Creativity Inc, by Ed Catmull

I’ve been reading Creativity Inc, by Ed Catmull. Though I’m not done, I’ve enjoyed the lessons that Ed imparts in the book. Ed is the President of Pixar and share many stories of how he’s developed Pixar into a powerhouse of creativity and success. I’m just halfway done, but so far, here are some of my takeaways so far:

Candor

Candor is forthrightness or frankness – not so different from honesty, really. And yet, in common usage, the word communicates not just truth-telling but a lack of reserve. Everyone knows that sometimes, being reserved is healthy, even necessary for survival. Nobody thinks that being less than candid makes you a bad person (while no one wants to be called dishonest). People have an easier time talking about their level of candor because they don’t think they will be punished for admitting that they sometimes hold their tongs. This is essential…Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.

Mistakes are not evil

We need to think about failure differently. I’m not the first to say that failure, when approached properly, can be an opportunity for growth. But the way most people interpret this assertion is that mistakes are a necessary evil. Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality). And yet, even as I say that embracing failure is an important part of learning, I also acknowledge that acknowledging this truth is not enough. That’s because failure is painful, and our feelings about this pain tend to screw up our understanding of its worth. To disentangle the good and the bad parts of failure, we have to recognize both the reality of the pain and the benefit of the resulting growth.

Lightly to goals, firmly to intentions

I often say that managers of creative enterprises must hold lightly to goals and firmly to intentions. …We must be open to having our goals change as we learn new information or are surprised by things we thought we knew but didn’t. As long as our intentions—our values—remain constant, our goals can shift as needed. At Pixar, we try never to waver in our ethics, our values, and our intention to create original, quality products. We are willing to adjust our goals as we learn, striving to get it right—not necessarily to get it right the first time. Because that, to my mind, is the only way to establish something else that is essential to creativity: a culture that protects the new.

 


Creating Accountability Systems

Accountability is a powerful word. Most people fear ultimate accountability – to accept full accountability is to make yourself vulnerable to criticism, failure and scrutiny. However, taking accountability will typically result in more motivation to succeed. Taking accountability puts me in a different mindset – I own the project, I am responsible for ensuring everything works.

I’ve started community projects, led non-profit teams and created new initiatives within companies. In all cases, I was the driver, the catalyst and the leader. In all of these cases, it was on me to prove the worth and value of these projects. But, I wanted to be accountable to someone other than myself. Yes, of course, I could just count on myself to accomplish the goals I’ve set out to reach, but I find that I (and most other people) work better in environments where I am accountable to someone else.

I create accountability systems. I either bring in one person to help me be accountable, or I create processes so I am accountable to a group of people. Recently, in a project I led at work, I rounded a group of people to watch me present on the progress of the project every two weeks. I needed to show this group progress and accomplishments every two weeks.

As part of a non-profit group that I led, I created a system where we would be presenting on our programs and results twice a year to our external partners and communities.

When I mentor, I am the accountability system for my mentees. The mentorship environment I create is one of having the mentees accountable to me.

It’s a simple lesson i’ve learned that works for me – create a group, or find a person, and make myself accountable to that group.


What’s Next?

This is a tough question…but I believe everyone should always strive to answer this to some extent. It should scare you if you do not have an answer.

We need to always be moving, always be thinking 5 steps ahead and work our way to next. What’s Next?


Walk into a meeting fully prepared – Creating a Master Slide deck

I’ve been involved with managing either projects or products over the last few years. I’ve been called to numerous meetings to talk about new products/projects, their value propositions and their road maps. Recently, I’ve started creating a master slide deck for each product/project I’m managing. This slide deck has everything you need to know about the products – from its history, value prop, results, goals, graphics etc.

[Tweet “A master slide deck allows me to go into any meeting fully prepared”]

I’m able to take pieces out of this slide deck to create presentations for any meeting for any purpose. It’s also a great repository for me to keep my results and next steps. This deck is never finished, yet it is evolving everyday with new information.


Removing blockers

Often times, a blocker (typically, a person) will stand in your way from a goal you’re trying to achieve.

This is one great advice that I have received recently…

Ask the blocker, “how do I remove blockers?”