Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

There are a plethora of management and team building guide books in publication. Many offer concise bullet points that are designed to create an ease of execution in the work place. Unfortunately, these pointers often end up being flimsy platitudes that fail to stand up to the complex realities of a company's unique situation. In his take on the subject, Ed Catmull provides his insights on administrating at two of the most successful companies in the world, Disney and Pixar.

As one of the co-founders of Pixar Animation Studios, Catmull brings undeniable credibility to the table. He details his humble beginnings as a computer programmer, working to solve problems. His skill at finding solutions to specific computer related tasks earned him his own team of young programmers and thrust him head first into a management position. Catmull writes about his singular goal of creating a full length computer animated film. It was the focus on this goal that drove the first part of his career. Along the way, he teamed with other like-minded, creative individuals such as George Lucas,  John Lasseter and Steve Jobs. By surrounding himself with a team of innovative people and constantly evolving his methods, Catmull formed Pixar and ended up reaching his goal with the release of the 1995 film Toy Story. 

Catmull employs the typical bullet point form to organize his book. Each point receives a full chapter of explanation that contains a history of how Catmull reached each conclusion. For example, one of the main points is "A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody." Catmull then writes about the communication structure at Pixar. The company employs meetings of a "brain trust" at key moments of production on each project. This trust usually consists of the director, Catmull or Lasseter, animators, writers, production designers, and not necessarily someone directly involved with the production of the film. The idea is that anyone who has a valid thought about the project is able to voice their opinion during the meeting. Of course, this idea is great in theory, but Catmull admits to the difficulties of actually implementing the practice. He found that it was easy to say that everyone has an equal voice, but many employees still looked to senior management, i.e. Catmull and Lasseter, before they spoke. As such, Catmull had to find practical solutions, such as changing the shape of the meeting table so that everyone sat at an equal position, to truly accomplish this idea. In detailing the real world application of his management philosophy, Catmull avoids the cliche, "yes we can" attitude of many other books of this type. 

When the sale of Pixar to Disney occurred, Catmull became the head of both animation studios. He had experience in developing a culture of excellence from the ground up, but now he was entering a company with established processes. This was a true test of Catmull's ideology. As it turns out, developing a culture at Disney was not as simple as replicating what worked at Pixar. Instead, his ideas had to evolve to fit the needs of this similar, but very different company. With a string of critical and commercial success at both companies, I think it is safe to say that Catmull has a clear understanding of successful management. The ideas he describes in this book are derived from year of trial and error. In the end, this book does not provide the concise talking points that others have attempted. Rather, it details the complex and rigorous evolution of a manager who learns from and is not afraid to make mistakes. This is a must read for any fan of cinema or any person involved in a creative profession.

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(2015, 18)

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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015 and is filed under ,,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

2 Responses to “Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull”

  1. Definitely interesting, I've always been curious about the creative minds behind companies like Disney and Pixar, and Catmull sounds like he has a great approach. I especially like "Everybody should be able to talk to anybody." Nice review!

    1. Thanks Alise,

      It really is a fascinating and quick read!


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