Book Review: Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace
March 25, 2015
I have read many business books in my years studying Advertising and Communications when I was in college. They were all the same. If you have trouble falling asleep, grab a business book. They knock you right out.
Why is that? Shouldn’t people who lead these dynamic companies be dynamic themselves?
Shouldn’t they inspire and energize you with their words of wisdom? Shouldn’t they be able to effectively tell their story and impart the lessons they learned in a way that is exciting to the reader?
Alas, I have read many a business book that was lackluster for the inspirational pep talk and more about the facts. When Mark Zuckerberg announced his book club pick as Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration By Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace, I have to say I was curious. After all, would this be a knock out book or a KNOCK out book?
Since being burned in the past by business books, I brought the book home, stood it up smartly on my desk and then pondered how much staring at it will make me want to read it.
After two weeks of it catching my eye, I finally sat down, made myself comfortable and read.
I want to start with that I did know who Ed Catmull was. Since I was little, my dream was to animate for Disney. It’s a dream that I still hold onto. Maybe now it won’t be animating but I do have a knack for writing. I might just focus on going to Disneyworld first. Small steps.
When I stared reading about a young Ed sitting in front of his television set on Sunday night at seven, I got goosebumps.
Not only had this man lived my dream job, but he also did the same thing that I did as a ritual, growing up.
What made this book great was the storytelling. The way that Ed and Amy weaved business and leadership examples and ideals with the story of his life, was flawless.
I was riveted. I couldn’t wait to hear about his experiences in University. The ground breaking work they did.
How the leadership fostered the team to work together and build on each other but also encourage their singular projects with simple guidance and little interference.
How this form of leadership developed some of the leading minds in technology of the time without micromanaging, without the sense of consequences if there was failure, and without any strict rules that governed the team.
Another point that he touched on was how the company’s communication structure is key to the successful business.
He used a story to illustrate how the communication when Pixar first started had some problems, but no one could quite put their finger on it.
It all revolved around a table. A large table that required seating cards for the executives, forced people in awkward positions to hear what each other was saying, and didn’t even have enough room to seat everybody.
With people sitting in all areas of the room the flow of the communication was broken and even the people who sat far away were less likely to speak. They were left feeling that because they were on a chair in the back corner of the room and that their ideas were not important.
With the simple changing of a table, from a long one to a square one, this created the dynamic they needed.
They could see everybody, everybody was at the table and there was no longer a need for the place cards to keep the executives in the middle of everything. Didn’t matter where you sat, you were in the middle of the conversation.
I learned a lot from this book.
One, don’t judge all books in a genre because of a few. I will now be more apt to read business books. It still may take me a week to start, but it’s progress!
Two, that communication with a team of people needs to be open, all voices heard no matter what role and ideas can be built upon and grow from unlikely sources.
And three, if you don’t step back and strive to “uncover what is unseen” then you are not ready to lead a team.
I think everything that he talks about in this book can be put in any business model.
Since I happen to work with a group of people, via email and phone conversations, but work with a group none the less, I can take what I have learned with this book and apply it.
Can the communication of our team improve? Yes, we have the ability to build on each others ideas as well as our individual posts. No, this does not mean that I am going to start writing Tech reviews again but maybe a coauthored post like Siskel and Ebert? All business dreams start somewhere. For Ed it was in front of his television set. He had Big Dreams and he followed them.
As for me? Maybe writing for Disney may not be in the cards but writing about books, and one day writing my own book, is my dream.
Cinderella sung it best: A dream is a wish your heart makes.
Great book review, I think I will read it, is it in paperback yet?
What other business books on Pixar and Disney have you read?
Hi Paul, It comes out in paperback February 2016 but it is a book well worth hardcover price for.
This would be my first business book for both Disney/Pixar but there are many. From Be Our Guest by Theodore Kinni to Disney U by Doug Lipp there are lots to choose from. It just depends which area of business you want to learn more about (customer service, leadership etc).