Favorite Lessons from Creativity Inc.

July 5th, 2016 Reading Time: 6 minutesEssays,Lessons

It should come of no surprise that one of the founders of Pixar would be able to craft an amazing story with the book Creativity Inc. in collaboration with Amy Wallace.

What stands out in this book compared to other business books is the selflessness of Ed Catmul, who speaks more about his colleagues than himself and the book’s balanced blend of business, biography, philosophy and psychology; coming together to illustrate how to enable people to work together.

Pixar movies have shaped my childhood and continue to shape my adulthood, telling stories with deep lessons in simple ways that trigger a wide spectrum of emotions.

Creativity Inc. contained many wise lessons through the company’s and trials and triumphs. Pixar has released 17 feature films as of 2016 since their start in 1995 with Toy's Story. 

Here are 17 of my favorite lessons from the book:


1. Story is King

“The first principle was ”Story is King,“ by which we meant that we would let nothing — not the technology, not the merchandising possibilities — get in the way of our story.”

People connect with stories. Learning how to structure stories can help us with our everyday communication and get our ideas across.


2. Trust the Process

“While there are inevitable difficulties and missteps in any complex creative endeavor, you can trust ”the process“ will carry you through.”

When you focus on the system and the process, you are present minded and succeed each time you apply the system. When you focus too much on the goal you can create worries of failure pulled in from the future of not being there yet.


3. Earn Excellence and Quality

“Excellence, quality and good should be earned words, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by ourselves.”

Focus on doing and let you work speak for itself, instead of pretending to be when nothing has been done.


4. Balance over Stability

"Do not accidentally make stability a goal. Balance is more important than stability.

Too much stability is static and can lead to complacency. When you are in motion, balance is more active and leads to growth.


5. Strive towards a great product, don’t over-focus on the process

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

Although, the process is important, don’t let it constrain you and lose sight of making a great product.


6. Trust in people

“Trust doesn’t mean that you trust someone won’t screw up – it means you trust them even when they do screw up.”

Trust in the capacity for people to go good work as well as the ability to make things right.


7. Constraints can lead to creativity

“Imposing limits can encourage a creative response. Excellent work can emerge from uncomfortable or seemingly untenable circumstances.”

The creative mind finds a way. When it seems like there is no path we create one.


8. Surround yourself with smart people

“Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.”

Don’t feel intimidated by people seemingly “smarter” than you. We all have something to offer. Surround yourself with people that can teach you something new and will challenge you to grow.


9. Emotions tell the story

“Most think of animation as the characters just moving around in funny ways while they deliver their lines, but great animators carefully craft the movements that elicit an emotional response, convincing us that these characters have feelings, emotions, intentions.”

People are drawn to pictures, words and emotions, these are some of the building blocks of a story. Emotions engage us on a deeper level to feel connected and invested in the characters of a story.


10. Learning to draw is Learning to See

“A trained artist who sees a chair, then, is able to capture what the eye perceives (shape, color) before their ”recognizer“ function tells them what it is supposed to be. [..] They see more because they’ve learned how to turn off their minds tendency to jump to conclusions. [..] And those cuts stem from a fundamental misconception that art classes are about learning to draw. In fact, they are about learning to see.”

Drawing is better understanding how our brains “sees” and reproducing that world. Much more, we can go beyond what we see as we learn the building blocks to make our own creations.


11. Be Open to wonder like a child

“In Korean Zen, the belief that it is good to branch out beyond what we already know is expressed in a phrase that means, literally, ‘not known mind’. To have a ”not know mind“ is a goal of creative people. It means you are open to the new, just as children are. Similarly, in Japanese Zen, that idea of not being constrained by what we already know is called ”beginner’s mind""

The curse of knowledge sometimes is that it can block us off to new possibilities as we believe we know what can exist within the domain. This can hinder learning and creativity as we narrow our thoughts to a set way of doing things.


12. Learn about a problem quickly, Act

“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 over-planners 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 time for thinking and there’s a time for acting. Don’t stay on either side for too long. Don’t be afraid to act, you can learn quicker from your mistakes than from doing nothing.


13. Allow room for Creativity

“Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear.”

Push away the resistance holding your creativity back and use fear as a compass towards personal learning that can lead creative inspiration.


14. Build the capacity for change

“Change and uncertainty are a part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capacity to recover when the unexpected events occur. If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will always be I’ll prepared to lead.”

Stay vigilant. Be resilient. Change will come whether you like it or not. All you can do is ride the waves.


15. Failure isn’t evil

“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”

Don’t take failure personally. You’re not a bad person because you’ve experienced a failure. Adjust your aim and try again.


16. Seek to understand first

“Likewise if someone disagrees with you, there is a reason. Our first job is to understand the reasoning behind their conclusions.”

Discussions, Debates, or disagreements show us new perspectives. Try to understand those perspectives, your perspective maybe blurry.


17. Gratitude is priceless

“We had learned long ago that while everyone appreciates cash bonuses, they value something else almost as much: being looked in the eye by someone they respect and told, ”Thank you.“ At Pixar, we’d devised a way to give our employees money and gratitude. When a movie makes enough money to trigger bonuses, John and I join with the directors and producers and personally distribute checks to every person who worked on the film.”

Say thank you. Show gratitude. We use money to survive, but we need human connections to feel alive.

#creativity inc. #pixar

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