Saturday, September 20, 2014

Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull

I picked up Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull quite on an impulse. The blurb seemed interesting. It was all about a practitioner who has managed creative teams across Pixar and Disney and how! From the time I have picked up the book, it has not disappointed  - on any count. Pixar is all about stories and Ed has many stories to share through the journey – which made it an interesting read.

But more than that, this book is a must read for anyone who manages creative teams (you may not manage a creative team at the level of a Pixar, but hell, all teams are creative in their own ways). I would rate it as a must read for anyone who manages teams. The lessons will work anywhere – at many a point, I found a reaffirmation of some of the things I have believed in and found that extremely gratifying.

“The way I see it, my job as a manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy and watch for the things that undermine it (ruthlessly eliminate them as well). I believe , to my core, that everybody has the potential to be creative-whatever form that creativity takes-and that to encourage such development is a noble thing. More interesting to me though, are the blocks that get in the way, often without us noticing and hinder the creativity that resides within any thriving company” (bolded notes in brackets mine)

This para blew me away – because this is a belief that I like to think I carry – and everything Ed says after that are extremely thoughtful, almost like learning from a ‘guru’ who has been there, done that.

Great insights.  

"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…Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the idea right!” I have seen this happen so many times.

“Be patient. Be authentic. And be consistent. The trust will come". There is no point hurrying trust – it takes time.

Another thing that comes out – but it is not very obvious – to people, especially about creativity. We often associate creativity with dilettantes – but that in all likelihood is either a fallacy or an excuse. Pixar is a creative shop – but there is a deep technical, domain expertise that is used to harness that creativity in the form of stories and present it to people. Creativity is not about putting colors and pictures – it is all about deep domain and technical expertise – and there can be no creativity without a deep knowledge of the subject that you are working on. That means, being able to balance – on the one hand, a body of existing knowledge – and on the other, having the capability to question and reinterpret that body of knowledge in a different way – this is an acquired skill- and never an accident. Therefore, continuous learning is an integral part of creativity.

For me, as someone who gets to manage creative teams and people in my own small way, the book has many takeaways – and I think it is one of the best books ever written by any business leader…

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