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Creativity, Inc.

Last updated Dec 12, 2022

::source_link: Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull | Goodreads ::people: Ed Catmull

# Notes

# Highlights & Annotations

# Creativity

# Story & Projects

While there was much innovation that enabled our work, we had not let the technology overwhelm our real purpose: making a great film. — location: 88 ^ref-1048


are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged. — location: 1466 ^ref-49918


Michael Arndt, who wrote Toy Story 3, says he thinks to make a great film, its makers must pivot, at some point, from creating the story for themselves to creating it for others. — location: 1475 ^ref-30132


“Get a bike that’s as low to the ground as you can find, put on elbow and knee pads so you’re not afraid of falling, and go,” he says. If you apply this mindset to everything new you attempt, you can begin to subvert the negative connotation associated with making mistakes. — location: 1690 ^ref-30987

It isn’t enough to pick a path—you must go down it. By doing so, you see things you couldn’t possibly see when you started out; — location: 1729 ^ref-7513

But if every day is sunny and it doesn’t rain, things don’t grow. And if it’s sunny all the time—if, in fact, we don’t ever even have night—all kinds of things don’t happen and the planet dries up. The key is to view conflict as essential, because that’s how we know the best ideas will be tested and survive. You know, it can’t only be sunlight.” — location: 2135 ^ref-56610

“Art challenges technology, technology inspires art.” — location: 3051 ^ref-62103

# Feedback

The members of this group, which at some point we’d started calling the Braintrust, were proven problem solvers who worked magnificently together to dissect scenes that were falling flat. I’ll say more about the Braintrust and how it functions in the next chapter, but its most important characteristic was an ability to analyze the emotional beats of a movie without any of its members themselves getting emotional or defensive. — location: 1144 ^ref-63652

And yet, candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. — location: 1405 ^ref-52670

It is natural for people to fear that such an inherently critical environment will feel threatening and unpleasant, like a trip to the dentist. The key is to look at the viewpoints being offered, in any successful feedback group, as additive, not competitive. — location: 1586 ^ref-17265

A good note says what is wrong, what is missing, what isn’t clear, what makes no sense. A good note is offered at a timely moment, not too late to fix the problem. A good note doesn’t make demands; it doesn’t even have to include a proposed fix. But if it does, that fix is offered only to illustrate a potential solution, not to prescribe an answer. Most of all, though, a good note is specific. — location: 1612 ^ref-953

When we give notes on Pixar movies and isolate a scene, say, that isn’t working, we have learned that fixing that scene usually requires making changes somewhere else in the film, and that is where our attention should go. Our filmmakers have become skilled at not getting caught up in a problem but instead looking elsewhere in the story for solutions. — location: 3181 ^ref-1703

# Experimentation

Pete and his crew never believed that a failed approach meant that they had failed. Instead, they saw that each idea led them a bit closer to finding the better option. And that allowed them to come to work each day engaged and excited, even while in the midst of confusion. This is key: When experimentation is seen as necessary and productive, not as a frustrating waste of time, people will enjoy their work—even when it is confounding them. — location: 1757 ^ref-44558

There is an alternative approach to being wrong as fast as you can. It is the notion that if you carefully think everything through, if you are meticulous and plan well and consider all possible outcomes, you are more likely to create a lasting product. But I should caution that if you seek to plot out all your moves before you make them—if you put your faith in slow, deliberative planning in the hopes it will spare you failure down the line—well, you’re deluding yourself — location: 1768 ^ref-59258

There’s a corollary to this, as well: The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it. — location: 1776 ^ref-9377

In general, I have found that people who pour their energy into thinking about an approach and insisting that it is too early to act are wrong just as often as people who dive in and work quickly. The overplanners just take longer to be wrong (and, when things inevitably go awry, are more crushed by the feeling that they have failed). — location: 1774 ^ref-11597

But just because “failure free” is crucial in some industries does not mean that it should be a goal in all of them. When it comes to creative endeavors, the concept of zero failures is worse than useless. It is counterproductive. — location: 1783 ^ref-52642

we’ve set up a system in which directors are allowed to spend years in the development phase of a movie, where the costs of iteration and exploration are relatively low. (At this point, we’re paying the director’s and story artists’ salaries but not putting anything into production, which is where costs explode.) — location: 1787 ^ref-40677

the first two years of a movie’s development should be a time of solidifying the story beats by relentlessly testing them—much like you temper steel. And that required decision-making, not just abstract discussion. — location: 1820 ^ref-20856

To be a truly creative company, you must start things that might fail. — location: 1834 ^ref-24015

One of the biggest barriers is fear, and while failure comes with the territory, fear shouldn’t have to. The goal, then, is to uncouple fear and failure—to create an environment in which making mistakes doesn’t strike terror into your employees’ hearts. — location: 1909 ^ref-58604

shorts are a relatively inexpensive way to screw up. (And since I believe that mistakes are not just unavoidable but valuable, this is something to be welcomed — location: 3124 ^ref-52940

# Originality

When filmmakers, industrial designers, software designers, or people in any other creative profession merely cut up and reassemble what has come before, it gives the illusion of creativity, but it is craft without art. Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft. — location: 2926 ^ref-46441

Research trips challenge our preconceived notions and keep clichés at bay. They fuel inspiration. They are, I believe, what keeps us creating rather than copying. — location: 2956 ^ref-10202

If one looks at creativity as a resource that we continually draw upon to make something from nothing, then our fear stems from the need to make the nonexistent come into being. As we’ve discussed, people often try to overcome this fear by simply repeating what has worked in the past. That leads nowhere—or, more accurately, it leads in the opposite direction of originality. The trick is to use our skills and knowledge not to duplicate but to invent. — location: 3393 ^ref-43049

# The Process

“The process of developing a story is one of discovery,” Pete says. “However, there’s always a guiding principle that leads you as you go down the various roads. — location: 1752 ^ref-14539

People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things—in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence. But it is also confusing — location: 1422 ^ref-18175

Paying attention to the present moment without letting your thoughts and ideas about the past and the future get in the way is essential. — location: 3301 ^ref-22605


In my experience, creative people discover and realize their visions over time and through dedicated, protracted struggle. In that way, creativity is more like a marathon than a sprint. — location: 3312 ^ref-49817


This is where real confidence comes in. Not the confidence that we know exactly what to do at all times but the confidence that, together, we will figure it out. — location: 3322 ^ref-34133


“If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, then why the hell are you sailing?” he says. “You have to embrace that sailing means that you can’t control the elements and that there will be good days and bad days and that, whatever comes, you will deal with it because your goal is to eventually get to the other side. You will not be able to control exactly how you get across. That’s the game you’ve decided to be in. If your goal is to make it easier and simpler, then don’t get in the boat.” — location: 3388 ^ref-27773

“To Whom it May Inspire,” Austin wrote. “I, like many of you artists out there, constantly shift between two states. The first (and far more preferable of the two) is white-hot, ‘in the zone’ seat-of-the-pants, firing on all cylinders creative mode. This is when you lay your pen down and the ideas pour out like wine from a royal chalice! This happens about 3% of the time. The other 97% of the time I am in the frustrated, struggling, office-corner-full-of-crumpled-up-paper mode. The important thing is to slog diligently through this quagmire of discouragement and despair. Put on some audio commentary and listen to the stories of professionals who have been making films for decades going through the same slings and arrows of outrageous production problems. In a word: PERSIST. PERSIST on telling your story. PERSIST on reaching your audience. PERSIST on staying true to your vision.… — location: 4310 ^ref-58344

# Fear & Failure

This doesn’t mean that Andrew enjoys it when he puts his work up for others to judge, and it is found wanting. But he deals with the possibility of failure by addressing it head on, searching for mechanisms that turn pain into progress. To be wrong as fast as you can is to sign up for aggressive, rapid learning. Andrew does this without hesitation. — location: 1694 ^ref-63639

If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it. And, for leaders especially, this strategy—trying to avoid failure by out-thinking it—dooms you to fail. — location: 1699 ^ref-19434

when the embarrassment goes away, people become more creative. By making the struggles to solve the problems safe to discuss, then everyone learns from—and inspires—one another. — location: 2908 ^ref-6286

The fear of judgment was hindering creativity. If fear hinders us even in grade school, no wonder it takes such discipline—some people even call it a practice—to turn off that inner critic in adulthood and return to a place of openness — location: 3291 ^ref-29111

The attempt to avoid failure, in other words, makes failure more likely. — location: 3300 ^ref-63612

Andrew’s belief that we will all be happier and more productive if we hurry up and fail. For him, moving quickly is a plus because it prevents him from getting stuck worrying about whether his chosen course of action is the wrong one. Instead, he favors being decisive, then forgiving yourself if your initial decision proves misguided. — location: 3369 ^ref-37286

# The Unknown

I’ve talked about my belief that balance is a dynamic activity—by which I mean, one that never ends. I’ve spelled out my reasons for not defaulting to one or another extreme because it feels safer or more stable. Now I am urging you to attempt a similar balancing act when navigating between the known and the unknown. — location: 2788 ^ref-59170

We humans like to know where we are headed, but creativity demands that we travel paths that lead to who-knows-where. That requires us to step up to the boundary of what we know and what we don’t know. While we all have the potential to be creative, some people hang back, while others forge ahead. What are the tools they use that lead them toward the new? Those with superior talent and the ability to marshal the energies of others have learned from experience that there is a sweet spot between the known and the unknown where originality happens; the key is to be able to linger there without panicking. — location: 3323 ^ref-21986

I realized that I was crashing because I was trying so hard not to crash. So I relaxed and told myself, ‘It’s going to be scary when I make the turns really fast, but I’m going to push that mountain away and enjoy it.’ When I adopted this positive attitude, I stopped crashing. — location: 3354 ^ref-42911

# Perception & Mental Models


our models of the world so distort what we perceive that they can make it hard to see what is right in front of us. — location: 2841 ^ref-62591


second is that we don’t typically see the boundary between new information coming in from the outside and our old, established mental models—we perceive both together, as a unified experience. — location: 2843 ^ref-63404


third is that when we unknowingly get caught up in our own interpretations, we become inflexible, — location: 2844 ^ref-29005


fourth idea is that people who work or live together—people like Dick and Anne, for example—have, by virtue of proximity and shared history, models of the world that are deeply (sometimes hopelessly) intertwined with one another — location: 2845 ^ref-17939


The problem comes when people think that data paints a full picture, leading them to ignore what they can’t see. Here’s my approach: Measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure the vast majority of what you do. And at least every once in a while, make time to take a step back and think about what you are doing. — location: 3262 ^ref-31536

prefer to think of data as one way of seeing, one of many tools we can use to look for what’s hidden. If we think data alone provides answers, then we have misapplied the tool. It is important to get this right — location: 3257 ^ref-48216

# Reflection & Evaluation

Toy Story 2 was a case study in how something that is usually considered a plus—a motivated, workaholic workforce pulling together to make a deadline—could destroy itself if left unchecked. — location: 1238 ^ref-8647 But when the powerful forces that create this positive dynamic turn negative, they are hard to counteract. — location: 1245 ^ref-53682


Sitting down afterward is a way of consolidating all that you’ve learned—before you forget it. Postmortems are a rare opportunity to do analysis that simply wasn’t possible in the heat of the project. — location: 3214 ^ref-33726


The postmortem provides a forum for others to learn or challenge the logic behind certain decisions. — location: 3219 ^ref-30585


But if people are given a forum in which to express their frustrations about the screw-ups in a respectful manner, then they are better able to let them go and move on. — location: 3221 ^ref-52033


Postmortems—but also other activities such as Braintrust meetings and dailies—are all about getting people to think and evaluate. The time we spend getting ready for a postmortem meeting is as valuable as the meeting itself. — location: 3225 ^ref-47139


In a postmortem, you can raise questions that should be asked on the next project. — location: 3229 ^ref-52795


if you repeat the same format, you tend to uncover the same lessons, which isn’t much help to anyone. — location: 3234 ^ref-37491

# Management (Self & Organization)

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. — location: 67 ^ref-9864


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. — location: 145 ^ref-27845


This book, then, is about the ongoing work of paying attention—of leading by being self-aware, as managers and as companies. — location: 165 ^ref-19647


Unhindered communication was key, no matter what your position. — location: 193 ^ref-37892


This is the nature of management. Decisions are made, usually for good reasons, which in turn prompt other decisions. So when problems arise—and they always do—disentangling them is not as simple as correcting the original error. Often, finding a solution is a multi-step endeavor. There is the problem you know you are trying to solve—think of that as an oak tree—and then there are all the other problems—think of these as saplings—that sprouted from the acorns that fell around it. And these problems remain after you cut the oak tree down. — location: 207 ^ref-4881


Looking back, I still admire that enlightened reaction to a serious threat: We’ll just have to get smarter. — location: 271 ^ref-62209


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. — location: 836 ^ref-38778


Instead of merely repeating an action, workers could suggest changes, call out problems, and—this next element seemed particularly important to me—feel the pride that came when they helped fix what was broken. — location: 843 ^ref-45840


This was a revelation to me: The good stuff was hiding the bad stuff. — location: 1031 ^ref-38610


People talking directly to one another, then letting the manager find out later, was more efficient than trying to make sure that everything happened in the “right” order and through the “proper” channels. — location: 1050 ^ref-18339


What was it that we missed? What led us to make such flawed assumptions, and to fail to intervene when the evidence was mounting that the film was in trouble? It was the first time we gave a position to someone believing they could do it, only to find that they couldn’t. I wanted to understand why. — location: 1139 ^ref-28548


Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. — location: 1201 ^ref-36555

Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas. — location: 1214 ^ref-2696

Find, develop, and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas. — location: 1227 ^ref-6213


If we as leaders can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, then we make it safe for others. You don’t run from it or pretend it doesn’t exist. That is why I make a point of being open about our meltdowns inside Pixar, because I believe they teach us something important: Being open about problems is the first step toward learning from them. — location: 1722 ^ref-40006

By insisting on the importance of getting our ducks in a row early, we had come perilously close to embracing a fallacy. Making the process better, easier, and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on—but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal. — location: 2070 ^ref-32054

We are willing to adjust our goals as we learn, striving to get it right—not necessarily to get it right the first time. — location: 2158 ^ref-33440

For many people, changing course is also a sign of weakness, tantamount to admitting that you don’t know what you are doing. This strikes me as particularly bizarre—personally, I think the person who can’t change his or her mind is dangerous. Steve Jobs was known for changing his mind instantly in the light of new facts, and I don’t know anyone who thought he was weak. — location: 2338 ^ref-25742If we as leaders can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, then we make it safe for others. You don’t run from it or pretend it doesn’t exist. That is why I make a point of being open about our meltdowns inside Pixar, because I believe they teach us something important: Being open about problems is the first step toward learning from them. — location: 1722 ^ref-40006


But the truth is, I have no way of accounting for all of the factors involved in any given success, and whenever I learn more, I have to revise what I think. That’s not a weakness or a flaw. That’s reality. — location: 2397 ^ref-35850

What’s needed, in my view, is to approach big and small problems with the same set of values and emotions, because they are, in fact, self-similar. — location: 2454 ^ref-61002


If all our careful planning cannot prevent problems, then our best method of response is to enable employees at every level to own the problems and have the confidence to fix them. — location: 2495 ^ref-19553


We must acknowledge the random events that went our way, because acknowledging our good fortune—and not telling ourselves that everything we did was some stroke of genius—lets us make more realistic assessments and decisions. — location: 2540 ^ref-23614


No one—not Walt, not Steve, not the people of Pixar—ever achieved creative success by simply clinging to what used to work. — location: 2533 ^ref-59323


believe in putting in place a framework for finding potential, then nurturing talent and excellence, believing that many will rise, while knowing that not all will. — location: 2526 ^ref-54732


If you don’t try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead. — location: 2576 ^ref-37714


Each of us, then, draws conclusions based on incomplete pictures. It would be wrong for me to assume that my limited view is necessarily better. — location: 2637 ^ref-19445


When faced with complexity, it is reassuring to tell ourselves that we can uncover and understand every facet of every problem if we just try hard enough. But that’s a fallacy. The better approach, I believe, is to accept that we can’t understand every facet of a complex environment and to focus, instead, on techniques to deal with combining different viewpoints — location: 2641 ^ref-893


The illusion that we have a complete picture is extraordinarily persuasive. However, the magician doesn’t create the illusion—we do. We firmly believe that we are perceiving reality in its totality rather than a sliver of it. — location: 2735 ^ref-6915


This sounds simple enough—honor the viewpoints of others!—but it can be enormously difficult to put into practice throughout your company. That’s because when humans see things that challenge our mental models, we tend not just to resist them but to ignore them. This has been scientifically proven. The concept of “confirmation bias”—the tendency of people to favor information, true or not, that confirms their preexisting beliefs—was introduced in the 1960s by Peter Wason, a British psychologist. — location: 2753 ^ref-60900


The tool is not reality. The key is knowing the difference. — location: 2780 ^ref-21638


Candor, safety, research, self-assessment, and protecting the new are all mechanisms we can use to confront the unknown and to keep the chaos and fear to a minimum. — location: 2814 ^ref-60303


As more people are added to any group, there is an inexorable drift toward inflexibility. — location: 2853 ^ref-55514


John’s system consisted of popsicle sticks stuck to a wall with Velcro. Each stick represented a person-week, which, as I’ve said, is the amount of work a single animator could accomplish in a week’s time. A bunch of sticks would be lined up next to a particular character for easy reference. A glance at the wall would tell you: If you use that many popsicle sticks on Elastigirl, you’ll have less to spend on Jack-Jack. And so on. “Brad would come to me and say: ‘We’ve got to have this done today,’ ” John recalls. “And I could point to the wall and say, ‘Well, you need another stick, then. Where are you going to take the stick from? Because we only have so many.’ ” I see this as a great example of the positive creative impact of limits. However, — location: 3009 ^ref-54565


Companies, like individuals, do not become exceptional by believing they are exceptional but by understanding the ways in which they aren’t exceptional. — location: 3190 ^ref-15263


Next, remain aware that, no matter how much you urge them otherwise, your people will be afraid to be critical in such an overt manner. One technique I’ve used to soften the process is to ask everyone in the room to make two lists: the top five things that they would do again and the top five things that they wouldn’t do again. People find it easier to be candid if they balance the negative with the positive, — location: 3240 ^ref-42488


“It’s a huge lesson: Include people in your problems, not just your solutions.” — location: 3377 ^ref-46437



Other people have so much to recommend them: They will help you see outside yourself; they will rally when you are flagging; they will offer ideas that push you to be better. But they will also require constant interaction and communication. Other people are your allies, in other words, but that alliance takes sustained effort to build. And you should be prepared for that, not irritated by it. — location: 3385 ^ref-63957

One thing that struck me about Bob was that he preferred asking questions to holding forth—and his queries were incisive and straightforward. — location: 3602 ^ref-2222

they asked that we all sign contracts before the deal went through. We declined. It is a tenet of the Pixar culture that people should work there because they want to, not because a contract requires them to, and as a result, no one at Pixar was under contract. — location: 3646 ^ref-64937

The result, though, was that at the heart of this merger was an understanding that both companies had to trust each other. Each side felt a personal obligation to live up to the intent of the agreement—and I believe this was the ideal way to begin our relationship. — location: 3650 ^ref-13928


each movie at Disney had been set up to compete for resources, so they were not bonded as a group. In order to create a healthy feedback loop, we’d have to change that. — location: 3723 ^ref-50093


The specter of past excellence was sapping us of some of the energy that we’d once used to pursue excellence. — location: 4088 ^ref-10946


I believe that no creative company should ever stop evolving, and this would be our latest attempt to avoid stagnation. — location: 4122 ^ref-39265


I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Things change, constantly, as they should. And with change comes the need for adaptation, for fresh thinking, and, sometimes, for even a total reboot—of your project, your department, your division, or your company as a whole. — location: 4307 ^ref-56023


Steve had a remarkable knack for letting go of things that didn’t work. If you were in an argument with him, and you convinced him that you were right, he would instantly change his mind. He didn’t hold on to an idea because he had once believed it to be brilliant. — location: 4440 ^ref-11370


One of the dangers of this approach can be that if you are pitching intently, your very exuberance can make others reluctant to respond candidly. When someone has a strong personality, others can wilt in the face of their intensity. How do you prevent this from happening? The trick is to shift the emphasis in any meeting away from the source of an idea and onto the idea itself. — location: 4443 ^ref-56343

Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear. — location: 4324 ^ref-25206

# Other


Everything was going our way, and yet I felt adrift. In fulfilling a goal, I had lost some essential framework. Is this really what I want to do? I began asking myself. The doubts surprised and confused me, and I kept them to myself. — location: 96 ^ref-2258


One of my classmates, Jim Clark, would go on to found Silicon Graphics and Netscape. Another, John Warnock, would co-found Adobe, known for Photoshop and the PDF file format, among other things. Still another, Alan Kay, would lead on a number of fronts, from object-oriented programming to “windowing” graphical user interfaces. — location: 303 ^ref-21826


Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening. — location: 459 ^ref-46876


But the process of moving toward something—of having not yet arrived—was what he idealized. — location: 586 ^ref-2439


We needed to take more responsibility and ownership of our own work, our need for self-discipline, and our goals. — location: 1281 ^ref-30610


Words like quality and excellence are misapplied so relentlessly that they border on meaningless. — location: 1289 ^ref-33246

Merely repeating ideas means nothing. You must act—and think—accordingly. Parroting the phrase “Story Is King” at Pixar didn’t help the inexperienced directors on Toy Story 2 one bit. — location: 1272 ^ref-2155


Politicians master whatever system it took to get elected, and afterward there is little incentive to change it. Companies of all sorts hire lobbyists to keep the government from changing anything that would disrupt their way of doing business. — location: 2348 ^ref-30048

Once you master any system, you typically become blind to its flaws; even if you can see them, they appear far too complex and intertwined to consider changing. — location: 2353 ^ref-41944


But always—always—walk your talk. — location: 2493 ^ref-19233


I noted in chapter 2, Walt Disney was unrelenting in his determination to incorporate the cutting edge and to understand all available technologies. He brought sound and color into animation. He developed matting for filmmaking, the multiplane camera, the Xerox room for animation cels. — location: 3045 ^ref-47102


P.U. changed the culture for the better. It taught everyone at Pixar, no matter their title, to respect the work that their colleagues did. And it made us all beginners again. — location: 3276 ^ref-9531


That, too, is a key part of remaining flexible: keeping our brains nimble by pushing ourselves to try things we haven’t tried before. — location: 3282 ^ref-19315


The key is to never stop moving forward. — location: 3404 ^ref-63696


There is another, different meaning of reality distortion for me. It stems from my belief that our decisions and actions have consequences and that those consequences shape our future. Our actions change our reality. Our intentions matter. Most people believe that their actions have consequences but don’t think through the implications of that belief. But Steve did. He believed, as I do, that it is precisely by acting on our intentions and staying true to our values that we change the world. — location: 4534 ^ref-54524