"Quality is the best business model." — John Lasseter
I’m probably the last person you would want to watch a Pixar movie with. My love of and appreciation for their movies leads to constant commentary—the occasional “Can you BELIEVE that is rendered!?” and a whole lot of “HOW did they do that!?”
These films and the story behind the successful company have always fascinated me, so once I started reading Creativity Inc. written by Pixar’s founder Ed Catmull, I couldn’t put it down.
The book not only brings you behind the scenes and indulges in juicy Pixar secrets (Toy Story 2 was almost lost when a backup up failed and was only saved because an animator had a copy on her home computer), but it also dives into the culture of creativity that Catmull and his colleagues worked hard to promote and preserve.
Working in a creative culture, I found this book to feel very familiar. If you replace the word “film” with “projects,” Catmull just might as well have been describing any design studio, as the same issues arise in every artistic environment. I’ve included some of my favorite points from the book that I think closely relate to working in the design industry.
1. Honesty and Candor
In one of the first chapters Catmull discusses the challenging process of bringing new ideas to life and fostering them through development. He tackles a necessary evil, honesty, and suggests “freeing the baggage” of this word by replacing it with the word candor. He argues that the fear of hurting others or saving face tends to keep us all from saying anything and ultimately making any progress. Candor, instead, is defined as “forthrightness or frankness” and feels more approachable.
2. Protecting the New
More than changing our terminology, Catmull suggests we view brainstorming a new idea or concept as “additive, not competitive.” This view shifts the focus from a right vs. wrong discussion and alludes to the idea that as a team, we are all searching to uncover what is hidden—Michelangelo chipping away to find David in a block of marble, if you will. Instead of a personal goal of having the “right” idea, it becomes one effort and one goal for the entire team.
3. Fear and Failure
“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.” Catmull is quick to recognize that he isn’t the first to promote the cliché “failure is needed in a creative environment.” He points out how we tend to parrot the benefits of failing yet still shy away from it. One of Pixar’s directors, Andrew Stanton, tells his team to “be wrong as fast as you can." As he puts it, if you were to learn to ride a bike you wouldn’t do so without falling a few times. You would learn nothing by sitting back and talking about starting to ride. Andrew’s advice is simple: “Get a bike that’s as low to the ground as you can find, put on knee pads, and go.”
I highly recommend this book to anyone in a creative industry, and of course, any other Disney/ Pixar fans out there!