here are a few such insights.
"If we made something we want to see, others would want to see it too."
"Money, after all, is just one measure of a thriving company and usually not the most meaningful one."
"The definition of superb animation is that each character on the screen makes you believe it is a thinking being."
"I needed to attract the sharpest minds; to attract the sharpest minds I needed to put my own insecurities away."
"I was balancing on the backs of a herd of horses. Only some of the horses were thoroughbreds. Some were completely wild, and some were ponies who were struggling to keep up. I found it hard enough to hold, let alone steer."
About George Lucas, he says "He believed in the future and his ability to shape it. He bet on himself and won."
About his first meeting with Steve Jobs. "He was the sort of person who didn't let presentations happen to him."
Here are some more that rang a bell for me.
"There is nothing like ignorance combined with a driving need to succeed to force rapid learning."
About advice from well-meaning friends. "While they were generous with their advice, the most valuable lessons I learnt were gleaned from the flaws in that advice."
About responsibility "You don't have to take permission to take responsibility."
"Figuring out how to build a sustainable creative culture. One that didn't just pay lip service to the importance of things. Like honesty, excellence, communication, originality and self-assessment. But really committed to them. No matter how uncomfortable that became - wasn't a singular assignment. It was a day-in-day-out, full-time job."
There is one full chapter on "Honesty and Candour".
Here are a few gems from that chapter.
About Braintrust. One of Pixar's key mechanisms to push towards excellence and root out mediocrity. "Put smart, passionate people in a room together. Charge them with identifying and solving problems. And encourage them to be candid with one another. People who would feel obligated, to be honest somehow feel freer when asked for their candour. They have a choice about whether to give it, and thus, when they do give it, intends to be genuine."
"No matter what, the process of coming to clarity takes patience and candour."
"We believe that ideas only become great when they are challenged and tested."
"You are not your idea. If you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offence when they are challenged."
"The fear of saying something stupid and looking bad. Of offending someone or being intimidated. Of retaliating or being retaliated against. They all have a way of reasserting themselves, even once you think have been vanquished. And when they do, you must address them squarely."
"Are you going to carry on like this for every chapter. How do you know what interests you might interest others?" Prasna piped in.
"You may be right Prasna. Yet, what Ed talks about resonates a lot with what many of the CEOs have shared with me. To answer your question, I am NOT going to share insights from every chapter. What I have done is to give a sample of what the book is all about. More importantly what Ed shares are backed by years of experimentation. Experience and practice in managing ideas and bringing them to fruition."
"What does he say about his experience with Steve Jobs?"
"He has written almost 20 pages about his association with Steve Jobs. Reading about the softer side of the man was fascinating. Quite a lot has been said about the brusque style of Steve Jobs. He would offer his comments about the plots or movies and often preface them with 'I know nothing about the entertainment business but..'.
Here is what Ed Catmull says about Steve Jobs: "It wasn't that passion trumped logic in Steve's mind. He was well aware that decisions must never be based on emotions alone. But he also saw that creativity wasn't linear. That art wasn't commerce. And that to insist on applying dollars and cents logic was to risk disrupting the thing that sets us apart. Steve puts a premium on both sides of the equation, logic and emotion. And the way he maintained that balance was the key to understanding him."
"Who do you think will benefit by reading this book?"
"CEOs who manage businesses that have a creative angle to it. Hence want to create and maintain a creative culture. CMOS who drive the growth of brands. Chief Innovation Officers who need to encourage people to think differently and provide new solutions. "
"What about consultants like you?"
**Prasna Rao is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms. You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach