Ed Catmull's book Creativity, Inc.

Confessions of an Idea Junkie

I’m reading Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull the president of Pixar. It’s one of those books that is really cutting me open and showing me some ugly truths about myself.

Yeah, I know, not what you’d expect. 

The big one has to do with ideas. I used to work for an agency that called itself The Ideas Company. In fact, the last thing I remember the CEO saying to me was, “don’t forget about the idea” which meant don’t lose sight of the power of an idea. You know, like that Victor Hugo quote about not being able to resist an idea whose time had come.

I grew up professionally believing that ideas were the most important thing and that my job was to conceive of great ideas and then to keep people from getting their grubby mitts on them and messing them up. That’s what it meant to be a Creative Director. Ideas rule.

But this book is challenging that notion. Actually, it is telling me that I was dead wrong for one simple fact: people have ideas. This makes people more important. Period.

The job of a creative leader or any leader is to get the best people working on the project or problem and to create an atmosphere where it is okay to fail trying and one that is free from fear. Sounds easy. It isn’t. And this book is Ed’s story of learning how to do this better than most every other company on the planet.

And it makes me realize how wrong my approach was.

I’ve been reading about collaboration as the key to creativity and better ideas – Keith Sawyer’s books mostly – and he says essentially the same thing from an academic’s point of view. Safe environments free from fear are key.

I’ve also been shifting the way that I work from being the consultant that people hire with all the answers to being the person who can create an environment that is conducive to valuable new ideas being born. It’s
a great challenge and great fun. It’s awesome when I hear a client say, we came up with the ideas, he just facilitated. It means we did something right.

I could not have said this earlier in my career. I was concerned about being right, having the best ideas and getting them noticed and rewarded. But that was immaturity and insecurity and blindness. I guess knowing you are blind is the first step.

I am so thankful for a good book that turns on the light in the darkness. And once my eyes get adjusted, it’s easier to see all of the things that need to be corrected.

I look forward to creating more environments where we can create valuable new ideas…together. Environments where People > Ideas.

Comments (1):

  1. Joe Walenciak

    October 13, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    For years I’ve been reading what we “know” about good management and leadership…that we should allow people to be innovative, to fail, and to existing in an organizational culture that is free of fear. If we have known for years that the job of leadership is to drive fear out of organizational cultures, why do we still have so many people working in cultures of fear?

    I agree. Great book. Some people are doing it right. Maybe some day we’ll all learn it.

    Thanks for sharing!

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