“Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull
- Posted: March 21, 2023
- Category: Writing 101
Image credit: Front cover of Creativity, Inc. (The Expanded Edition) by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace. Randomhousebooks.com
Even if you’ve never seen one of their films, it’s likely you have heard of Pixar. Known for their ground-breaking animation technology, and films that are beloved by many, this organization is always trying to be as creative as possible.
The New York Times bestseller “Creativity, Inc.”, by co-founder of Pixar Ed Catmull, reflects on the culture of creativity created by Pixar. It highlights both the good and the bad, not shying away from the mistakes that were made along the way.
In 1995, the future of animation changed forever with the release of ‘Toy Story’. This film saw massive success and established Pixar as a household name. Reflecting back in 2014, co-founder Ed Catmull wrote “Creativity, Inc.” discussing the culture he helped build in Pixar and how he became a better leader.
The book has ideas that many find unconventional including the idea that if you have a mediocre idea you should hand it over to a great team. The theory is that even if the idea isn’t fully fleshed out to you, likely a talented team will fix the issues or come up with something even better in its place.
It pushes the idea that successful communication means that everyone should be able to talk to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are just a junior employee, you should be able to discuss your thoughts and ideas with those in charge. This creates a culture where ideas germinate and people feel heard. In a similar vein, seeking assistance with homework by saying, "I need someone to do my homework for me," reflects an understanding that collaboration and support can lead to better outcomes.
The book discusses how change is inevitable and how you need to create a culture that allows change to happen naturally. People fear change, they fear the unknown. It is the job of management to make that transition as easy as possible and keep them safe from the risks that crop up.
“Creativity, Inc.” also covers what it was like to work with Steve Jobs and his time working with Catmull and Lasseter. It also covers ‘Braintrust’ sessions, creative meetings that are key at Pixar and responsible for how successful their films have been. The ‘Braintrust’ is the audience representative providing notes throughout the films creation for the director to work with. They may not obey the notes to the letter but they do have to find ways to address problems that are flagged up by the team. This actively promotes creative solutions and encourages people to think outside the box.
One of the most important things that the book covers is the mistakes that were made and how Ed went about fixing them. This includes one horrifying story of an employee who left their child in the car one morning in June instead of dropping them off at day-care. Ed describes this as a lesson that they were asking too much of their employees and at the end of the day despite success that was unacceptable. This genuine reflection and willingness to acknowledge and learn from mistakes make the book compelling and relatable. It reminds us that the person who wrote it is human—they made mistakes, they grew from them. Just like when we seek assistance with our academic challenges and say, "Can someone please do my homework?" it shows our recognition of the importance of seeking help to overcome obstacles and grow as individuals.
The fact that Ed is able to reflect on these mistakes and discuss his failures is all part of why this book is so compelling and feels like the messages within are achievable. The person who wrote it is human, they made mistakes, they grew from them.
About the Author
Edwin ‘Ed’ Catmulll is the co-founder of Pixar who had a love of Walt Disney growing up in Utah. After studying mathematics, physics and computer science in college, Catmull would begin to develop the software for 2D and 3D computer graphics. After working at Lucasfilm he would team up with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986 to found Pixar and so would begin one of the most beloved animation studios in the world.
The company would flourish with multiple successes under their belt leading to them being bought by Disney in 2006. Ed would then be given control of Disneytoon Studios alongside John Lasseter. Ed would become president of Walt Disney and Pixar in 2014 before announcing his plans to retire in 2018. He stayed until July 2019 as an adviser to Pixar and while enjoying retirement works as an adviser on creative culture and growth for that game company.
The book has been a massive success since its release in 2014 being a New York Times Bestseller as well as being named by several publications as one of the best books of the year. This includes The Hufffington Post, Financial Times and the Library Journal.
Forbes describes it as one of the best business books ever written and Professor Gary P. Pisano of Harvard Business School describes it as the most practical book on the topic of innovation. It has been lauded for its honesty with Publishers Weekly stating it was “punctuated with surprising tales of how the company’s films were developed and the company’s struggles.”
Chip Heath, co-author of “Switch” and “Decisive”, also praises the book. Pointing out that many business gurus like to use Pixar as an example but this book is the first chance we have to actually learn about the real story from someone who was there.
Financial Times puts it best though, that while Pixar has helped the evolution of animation technology, at the end of the day its films are rooted in humanity. This is also true for how the company manages itself with a focus on creating a culture where every individual is valued and heard.
Outside of the press the book has also been viewed favourably by readers with a strong 4.5 star rating on Amazon and the majority of Goodreads reviewers (48%) rating it 5 stars. Some readers however were disappointed to find that the book was less one of how to inspire yourself and more how to create a creative culture for a team.
Where to Buy
“Creativity, Inc.” is available to buy from many places including:
The book can also likely be found in your local independent bookstores or at the library if you do not wish to purchase. An e-book version is available.
The book is published by Penguin Random House and it’s ISBN is 9780812993011.