Book Review: Creativity Inc.

Full Title: Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand In the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars | View the Summary on Goodreads | Read the abstract

I'm a Disney fanatic, so it wasn't a huge stretch for me to pick up Ed Catmull's book on creativity. As the co-founder of Pixar, he is one of the few individuals whose work has directly shaped my worldview (on the list with J.K. Rowling, of course) and I grew up watching hit after hit from Toy Story to Finding Nemo.

“Challenges never cease, failure can’t be avoided and ‘vision’ is often an illusion. But [creative people must] feel safe – always – to speak their minds.”


What Catmull does here is not just instill a sense of behind-the-scene drama from the early days of Pixar, but imparts wisdom on various aspects of creativity. He focuses on the ways the institution and company creates creative environments, rather than giving us brain teasers. Hey, these are creative and talented people they hired, no doubt about it. But the point he makes is that culture matters, and executive actions actively help or hinder the creative process.

When it comes to culture, he shows how vital it is to encourage experimentation--and failure. He subscribes to the innovative tenets we've heard before from Silicon Valley, but some of the techniques manifested differently. His emphasis for ruthless postmortems on all projects--good, bad, ugly--means each product is evaluated thoroughly to ensure lessons learned are shared throughout the company, not just isolated within silos. This, more than any tidbit, resonates with me. We so often rush to the next thing without pausing and reflecting that we don't always know what to do better next time.

“Greatness” emerges from “phases of not-greatness.” Protect your people and their ideas from anyone in the organization who does not understand this basic tenet.