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Creativity, Inc - Book summary

How does creativity really work, and how can we build and maintain a creative, solutions-oriented organization? In this book, Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, brings the process to life by sharing what happens behind-the-scenes in these 2 great companies. In this free Creativity Inc summary, you’ll get a synopsis of the ingredients and barriers to creativity and innovation.

Creativity Inc: An Overview

The book is written in a chronological order; we’ve distilled the key ideas into 3 parts in our summary: Key milestones, Foundations and barriers to creativity,and Building a creative culture. These tips are not success formulas, but merely starting points for you to experiment with, and discover what works for you.

Part 1: Key Pixar Milestones

In the book, Catmull shares his childhood dream to be a Disney animator, and how the path of a computer scientist led him into the area of computer-animated research and innovation. He was hired by the New York Institute of Technology, Lucasfilm, then as the CEO of Pixar (which was bought by Steve Jobs, with the aim of selling imaging computers).

Creation of Toy Story

The book traces how Pixar clinched its first deal with Disney, leading to the creation of Toy Story. Notably, it had taken Catmull 20 years from the time he first crystallized his goal (in 1974) to make a computer-animated film, to the successful debut of Toy Story. Our 13-page summary outlines some of the key milestones, as well as the learning experiences that shaped Catmull’s philosophy, approach and insights, e.g. the importance of a conducive innovation environment, hiring the right people who’re smarter than you, etc.

Forging an Identity

Pixar’s early struggles forged its identity, and also gave Catmull his new calling – to learn what it takes to build a lasting creative culture, and build Pixar to out-live the forces that have  brought down other great companies. When Pixar was sold to Disney in 2006, Catmull and John Lasseter became President and Chief Creative Officer respectively for both Disney Animation and Pixar, and successfully replicated Pixar’s approach at Disney Animation, while preserving Disney’s unique heritage.  We’ll now take a quick look at some of the philosophies, tools and mechanisms behind their success.

Part 2: Foundations and Barriers to Creativity

True creativity and problem-solving require many inter-connected elements. However, there are many barriers that stand in their way:

Creativity Inc summary_Title_Creativity

For instance, most of us will agree that honesty, learning from mistakes and flexibility, are all essential for solving problems and creativity. Yet, we naturally avoid candour, failure, and change. Likewise, most geniuses discover their vision through struggles over time, getting lost and facing tremendous uncertainty; yet, most of us are uncomfortable to embark on a process without knowing the answer.

In the book, Catmull explains each of these components, using vivid stories and examples to bring them to life. You can get more details on each of these 4 key components from our complete Creativity Inc summary.

Part 3: Building a Creative Culture

In this segment, we’ll outline some of the mechanisms used at Pixar to overcome the barriers to creativity. Combined, these mechanisms build candour, make it okay to make mistakes, challenge mental models and uncover truths, and tap on the brainpower of every team member.

Creativity Inc summary_Creative Culture

Broadening our Viewpoints

Rather than pretend or try to know everything, it’s better to accept that we can’t. Instead, focus your attention on how to combine differing viewpoints, treating them as additive rather than competing. Our 13-page summary elaborates on several mechanisms that Pixar uses to expand perspectives, e.g. using Dailies for problem-solving, embarking on research trips, setting constructive limits, combining different specializations, using small experiments, post-mortems, and learning programs etc.

Braintrust Meetings

In creative work, the creators must immerse themselves in the projects, yet not miss the forest for the trees. Braintrust meetings have been a valuable source of constructive feedback for Pixar directors. The meeting starts with a brief intro by the director, who then shows his work-in-progress and invites feedback. Do check out our complete Creativity Inc summary for the 2 unique features of Braintrust.

Creative Experimentation

In science experiments, every outcome is good, as it provides data to support or disprove a hypothesis, and unexpected discoveries may emerge. It’s the same with creative experimentation.  We touch on how to make the most from creative experimentation, e.g. identifying your Red Flags, learning from failures etc. in our complete book summary.

Handling Change/Randomness and Using Constructive Mental Models

In the book, Catmull shares the tips and tools used by their Directors and Producers to stay constructive and positive despite constant changes and uncertainty. They also use familiar pictures (or mental models) to handle fear, challenges and tough decisions, with different models used by Directors & creative roles, vs Producers & logistical roles. You can get a detailed outline on these with our full Creativity Inc summary.

Notes Day

While Catmull and Lasseter were transforming Disney Animation, Pixar was starting to face its own crisis. After years of success, people were starting to self-censor. Meanwhile production costs were increasing, with growing external market pressures. At an offsite retreat, Pixar leaders identified the need to reduce costs by 10%. They decided to close down the office for 1 day, so everyone could jointly solve the problem. Thus, Notes Day was born.  Get more details on Notes Day in 13-page summary .

Getting the Most from Creativity Inc

Stories are powerful, and this book is packed with stories that help you to experience the challenges, triumphs, and learning experiences through Catmull’s eyes. For more details on each of the tips and ideas above, you can get full book summary bundle which includes which includes an infographic, a 13-page text summary, and a 27-minute audio summary.

Creativity, Inc summary - book summary bundle

You can also buy the book here for vivid, inspiring details and stories, including:
• Behind-the-scenes processes, struggles and fixes for movies like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Tangled, Ratatuoille, Bolt etc;
• Deliberations and decisions that give us a glimpse of great minds (like Jobs, Lasseter, Lucas, Catmull etc.) at work;
• The challenges and steps taken to manage Pixar and Disney Animation after the 2006 merger; and
• An afterword about Steve Jobs and a list of “starting points’’ you can use to build a creative culture.

Want to get more ideas for about creativity and innovation? Do also check out our Sprint summary to learn how to run design sprints and iterate your ideas quickly. Or read the Originals summary to find out how the top creative minds work!

About the Authors of Creativity Inc

Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration is written by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace.

Ed Catmull is a computer scientist and current president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios. He has been awarded 5 Academy Awards, including the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for lifetime achievement in the field of computer graphics. Catmull received his Ph.D. in computer sciences from the University of Utah. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and children.

Amy Wallace is a journalist and currently serves as editor-at-large at Los Angeles magazine. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Times and wrote a monthly Column for The New York Times Sunday Business section.

Creativity Inc Quotes

“Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.”

“Not everything is simple, and to try to force it to be is to misrepresent reality.”

“You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility.”

“If you get the team right, chances are that they’ll get the ideas right.”

“We humans like to know where we are headed, but creativity demands that we travel paths that lead to who-knows-where.”

“By definition, ‘discovery’ means you don’t know the answer when you start.”

“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”

“Fear makes people reach for certainty and stability, neither of which guarantee the safety they imply.”

“Most of us walk around thinking that our view is best – probably because it is the only one we really know.”

“The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.”

“Inspiration can, and does come from anywhere.”

Click here to download Creativity, Inc. book summary and infographic

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