Is it possible for a corporation to build and sustain a creative culture?
That’s the question posed and answered by Ed Catmull in Creativity, Inc. And if anyone should be able to answer that question, Mr. Catmull, the President of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, is a good candidate.
As a child, Mr. Catmull dreamed of being a Disney animator. In college, he studied physics and computer science. He had the good fortune of attending one of the four Universities (University of Utah) at the time connected to ARPANET, a government-funded research program that led to what we now call the Internet. His technology education created a desire to combine his two passions – animation and computer science. With the success of the original Star Wars movie, George Lucas created a new division to incorporate high tech into Hollywood and hired Mr. Catmull to run it. After time, this division was split from Lucasfilms and purchased by Steve Jobs. Renamed Pixar, Jobs’ original idea was for Pixar to sell high-end computers to compete with Apple, who had recently fired him. That didn’t work and Pixar instead focused on computer animation. From there, Pixar had a string of #1 movies, was purchased by Disney, and as a result of the acquisition, Ed became head of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Not bad for someone who in the 1950s dreamed of merely working as an animator for Disney.
As the head of Pixar (and later Disney Animation Studios), Mr. Catmull knew how important it would be to maintain a creative culture within a system easily prone to bureaucratic measures. This book outlines the ways in which he accomplished that at both Pixar and Disney Animation.
I’ve begun to notice that certain books are so engaging that I will gladly stay up way past my bedtime to read them. This was not one of those books. Of the 13 chapters, I’d say you could almost skip the first 10 and concentrate fully on 11 – 13. Those chapters were excellent and were worth the price of admission, but it took a while to get there. The afterward about Steve Jobs (to whom the book was dedicated) was also very interesting.
Despite my lack of engagement with the first 10 chapters, this was a really fun book to read, especially after recently reading the Walt Disney biography and Ray Dalio’s Principles. Creativity, Inc. describes the “fallow period” after Walt Disney’s death up until the more recent spat of hits. It also combines nicely with Dalio’s Principles in that a lot of the ideas are how executives can be intentional about leadership to get desired results. Both Creativity, Inc. and Principles stress the importance of honesty (candor and radical transparency, respectively).
If you lead a creative organization or are interested in learning more about Steve Jobs, then this book is for you. Ed Catmull had the rare opportunity of working with Jobs for over 26 years. He offers insights into Steve’s life that are not found in books like Walter Isaacson’s biography or those focused on Apple. If you’re more interested in personal creativity, then go for The War of Art before Creativity, Inc.
This is book 11 of 52 of Erik’s 2018 Books of Titans reading list.