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.
I met Scott Belsky last fall at a conference and then spent a little time with him in NYC recently. He was kind enough to send me an advance copy of his new book, Making Ideas Happen.
I have not had a book lay my soul bare like this one did in a long, long time. It held a mirror up to me, and basically said “here’s everything that’s keeping your from moving projects, work and life forward.” Many aha moments, and many painful moments to be completely honest.
And it was dead on.
But this is not a theoretical book. It is a book based on hours and hours of research with world class creative people WHO GET STUFF DONE. He talked to them about their personal habits and methods for getting their projects from idea (fun!) to reality (work!), and the insights are inspiring. I’ve linked to some more robust reviews below, but I wanted to make the reco here, and give some topline takeaways. I’ll probably detail it more as I reflect and re-read certain points.
For the lifehackers and GTD fans out there. This offers a better solution and toolset for creative people because it is Project-based (i.e. the way creatives work) instead of Context-based (i.e. at work, at home, in car) like David Allen‘s methods.
Here are my top 10 takeaways from the book:
1. Less creative people who do more things will have a bigger impact than the genius who does nothing.
2. Doing trumps dreaming, but only if you care about making an impact in your life.
3. Every creative person will battle the tendency to just come up with ideas and never act on them because that’s the fun part.
4. You need constraints to be creative AND you need constraints to be productive. So, constrain yourself.
5. Quit taking so many notes! And especially stop filing them! Just capture Action Items, References and Backburner. Trash the rest.
6. Share your ideas with your community — the accountability will drive you to action.
7. Be transparent with your community — their feedback will give you insight into what ideas are right to pursue.
8. Creative people must learn to lead. Well, you do if you want to do anything great.
9. Dreamers need to partner with Doers to get anything done — not as obvious as it sounds; at least not in practice.
10. You have to be strategic about what to focus energy on, and then relentless in moving it forward.
11. (bonus) It really does come down to working hard on your idea(s) every single day and never, ever giving up until it is realized.
That’s just the 10 that stuck with me immediately. The book is a joy to read, and packed full of practical real-world tips, hacks and advice. It is available on amazon.com this Thursday the 15th.
You can find Making Ideas Happen here.
They’ve done it again.
You don’t have to be a prophet to know that the ideas that Dan & Chip put forth in this book are going to enter the lexicon quickly. Their ability to find disparate stories and weave them into a cohesive narrative is rivaled only by Malcolm Gladwell (IMHO). But it is the quality of their thinking, and their ability to extract real useful insights from the most mundane of sources (i.e. books on eating habits), and their ability to make scholarly research readable, practical and entertaining.
Soon we’ll all be talking about the rider, the elephant, and the path (among other Heath-isms).
Their premise is simple – change is hard, especially when you don’t have any personal or positional power. What they do they is teach you step-by-step how to leverage what you do have or what you can influence. It’s one part manual, one part motivation, and totally enjoyable.
You can pre-order a copy here. And you can read and excerpt here. And follow them here. And find cities and dates for their book tour here.
*On a personal note: I’ve had the privilege to get to know Dan and Chip just a little professionally (doing a project for them), and they are two of the most delightful people I’ve had the pleasure to know. These guys could be jerks, and people would just probably dismiss it because of their talents. But they are gracious and kind in addition to brilliant.