Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull is by one of the co-founders of Pixar and a solid book subtitled Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

Catmull writes how he in high school loved Disney animation, in part from the way Walt Disney explained the creation of it, and graduated from the University of Utah with degrees in physics and computer science and a Ph.D. in computer graphics. 

He was hired to try to start a computer animation company, and two years following the release of Star Wars in 1977, George Lucas hired him away to run his new computer division, with the primary product the Pixar Image Computer. Lucas in 1986 sold the Pixar division to Steve Jobs, with Catmull and John Lasseter remaining in charge. They began to make commercials along with short films. A three-picture deal was made with Disney in 1991, where Pixar would make the films, and Disney would produce and own them. In 1995, the first movie was released, Toy Story

It's a good book that has a number of solid insights on how to create and manage for a creative culture, with some of those (italics are mine) below:

Teams - 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. 

Coaxing out ideas - It isn't enough merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.

Encouraging candor, stamping out fear - There are many valid reasons why people aren't candid with one another in a work environment. Your job is to search for those reasons and then address them. The same concept applies to fear in an organization.

Mechanisms for getting feedback - In general, people are hesitant to say things that might rock the boat. Braintrust meetings, dailies, postmortems, and Notes Day are all efforts to reinforce the idea that it is okay to express yourself. All are mechanisms of self-assessment that seek to uncover what's real.

Trust - It is the manager's job to make it safe to take risks. Trust doesn't mean that you trust that someone won't screw up. It means you trust them even when they do screw up.

Communication - A company's communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

Interdependence - The healthiest organizations are made up of departments whose agendas differ but whose goals are interdependent. If one agenda wins, we all lose.

Candor - Good criticism or praise is specific. Also, feedback and candor is built on empathy, being in something together. 

Making the product great - Don't confuse the process with the goal. Working on our processes to make them better, easier, and more efficient is an indispensable activity and something we should continually work on, but it is not the goal. Making the product great is the goal.