Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Creativity Inc.

Sharing a few highlights from Ed Catmull's Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration .

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 these 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 it.

Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.

Several phrases would later be coined to describe these revolutionary approaches—phrases like “just-in-time manufacturing” or “total quality control”—but the essence was this: The responsibility for finding and fixing problems should be assigned to every employee, from the most senior manager to the lowliest person on the production line. If anyone at any level spotted a problem in the manufacturing process, Deming believed, they should be encouraged (and expected) to stop the assembly line. Japanese companies that implemented Deming’s ideas made it easy for workers to do so: They installed a cord that anyone could pull in order to bring production to a halt. Before long, Japanese companies were enjoying unheard-of levels of quality, productivity, and market share.

We realized that our purpose was not merely to build a studio that made hit films but to foster a creative culture that would continually ask questions.

Figuring out how to build a sustainable creative culture—one that didn’t just pay lip service to the importance of things like honesty, excellence, communication, originality, and self-assessment but really committed to them, no matter how uncomfortable that became—wasn’t a singular assignment.

Because too many of us think of ideas as being singular, as if they float in the ether, fully formed and independent of the people who wrestle with them. Ideas, though, are not singular. They are forged through tens of thousands of decisions, often made by dozens of people.

Find, develop, and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas

We dare to attempt these stories, but we don’t get them right on the first pass. And this is as it should be. Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process—reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds its soul.

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

Experiments are fact-finding missions that, over time, inch scientists toward greater understanding. That means any outcome is a good outcome, because it yields new information. If your experiment proved your initial theory wrong, better to know it sooner rather than later. Armed with new facts, you can then reframe whatever question you’re asking

While experimentation is scary to many, I would argue that we should be far more terrified of the opposite approach. Being too risk-averse causes many companies to stop innovating and to reject new ideas, which is the first step on the path to irrelevance.