Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, has written a new book entitled “Creativity, Inc.” I love it for two reasons. It’s like a behind-the-scenes tour of my favorite Pixar movies– Toy Story, Cars, and Monsters University.  And it’s a compelling, how-to guide for building a successful creative company. (Note: Pixar Studios has released 14 movies and all 14 have been number one box office hits.)

For me as an agency owner, the whole idea of balancing the potentially opposing goals of encouraging creative freedom, ensuring orderly processes and delivering consistent financial results can be daunting at times. “Creativity Inc.” is chocked full of great advice on all three. Here are a few of the takeaways that inspired me.

  1. Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the good ideas. Catmull says “find, develop and support good people and they in turn will find, develop and own good ideas.”
  2. Candor among a group of peers who trust each other is one of the most important assets of a great creative company. Catmull says “The hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions and criticisms. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional work environments.” Then he adds, “Candor is only valuable if the person on the receiving end is open to it and willing, if necessary to let go of things that don’t work.” Easy to say. Hard to do.
  3. Failure can make you better, wiser and kinder. Even the most successful people and companies have failures. The trick is to embrace them. Learn from them.  Be changed by them. For Pixar, identifying the failures of process or story is a constant pursuit as a way of protecting the company, its culture and ultimately, the movies themselves.
  4. When you are wrong, be wrong as fast as you can. Catmull spends significant time on the importance of making creative decisions quickly so that if you are wrong, there is time to go back and begin again. “The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it,” says Catmull. “The nonworking idea gets worn into your brain, like a rut in the mud.  It can be difficult to get free of it and head in a different direction. Which, more often than not, is exactly what you must do.”
  5. Making good creative is like raising a child. It’s complex and interesting. But most people want to make it simpler than it is. “In the beginning all Pixar movies suck,” Catmull says. “Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process—reworking, reworking and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its through line or a hollow character finds its soul.”  In other words, the creative process is messy and requires passion and patience.
  6. Last, a thriving creative culture has four important ingredients–frank talk, spirited debate, laughter and love. Amen Mr. Catmull. And thanks for the thoughtful roadmap to getting there.