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Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen…

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of…

by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Nearly all the books and articles published on management and business are complete garbage. They just recite trite abstract concepts as if they're something novel, in order to sell a book.

Although there's perhaps a little too much autobiographical background in the first couple of chapters, Creativity, Inc. is fantastic.

Creativity, Inc. is quite simply the most useful and enlightening book concerning management I have ever read. I was aware of Ed Catmull and several of his colleagues (e.g. Alvy Ray Smith) from their early CG innovations at Utah State, and of course was well aware of the magic coming from Lucasfilm. So I've been a fan of Pixar all along, but had no inkling that it was being managed so intelligently. Catmull describes in fascinating detail many of the tribulations that he and Pixar overcame in the continually improving companies he leads (he also is now President of Disney Animation).

I have never yet worked with a manager at any level in any organization that has even a tenth of the ability that Catmull and his creative right hand John Lasseter have.

As a side benefit of reading the book, I also came to understand Steve Jobs far better than before, and gain an appreciation for his accomplishments, capabilities and humanity. I was an Apple owner from the Apple II days and had a generally negative opinion of Steve from his huge ego and brusque habits. Catmull and Lasseter though had worked with Steve Jobs for over 20 years so many anecdotes and heartfelt narratives filled out large gaps for me. ( )
  Jack-in-the-Green | Dec 18, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A look behind the scenes at the creative culture of Pixar. Part memoir, part business how-to, and part historical record of the evolving graphic technologies. Enjoyed the advice to, "Create a space that encourages community and collaboration". Recommended for anyone looking for insight into the creative culture behind a successful company. ( )
  BookWallah | Jul 23, 2014 |
Sure to appeal to any fan of Pixar! Funny, I was drawn to this book more for the management aspects than the history and behind-the-scenes looks at Pixar, but I actually ended up enjoying the sort of memoir portion of the book more than the business portion. While I haven’t seen many of the Pixar films, I did enjoy hearing about the evolution of the projects, and it made me interested in finally seeing all the films. While the history of the company held my interest, I found the management advice a bit thin and repetitive. Maybe it is because I have already been lucky enough to have worked as the production manager for a creative company that had a very similar culture, but a lot of it didn’t seem that original to me. A lot of it is just common sense: hire people smarter than you – then trust them, be honest, look for hidden problems, don’t be afraid to fail, etc. Not to say there is not some good advice – and specific examples that make it easy to understand – but I really found the second half of the book a bit hard to get through because of the redundancy.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. ( )
  conniemcmartin | Jul 18, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A note about these newly posted non-link reviews.

This is one of three books currently in my to-be-reviewed pile that got into my hands via the LibraryThing.com's “Early Reviewer” program. As I may have bitched about previously, the LTER “Almighty Algorithm” (which matches books to program participants) has seemingly deemed me to be a go-to guy for any business books that I might request … despite the genre being a relatively recent feature in my library … frequently coming in ahead of requested archaeology, religion, science, history, philosophy, and psychology titles – all of which are (I'm pretty sure) “deeper” in my collection. I bring this up (again) by way of providing some context: while I've read and reviewed quite a number of business/marketing/employment books over the past several years, they're in my reading more for their potential usefulness to me than any integral interest I might have for the subject.

I suspect that this makes me somewhat “less forgiving” for some books than somebody who spent a lifetime in the study of business … and some of the reservations I have about Ed Catmull's Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration might not have been an issue for other readers.

Now, generally speaking, Creativity, Inc. is a very engaging book, being a bit of an autobiography of Catmull himself, and a bit of a “bio” tracking the evolution of Pixar … both of which are fascinating subjects. Catmull was one of the beneficiaries of “right place, right time, right skills” intersections back in the 1960's … he'd early on wanted to be an animator (with Disney, of course), but was pretty sure his drawing skills weren't up to snuff for the big leagues, so went into the burgeoning computer field, just as it was beginning to drag itself out of the all-text swamps and discovering graphics. After working in industry as a programmer for a while, he returned to university in 1970, and got attached to a professor, Ivan Sutherland (who had developed one of the first computer graphics programs), who led him into making several major advancements in computer graphics, from texture mapping to spatial anti-aliasing. One of Catmull's projects was a 3D animation of his hand in 1972, which was featured in 1976's Futureworld, the first movie to use 3D computer graphics.

It gets harder and harder for the present-day reader to appreciate just how recently computers have become ubiquitous, and capable of the things we take for granted. Most folks in the mid-70's who were able to work with computers were hand-punching cards that were then bound in stacks, set into readers which would then punch a series of holes in a paper tape, which would then be fed into another machine at which point the data on the paper tape would get digitized onto magnetic tape that the computer could actually read and work with. For anybody who's done hand-coding … imagine trying to debug that process … where one might have, on a modern system, mistyped a comma for a semicolon (and have a color coded highlight showing you something wasn't right in the code), back in those days you'd have to go back to the boxes holding the stacks of 7.375x3.25" cards and try to figure out which card had the wrong hole punched in it. Obviously, Catmull and his associates were working on higher-end equipment by the mid-70's, but it was very much “feeling their way through” as all aspects of the graphics process (let alone animating anything) had to be invented as they went along.

Apple fans, of course, will find the presence of Steve Jobs in the story gripping. Catmull had been hired by LucasFilm in 1979 to develop digital elements for Star Wars and other projects, and he worked on the early versions of Pixar (when it was a high-end computer platform). Jobs bought the digital division from them in 1986 and over the years pumped in vast amounts of cash to keep it going – eventually they “pivoted”, and concentrated on making movies, rather than the equipment. Catmull provides a perspective on Jobs which is not frequently presented … including what it was like to “go to the mat” with him over points of contention.

Another long-time associate of Catmull, John Lasseter, had worked on an animated feature for Disney, The Brave Little Toaster (which featured digitally-produced backgrounds), and had been let go … he was brought on to be the creative side of the equation at Pixar … forming the core of the management team that re-defined the animation industry. Most of the book deals with the “behind the scenes” on making those movies happen. Especially in the early days, they'd be having to create systems to be able to get what they envisioned onto the screen … but also there were cases where they'd determined that something was simply not working and completely re-writing the films.

O.K. … now here come some of those caveats. There is a struggle in the book between the over-all historical/biographical sketch of Catmull's career and Pixar's development (which is the most attractivet part of the book), and sudden shifts in tone from “telling a good story” to … well, almost being “school marm” in pontification on how elements from the story relate to “managing business in general”. Obviously, at some point, Creativity, Inc. was targeted to be a presentation on (in the words of the subtitle) “Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” … and in reading it, I almost had the sense that there was an editor or project manager or somebody along those lines, calling him up to say “hey, we need more of that business stuff in there!”. An example of this follows a tale about a road trip Catmull took at one point … where he shifts from “telling the story” into:

Now, consider this: The tire incident involved the interconnected models of just two people. In business, where dozens if not hundreds of people may work in close proximity, that effect multiplies quickly, and before you know it, these competing and often at-odds models lead to a kind of inertia that makes it difficult to change or respond well to challenges. The intertwining of many views is an unavoidable part of the culture, and unless you are careful, the conflicts that arise can keep groups of people locked into their restrictive viewpoints, even if, as is often the case, each member of the group is ordinarily open to better ideas.

Obviously, these sorts of “teaching moments” are worthwhile, and built on significantly keen experience, but when they come, they sufficiently change the tone to an extent that it feels wrong. If you don't mind me indulging in some “armchair editing”, I think the book, as a whole, would have been far better served to have the “now I'm going to impart the business lessons” sections set off in boxes, and be free-standing instruction that then related back to the elements in the narrative from which they arose. Just sayin' …

Anyway, Pixar developed some awesome movies, Jobs sells the company to Disney, there are “cultural” challenges (despite Catmull and Lasseter being thrilled to be there) to overcome, and lots of stories about films you've probably seen. There is also an afterword essentially memorializing Steve Jobs. The book has an arc through four sections that pretty much traces the Pixar story, and at various points there are the “teaching moments”. Again, it's an entertaining read … with lots of “insider stuff” on both the development of computer graphics and computer animation (and the movies based on it) … but it reads like it's trying to be something more pedagogical, and that interferes with the story supporting those elements.

Creativity, Inc. has just been out since April, so it's no doubt still easy to find in the brick-and-mortar book stores clinging to life out there … and it's always a nice thing to support those guys … but the on-line big boys have it currently at 40% off of cover … making it quite reasonable to pick up. If you like Pixar's movies, or are interested in animation in general, or are a Steve Jobs fan, or want to know more about the evolution of computers as they developed into the graphic-intense beasties they are today, you'll certainly find something to grab your attention in this book.


A link to my "real" review:
BTRIPP's review of Ed Catmull's Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (1383 words)
  BTRIPP | Jul 12, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Ed Catmull's "Creativity, Inc." is one part company history, one part memoir, and one part leadership lesson. Normally that might be a recipe for disaster, but when the author is a founder and president of Pixar Animation the results are an insightful look at how to organize and manage in such a way as to unlock people's creativity, energy, and passion.

Catmull is unflinchingly honest about both the successes and failures of Pixar. This lends great credibility to his management insights since they are born of real-world experience and the pain of experimentation and discovery. Catmull is adamant that failure is not necessarily a setback and, coupled with an expectation of honesty and candor when working with peers, this conviction serves as the backbone of how he has run Pixar.

A special note should be made of the epilogue in which Catmull reminisces about his years of collaboration with Steve Jobs. Catmull paints a moving and personal picture of the legendary CEO -- one that is at odds with the public perception of a cold, calculating leader. It's a wonderful tribute that also underscores the advice he gives in the book.

"Creativity, Inc." is a great read for managers and leaders, especially in fields that require agility and creativity, and would benefit anyone looking for ways to lead with integrity.

Disclaimer: I received a free pre-publication copy of this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. ( )
  sullijo | Jun 30, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Catmull, Edprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wallace, Amymain authorall editionsconfirmed
Altschuler, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812993012, Hardcover)

From Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, comes an incisive book about creativity in business—sure to appeal to readers of Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and Chip and Dan Heath.

Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”
For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.
As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged a partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his founding Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Nine years later, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed—was the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention, such as:
• Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.
• If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
• It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
• The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
• A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
• Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change—it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.
Advance praise for Creativity, Inc.
“Many have attempted to formulate and categorize inspiration and creativity. What Ed Catmull shares instead is his astute experience that creativity isn’t strictly a well of ideas, but an alchemy of people. In Creativity, Inc. Ed reveals, with commonsense specificity and honesty, examples of how not to get in your own way and how to realize a creative coalescence of art, business, and innovation.”—George Lucas
“Business gurus love to tell stories about Pixar, but this is our first chance to hear the real story from someone who lived it and led it. Everyone interested in managing innovation—or just good managing—needs to read this book.”—Chip Heath, co-author of Switch and Decisive

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 04 Feb 2014 09:20:47 -0500)

"In 1986, Ed Catmull co-founded Pixar, a modest start-up with an immodest goal: to make the first-ever computer animated movie. Nine years later, Pixar released Toy Story, which went on to revolutionize the industry, gross $360 million, and establish Pixar as one of the most successful, innovative, and emulated companies on earth. This book details how Catmull built an enduring creative culture -- one that doesn't just pay lip service to the importance of things like honesty, communication, and originality, but committed to them, no matter how difficult that often proved to be. As he discovered, pursuing excellence isn't a one-off assignment. It's an ongoing, day-in, day-out, full-time job. And one he was born to do"--… (more)

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