The Messy Art of Creative Leadership: A Review of Creativity, Inc
If you are looking for a great book on business and creative leadership, you should buy and read Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull tells the story of the founding of Pixar and its rise to prominence in the world of animation. But the book is also much more. Catmull is a leader who studies and analyzes what it takes to lead other people. He shares the lessons he learned as President of Pixar. Catmull, as you might imagine, is also a great storyteller, so you won't become bored reading this book. He entices you to keep reading through the stories he tells.
Here are a few quotes and insights from the book:
"What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover our problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve." Unfortunately, many managers hide problems from their boss as well as themselves. A leader by definition should be a problem-solver.
"We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways. Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them." What Catmull recognizes is that many companies unintentionally inhibit their people. Systems and culture often get in the way of creativity. A leader's job is to help clear the roadblocks.
While the predecessor to Pixar was started by George Lucas, the company was owned by Steve Jobs during its early success years. Catmull provides insight into Steve Jobs throughout the book and closes it with a special tribute to Steve. Catmull thinks that Pixar helped Jobs to grow as a leader and manager. He perceives Jobs as kinder and gentler then he is often portrayed.
Catmull writes: "Pixar could not have survived without Steve, but more than once in those years, I wasn't sure if we'd survive with him. Steve could be brilliant and inspirational, capable of diving deeply and intelligently into any problem we faced. But he could also be impossible: dismissive, condescending, threatening, even bullying. Perhaps of most concern, from a management standpoint, was the fact that he exhibited so little empathy."
Catmull talks about learning to manage Jobs and to be persistent. He writes: "When we disagreed, I would state my case, but since Steve could think faster than I could, he would often shoot down my arguments. So I'd wait a week, marshal my thoughts, and then come back and explain it again. He might dismiss my points again, but I would keep coming back until one of three things happened: (1) He would say 'Oh, okay, I get it' and give me what I needed; (2) I'd see he was right and stop lobbying; or (3) our debate would be inconclusive, in which case I'd just go ahead and do what I had proposed in the first place."
Catmull also shares his insights into creative teams. He writes: "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." He goes on to say: "Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right....It is easy to say you want talented people, and you do, but the way those people interact with one another is the real key. Even the smartest people can form an ineffective team if they are mismatched."
Catmull also spends time discussing trust and telling the truth to each other. He writes: "Telling the truth is difficult, but inside a creative company, it is the only way to ensure excellence....Believe me, you don't want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or matters of policy are being hashed out."
Catmull talks about the importance of making mistakes and learning how to recover. He writes: "Management's job is not to prevent risk but to build the ability to recover."
Creativity, Inc is filled with leadership insights from a leader who has spent his career in the front lines of management. Every manager and leader should read and study this book for ideas that will improve their skill at leading teams and organizations.
If you read only one book on leadership in the next five years, be sure to read Creativity, Inc.
About the Author: Harley King has been speaking and training people for over 30 years. He has trained more than 8,000 people to speak, train and facilitate group discussion. He has been writing and publishing his work for more than 40 years.
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