Book Review: Creativity INC. Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration author: Ed Catmul
There are many books on creativity from an artist’s point of view. However, there are few books that approach creativity from the point of view of managers of creative businesses. Ed Catmul, President of Pixar animation and Disney Animation, dives in with gusto.
This is a readable and insightful guide for managers of creative teams, such as in advertising agencies, design and digital studios. His book Creativity INC. Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration tackles the crucial question. How do you build and sustain a business culture that supports creativity on an ongoing repeatable basis? Ed describes both the structures and processes Pixar set up, and the mental frameworks his team members use to make sense of the creative process. He catalogues the exciting and messy journey of finding what works along the way. As I read, I thought of many of the agencies and design studios I have worked at over the years.
Steve Jobs described Pixar as “a movie studio, the likes of which no one had ever seen, he said, built on a foundation of cutting edge technology and original storytelling. “(p59). There many successes from Toy Story to Monsters INC., Finding Nemo, WALL-E, UP and Brave show how they have effectively put this into practice. Any creative can come up with one great idea, but it is a complex challenge to build a business model and culture that foster this repeatedly and productively.
Creative businesses are different from other businesses. Ed comments Steve Jobs “Saw that creativity wasn’t linear, that art was not commerce, and that to insist applying dollars and sense logic was to risk disrupting the thing that set us apart.” (p301). It takes certain kinds of people to tackle creative work of building a cohesive story, a concept or a product from a mish-mash of data, inspirations and ideas. There has to be some structure and processes to manage it. “The uncreated is a vast, empty space. This emptiness is so scary that most hold on to what they know, making minor adjustments to what they understand, unable to move on to something unknown. To enter that place of fear, and to fill that empty space, we need all the help we can get. “(p231).
Ed explains their specific approaches to common issues in creative businesses, such as handling failure, change, encouraging effective feedback, and balancing an outspoken creative star with others in the team. “When someone has a strong personality, others can wilt in the face of their intensity. How do you prevent this from happening? The trick is to shift the emphasis in any meeting away from the source of the idea and onto the idea itself. (p305).
I found myself making passionate notes in the margins as Pixar wrestled with business models, the chaotic nature of the creative process and managing people. There are many techniques to take away from this thoroughly enjoyable and readable book.
Creativity INC. Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration
Transworld Publishers/Bantam Press, London 2014 Random House, USA 2014
340 pages.ISBN 9780 5930 70109