Pixar on Creativity (Find Good People, Ideas Will Come)

I just got off a videoconference with some executives in New Zealand and among other things we discussed creativity. I argued that too many people buy into the “analytical vs. creative” dichotomy of cognitive strengths. When I ask rooms of people, “Raise your hand if you consider yourself creative,” usually about 60% raise their hand. I’m always astonished at how few people self-identify as “creative.” I think it’s because of the stereotype that a creative person must be the ripped-jean starving artist type. If you’re a human being, I think you’re well within your right to call yourself creative, as humans are the most creative creatures on this earth. In any event, if you don’t consider yourself a creative person, you’re not likely to realize creative bursts.

It’s a fascinating topic. Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, has a great essay up today on how Pixar — one of the most successful movie studios in the business — fosters creativity. Pertinent especially for larger organizations. He starts with this:

A few years ago, I had lunch with the head of a major motion picture studio, who declared that his central problem was not finding good people—it was finding good ideas. Since then, when giving talks, I’ve asked audiences whether they agree with him. Almost always there’s a 50/50 split, which has astounded me because I couldn’t disagree more with the studio executive. His belief is rooted in a misguided view of creativity that exaggerates the importance of the initial idea in creating an original product. And it reflects a profound misunderstanding of how to manage the large risks inherent in producing breakthroughs.

Right on. Anyone who says finding good ideas is harder than finding good people is delusional. Everyone I talk to, in any size organization, for profit or non, all say that finding top flight talent is one of if not the hardest challenge they face. On the other hand, ideas are everywhere.

I also couldn’t agree more on what he calls “the exaggerated importance of the initial idea.” Here’s my original and follow-up posts on the myth of the eureka moment.

Other nuggets. Here’s how they’ve designed their buildings:

Most buildings are designed for some functional purpose, but ours is structured to maximize inadvertent encounters. At its center is a large atrium, which contains the cafeteria, meeting rooms, bathrooms, and mailboxes. As a result, everyone has strong reasons to go there repeatedly during the course of the workday. It’s hard to describe just how valuable the resulting chance encounters are.

On the challenge of being a successful company:

Systematically fighting complacency and uncovering problems when your company is successful have got to be two of the toughest management challenges there are. Clear values, constant communication, routine postmortems, and the regular injection of outsiders who will challenge the status quo aren’t enough. Strong leadership is also essential—to make sure people don’t pay lip service to the values, tune out the communications, game the processes, and automatically discount newcomers’ observations and suggestions.

(thanks to Ramit’s delicious tag of this piece)

2 comments on “Pixar on Creativity (Find Good People, Ideas Will Come)
  • Damnit — I thought that meant Ramit had labeled it with a deliciously appropriate tag. My hopes, however, were quickly dashed.

    If you’re interested in corporate creativity you should check out John Kao’s Jamming. It’s 10 years old but still quite interesting.

  • This post resonates perfectly with our company. We started with four co-founders and no idea what we were going to do. The ideas were the easy part. We prototyped everything, from mobile coupons to virtual avatars to algebra software.

    Once we settled on the idea, we were able to move quickly because of the team we built. Since the early days, we’ve found that finding additional talent, and not just talent, but talent that fit into our culture, has been a huge struggle.

    I tell the entrepreneurial group that I’m associated with the same thing. People are worried about signing NDAs and that someone will steal their idea. What they don’t realize is that what really matters is the passion and the ability to execute on the idea, because someone else is thinking the same thing you are.

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