Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

Ed Catmull is one of the geniuses behind Pixar, the incredible animation company that revolutionized what we expect from animated films. The first 80+ pages of Creativity, Inc. are about Catmull's own story and the founding of Pixar. The rest of the book tilts more toward what the title promises: leadership strategies to unleash creativity. I enjoyed Catmull's story, but if you want to jump to the leadership strategies, you can leapfrog the first part.

Catmull's strategies won't strike anyone as particularly innovative. You'll likely have heard or intuited a lot of what he says, but what I found particularly inspiring was the tenacity and single-minded focus Catmull and the other leaders at Pixar had in implementing simple but profound ideas. And perhaps most impressive is Catmull himself, clearly a leader who embodies the ideals he puts forth.

At the core of Catmull's philosophy is a team-based, egalitarian approach where members ideas are let loose and then relentlessly improved upon by the team. Catmull says, "Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are that they'll get the ideas right." And later he adds, "If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere." There must be trust established for these ideas to emerge and be improved upon.

Catmull dismisses the idea that fully formed beauty emerges from the creative mind. Instead, they must be improved upon. He says, "Originality is fragile. And, in its first moments, it's often far from pretty. This is why I call early mock-ups of our films "ugly babies. They are not beautiful, miniature versions of the adults they will grow up to be. They are truly ugly: awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete. They need nurturing - in the form of time and patience - in order to grow. ... Our job is to protect our babies from being judged too quickly. Our job is to protect the new."

Creativity, Inc is a readable, helpful book for leaders in any number of roles. I encourage you to pick it up and benefit from Catmull's insight.