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MikeMullin

Mike Mullin, Author

I'm the author of the ASHFALL three-and-a-half-ology: ASHFALL, ASHEN WINTER, SUNRISE, and DARLA'S STORY.

Yep, Creativity Is Hard, Even at Pixar

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration - Ed Catmull

Pixar's movies seem so perfect, so beautifully affecting, that I've always had the notion that they were birthed complete, like pulling a cut diamond from the crumbly soil of your garden.

 

Not so much.

 

In Creativity, Inc., Catmull explains that all Pixar movies "suck at first." That's not even the most interesting part--the interesting part is the process and effort they go through to make the films not suck. They employ a process "the Brain Trust" very similar to a critique group, where other directors and producers critique a film every three to six months as it's developed. These critiques lead to radical changes, completely overhauling movies, sometimes very late in the process. It's a messy process, but one that's integral to Pixar's amazing string of hits. It also reminded me in some ways of the workings of a critique group for fiction writers.

 

Of course, creating a culture that allows for candor in critiques and for the director being critiqued to accept the need for radical change is difficult. Catmull spends much of the book detailing his never-ending struggle to stamp out sources of fear within Pixar, encourage every employee to contribute, and reward failure as well as success.

 

Herein lies the problem with the book. Catmull assumes his solutions for running a creative company are broadly replicable, proscribing them for all companies in such businesses. This assumption is backed by a sample of only two: the companies Catmull has run, Pixar and Disney Animation. Creativity, Inc. suffers from an unscientific perspective. Two is far from a sufficient sample size to support the general conclusions Catmull makes. Most books written by CEOs share this fault. It leaves me wishing that professors of management could write more engagingly. Somewhere there has to be a happy medium between ridiculously unscientific books like Catmull's and the horrifyingly boring stuff I was forced to read while earning my MBA.

 

Despite this flaw, Creativity, Inc is a worthy read. Catmull has great ideas about how to create and sustain a creative culture, ideas many companies may benefit from. I now understand better why the two large companies I worked for years ago (P&G and Spectrum Brands), were so bad at creativity. The environment of fear present in each actively discouraged it. And so instead of doing anything truly creative, we brought out an endless series of line extensions and me-too products.

 

If you're involved with or interested in the creative process, give Creativity, Inc a try. I read a library copy but I'll probably order and reread it from time to time.