Four Thoughts from Ed Catmull’s terrific book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Creativity-Inc.-CoverI recently presented my synopsis of Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, for a team within a large organization.  I first presented this book a few years ago, and I always love it when I re-visit a book for a new group.

This is a terrific! book!

If you do not know, Ed Catmull is best known for his leadership at Pixar.  Here’s the opening sentence from his Wikipedia article:
Edwin Earl “Ed” Catmull (born March 31, 1945) is an American computer scientist who is the co-founder of Pixar and was the President of Walt Disney Animation Studios. He has been honored for his contributions to 3D computer graphics, including the 2019 ACM Turing Award.

I am tempted to just post all the highlighted passages from the book that I included in my synopsis handout, and say:  read all of these, and make changes accordingly.

But, I want to especially point out these four thoughts that grabbed me as I revisited the book.

Thought #1 — The universe is aligned to keep you from being creative; so be creative intentionally. 

Catmull wrote;  The thesis of this book is that there are many blocks to creativity, but there are active steps we can take to protect the creative process. (I love it when an author identifies his/her thesis).

“There are many blocks to creativity.”  Yep!

It takes work to be creative.  I think back to the excellent book by the award-winning choreographer Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit, where she describes the work she does to pursue creativity; and, yes, it is work to be creative.

So, work on being creative!  That is thought #1.

Thought #2 — Beware of the safer path.   

The safer path is easier.  It is…safer.  But, it may be the exact wrong path to follow.

Here’s the quote from the book:
Over the years, I have met people who took what seemed the safer path and were the lesser for it. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.  

“Were the lesser for it.”  Yep… Beware that safer path!

Thought #3 — It depends on the people more than the idea… 

Here’s quite a quote from the book:
Talented storytellers had found a way to make viewers care, and the evolution of this storyline made it abundantly clear to me: If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.

The good team will make a bad idea better; or just replace it if necessary.  But the bad team, or even the mediocre team, will screw up even a very good idea.


So…build good teams; work with good teams; and be very wary of the mediocre team.

Thought #4 — People have to be able to speak their minds.

We’ve all got to speak our minds!

Here’s the quote from the book:
When it comes to interacting with other people in a work environment, there are times when we choose not to say what we really think. To address this reality, we need to free ourselves of honesty’s baggage. One way to do that is to replace the word honesty with another word that has a similar meaning but fewer moral connotations: candor.

The need for candor is having a moment.  The word candor is a better, more comprehensive word and idea than found in the words honesty, or transparency.  You can still be a little silent if you frequently practice honesty or tranparency.  Candor is about speaking up, speaking out, with such honesty and transparency.  It is about not staying silent!

There are many books that reinforce this idea.  Radical Candor by Kim Scott; more than one of the books by Brené Brown; Fierce Leadership and Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

But the point is this:  if there is someone on your team with things worth saying, then they should be allowed, encouraged, enticed to say what is on their mind.  Anytime a needed message is squelched, the team is lesser for it.

So build an atmosphere where speaking up is done, constantly, by all.  Candor rules!

These are just a few thoughts from the book.

The last highlight I included in my synopsis handout is pretty comprehensive.  Read and learn:

Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up.
Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better…
Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
Many managers feel that if they are not notified about problems before others are or if they are surprised in a meeting, then that is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.
Measuring the outcome without evaluating the process is deceiving. before getting approval. Finding and fixing problems is everybody’s job.
Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
Be wary of making too many rules.

I am high on Ed Catmull, and this book.  You might want to add it to your reading list.


You might also want to read this blog post:
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull – Key Thoughts, and My Five Lessons and Takeaways

And, you can purchase my synopsis of the book Creativity, Inc., with the audio recording of my presentation, plus my complete, thorough, comprehensive synopsis handout, by clicking here.


{And, if you lead a team, bring me in to your team to present a synopsis of this book, or many other books that would benefit your group.  I can do this in-person, or over Zoom or Webex.  Click here to send me an e-mail.}

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