Book Review: “Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Harry J. W. Percival

This is a journey of a great leader in arriving and sustaining a creative culture in Pixar, a famous movie animation studio that started out as an animation lab for Lucas Film. It was bought up by Steve Jobs after he’s been ousted from Apple.
Lots of concepts were evolved as a result of working years in a highly creative Pixar and later applying the same philosophy to Disney Animation.

My summary:

1. Processes:
a. Having an open communication in a setting like Braintrust helps everyone struggle with the story line and come up with the most creative plot and results.
b. Postmortems are one route into understand why we are not exceptional but we’re resistant to self-assessment. 90% of the value is in the preparation leading to the postmortem – pre-postmortem. Make 2 lists: Top 5 things they would do again and top 5 things they wouldn’t. Don’t trust the data again. “The first conclusions are draw from our successes and failures are typically wrong. Measuring the outcome without evaluating the process is deceiving.
c. lunch lottery that match people at random to encourage new connections and friendships, and holding cross-departmental mixers get far-flung colleagues to know each other over a few beers.

2. It’s about people and the team: “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” “Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.” “Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.”

3. Ideas:
a. “Ideas, are not singular. They’re forced through tens of thousands of decisions, often made by dozens of people.” They are additive rather than competitive.
b. “Idea – without the critical ingredient that is candor, there can be no trust. And without trust, creative collaboration is not possible.”

4. Approaches. “The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it.”

5. Leadership:
a. Reward the aspiration: “One of the most crucial responsibilities of leadership is creating a culture that rewards those who lift not just your stock prices but our aspirations as well.”
b. Demonstrate trustworthiness by responding well to failure.
c. Not to prevent risk but to build the ability to recover.
d. View conflict as essential. It’s how we know that best ideas will be tested and survive. “The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”
e. Hold lightly to goals and firmly to intentions/values. Goals can be shifted.
f. Have the bravery to endorse something unproven and providing room for it to grow.
g. Taking a risk necessitated a willingness to deal with the mess created by the risk. Make it safe to take them.
h. Try to understand the nature of the “unseen.”
i. Be humble: understand many of the factors that shapes our lives and businesses are out of sight.
j. Mental models are not reality but tools.
k. make your best guess and hurrying up about it so if it’s wrong, there’s still time to change course.
l. Loosen the controls, accept risk, trust your colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything creates fear.
m. On hiring: give more weight to the potential to grow than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today. Hire people who are better than you are. Always take a chance on the better.
n. Trust means you trust them when they do screw up, not just trust them not to screw up.
o. Don’t make stability a goal. Balance is more important than stability.
p. Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Making the product great is the goal.

6. Struggling with changes and randomness:
a. “There is no growth or success without change.” “The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs. Let the randomness work for us, don’t fear them.
b. “Only from struggle does clarity emerge — makes many people uncomfortable.” Pick the explanation – to a good or bad outcome – that rely on the fewest assumptions and is thus the simpliest.
c. Creativity starts out working with changes.
d. Don’t resist changes and uncertainty – they are part of life. Our job is to build the capability to recover when unexpected occur.

7. Dealing with failures (a necessary consequence of doing something new):
a. Small vs. big: “There is not a bright line between small and big problems, which are in key ways the same. Don’t freak out or start blaming people.”
b. Learn from the past but don’t let it master our future. The attempt to avoid failure could make failure more likely.
c. The cost of preventing errors is often far great than the cost of fixing them.

8. Culture:
a. candor, safety, research, self-assessment, and protecting the new are all mechanisms we use to confront the unknown and keep the chaos and fear to a minimum.
b. allow smaller groups within the large to differentiate themselves and operate according to their own rules (so long as those rules work). This foster a sense of personal ownership and pride in the company, which benefits the larger enterprise.

9. Crafts vs. Art: Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft. Art classes are about learning to see, not learning to draw.

10. Setting limits: Before we impose procedure and limits, ask how they will aid in enabling people to respond creatively. If not, it’s ill suited to the task at hand.

11. Arts vs. technology: “Art challenges technology, technology inspires art.”

12. Solving problems:
a. Don’t just focus on the problem but also look at the environment.
b. move the focus away from the notion of the “right” way to fix the problem to actually fixing the problem.
c. Engaging with exceptionally hard problems force us to think differently.

13. Measurements: Measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure that vast majority of what you do. At least one a while, make time a take a step back and think about what your’re doing.

14. Creativity in Zen: “To have a “not know mind” is a goal of creative people. It means you are open to the new, just as children are. Like Japanese Zen – having the “beginner’s mind.” We must let go of something.

15. Creative habits:
a. creative people discover and realize their visions over time and through dedicated, protracted struggle. Creativity is more like a marathon than a sprint.
b. Key is to linger between the known and the unknown where originality happens.
c. Imagining making the impossible possible.
d. Imagining – dreaming, noodling, audaciously rejecting what is true for the moment is the way we discover what is new or important.
f. Think of each statement as a starting point, as a prompt toward deeper inquiry, and not as a conclusion.
g. “Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can and does come from anywhere.”

16. Directors’ rare skill:
a.pitching as a way of testing material, taking its measure and strengthening it by observing how it plays to an audience. But if the idea doesn’t fly, they are extremely adapt at dropping it and moving on. Steve Job has a similar trait and he wanted to be one in his next life.
b. Act on our intentions and stay true to our values.

17. Balance between feeding the “beast” (Profit) and coming up with the most creative products/movies.

18. Steve Jobs’ story is intriguing. He evolved as a leader and respect those who’s willing to challenge him and argue for what he believes.

This is a great book for anyone in the leadership positing trying to grow and sustain a creative organization and culture. Highly recommended.