Creativity, Inc.

Ed Catmull, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, has some interesting thoughts about leading creative organisations. The following are based on his book Creativity, Inc.

In a studio — just like a company — there are business functions like finance, production, creative, marketing, technology etc. Organisations fail when one of these functions “wins” and dominates the others with its agenda. For instance, in studies where production wins, projects are produced on time and on budget, but creatives become demoralised and produce lower quality work and talent leaves.

In our current environment, we are always operating in a fuzzy space and we have to be comfortable doing that. Creative leaders and creatives need to work in and with uncertainty. We cannot deliver genius on schedule, we need to be comfortable with that. We do not know what the final iteration of the story will look like, we have to be comfortable with that. We don’t know what the technology or media landscape will look like more than about six months from now, but we have to make plans for the next six years – and know they may look very different in the final version.

We have to be prepared for near death experiences on projects. All Pixar movies “suck” at first. They are radically altered again and again until they work. Every Pixar film except one – Toy Story 3 – has gone through a phase of intense crisis during its development. Most people want to avoid the “near death” part of the creative experience, but it is very often essential in order to get to something really good.

Summing-up: All that anyone sees is the final product and there’s almost a romantic illusion about how you got there. When we first put up something–these stories suck. By accepting that your first round of ideas are probably wrong, opening to the advice of others, and creating a candid operating environment based on trust, Pixar was able to produce all these amazing successes.

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