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Pixar's Creativity Lessons
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Pixar's Creativity Lessons

How do you overcome the forces that can hinder creativity?

How do you overcome the forces that can hinder creativity?

Just ask Ed Catmull the co-founder and president of Pixar and Disney Animation. Catmull has written a whole book about it – and we were lucky enough to hear him tell us how he inspired his team to incredible success at Bookomi’s Books4Breakfast this week.

Pixar may have started life as a small hardware company that struggled to survive, but today it’s a huge success making money from computer-animated movies. And Ed was at the heart of its success, using his deep interest in human dynamics to win hearts, minds and a few awards too.

The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to strive for originality and maintain a creative heart for your business. As you might imagine meeting Ed was an inspiration; he told some lovely stories about the rise, fall, rise and rise of Pixar as well as imparting how he created a creative culture.

He also left us with some pondering questions such as: What happens when you reach your goal? How would you manage hidden unrest? Are you able to let people make mistakes? And, if so how many? We’ve been scratching our heads ever since.

One of the key takeaways was the principle of a 'Braintrust' session — comprised of the smartest people in your business — this creative counsel would meet regularly to solve just one problem.

There are rules of course:

-        The council must have the authority to make decisions and make them a reality

-        They need to be peers

-        It needs to be a safe environment – an open forum to say anything

-        No judgement – it’s not about impressing each other

Ed talked fondly about how human dynamics naturally get in the way but when it works it works beautifully and people tend to forget about themselves to just work on the problem.

As you might imagine we hung on Ed’s every word but to sum up the gist here are Ed’s business principles to live:

-        You must embrace evolution

-        Have the ability to pivot – Pixar started life as a hardware business

-        Don’t ever put the most organised person to run everything – this stifles creativity

-        Don’t just ditch ideas straight away because they look like they don’t work instead judge the spirit of the group. Are they focused? Are they clicking? If so – let them work it up more, guide them to test and tweak it

-        Don’t get rid of a team just because you’re failing – things usually can be solvable, and they’ll be tighter as a team having gone through tough times

-        Be ok about not knowing everything

-        Let people make mistakes — zero errors is bad for creativity — 100 means you’re probably in the wrong business!

Our favourite part was the wise words about creativity, which Ed is extremely passionate about. He noted that most people think that creativity is about things you’ve learnt that you then apply to a new problem. In his view, this view is wrong.  “Creativity is not about cutting and pasting past solutions, it’s about taking your skills and applying them to the unknown.”

Finally, Ed left us with a great piece of advice “never let a bad “film” go out, you keep your failures in-house”. Wise words Ed.

Charlie Morgan is an associate director in Hill + Knowlton's tech practice.

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