Creativity Inc., ED Catmull with Amy Wallace

Co-fondateur de Pixar Animation avec John Lasseter et Steve Jobs, ainsi que son actuel président, Ed Catmull nous peint à travers ce livre l’histoire de la création du légendaire studio d’animation Pixar. Comment être créatif ? Comment encenser la créativité ? Comment « manager » la créativité, l’originalité et les talents qui la crée ?

C’est ce que vous retrouverez dans cet incroyable livre !

Ci-dessous, retrouvez ainsi les citations et passages (en Anglais) que j’ai trouvé le plus intéressant de ce livre.

Bonne Lecture !

Introduction: Lost and Found

  • What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it. This, more than any elaborate party or turreted workstation, is why I love coming to work in the morning. It is what motivates me and gives me a definite sense of mission.
  • Successful leaders embrace the reality that their models may be wrong or incomplete. Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it.

Part 1: Getting Started

Chapter 1: Animated

  • When it comes to creative inspirations, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless. That’s what I believe. But unwittingly, we were allowing this table—and the resulting place card ritual—to send a different message. The closer you were seated to the middle of the table, it implied, the more important—the more central—you must be. And the farther away, the less likely you were to speak up—your distance from the heart of the conversation made participating feel intrusive. If the table was crowded, as it often was, still more people would sit in chairs around the edges of the room, creating yet a third tier of participants (those at the center of table, those at the ends, and those not at the table at all). Without intending to, we’d created an obstacle that discouraged people from jumping in.
  • This is the nature of management. Decisions are made, usually for good reasons, which in turn prompt other decisions. So when problems arise—and they always do—disentangling them is not as simple as correcting the original error. Often, finding a solution is a multi-step endeavor. There is the problem you know you are trying to solve—think of that as an oak tree—and then there are all the other problems—think of these as saplings—that sprouted from the acorns that fell around it. And these problems remain after you cut the oak tree down.
  • Even after all these years, I’m often surprised to find problems that have existed right in front of me, in plain sight. For me, the key to solving these problems is finding ways to see what’s working and what isn’t, which sounds a lot simpler than it is. Pixar today is managed according to this principle, but in a way I’ve been searching all my life for better ways of seeing. It began decades before Pixar even existed.
  • The definition of superb animation is that each character on the screen makes you believe it is a thinking being. Whether it’s a T-Rex or a slinky dog or a desk lamp, if viewers sense not just movement but intention—or, put another way, emotion—then the animator has done his or her job.
  • The first organ transplants were performed in 1954; the first polio vaccine came a year later; in 1956, the term artificial intelligence entered the lexicon. The future, it seemed, was already here.
  • ARPA had been created in response to Sputnik, and one of its key organizing principles was that collaboration could lead to excellence. In fact, one of ARPA’s proudest achievements was linking universities with something called “ARPANET”, which would eventually evolve into the Internet.
  • At the age of twenty-six, I set a new goal: to develop a way to animate, not with a pencil but with a computer, and to make the images compelling and beautiful enough to use in the movies. Perhaps, I thought, I could become an animator after all.
  • We’d have to be creative not only technically but also in the ways that we worked together.

Chapter 2: Pixar is born

  • I’ve made a policy of trying to hire people who are smarter than I am.
  • The act of hiring Alvy changed me as a manager: By ignoring my fear, I learned that the feat was groundless. Over the years, I have met people who took what seemed the safer path and were the lesser for it. By hiring Alvy, I had taken a risk, and that risk yielded the highest reward—a brillant, committed teammate.
  • Experimentation was highly valued, but the urgency of a for-profit enterprise was definitely in the air. In other words, we felt like we were solving problems for a reason.
  • “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Yoda
  • Another of his (George Lucas) favorite analogies was that building a company was like being on a wagon train headed west. On the long journey to the land of plenty, the pioneers would be full of purpose and united by the goal of reaching their destination. Once they arrived, he’d say, people would come and go, and that was as it should be. But the process of moving toward something—of having not yet arrived—was what he idealized.
  • Whether evoking wagons or ships, George thought in terms of a long view; he believed in the future and his ability to shape it. The story has been told and retold about how, as a young filmmaker, in the wake of American Graffiti’s success, he was advised to demand a higher salary on his next movie, Star Wars. That would be the expected move in Hollywood: Bump up your quote. Not for George, though. He skipped the raise altogether and asked instead to retain ownership of licensing and merchandising rights to Star Wars. The studio that was distributing the film, 20th Century Fox, readily agreed to his request, thinking it was not giving up much. George would prove them wrong, setting the stage for major changes in the industry he loved. He bet on himself—and won.
  • For all the care you put into artistry, visual polish frequently doesn’t matter if you are getting the story right.
  • I first met Steve in February of 1985, when he was the director of Apple Computer, Inc. Our meeting had been arranged by Apple’s chief scientist, Alan Kay, who knew that Alvy and I were looking for investors to take our graphics division off George’s hands. Alan had been at the U of U with me and at Xerox PARC with Alvy, and he told Steve that he should visit us if he wanted to see the cutting edge in computer graphics. We met in a conference room with a white board and a large table surrounded by chairs—not that Steve stayed seated for very long. Within minutes, he was standing at the white board, drawing us a chart of Apple’s revenues.

I remember his assertiveness. There was no small talk. Instead, there were questions. Lots of questions. What do you want? Steve asked. Where are you heading? What are your long-term goals? He used the phrase “insanely great products” to explain what he believed in. Clearly, he was the sort of person who didn’t let presentations happen to him, and it wasn’t long before he was talking about making a deal.

  • For nearly two months after that initial meeting, we heard nothing. Total silence.

We were perplexed, given how intent Steve had been in our meetings. We finally learned why when, in late May, we read in the papers of Steve’s blowup with Apple CEO John Sculley. Sculley had persuaded Apple’s board of directors to remove Steve from his duties as head of the company’s Macintosh division after rumors surfaced that Steve was trying to stage a boardroom coup.

When the dust settled, Steve sought us out again. He wanted a new challenge and thought maybe we were it.

He came to Lucasfilm one afternoon for a tour of our hardware lab. Again, he pushed and prodded and poked. What can the Pixar Image Computer do that other machines on the market can’t? Who do you envision using it? What’s your long-term plan? His aim didn’t seem to be to absorb the intricacies of our technology as much as to hone his own argument, to temper it by sparring with us. Steve’s domineering nature could take one’s breath away. At one point he turned to me and calmly explained that he wanted my job. Once he took my place at the helm, he said, I would learn so much from him that in just two years I would be able to run the enterprise all by myself. I was, of course, already running the enterprise by myself, but I marveled at his chutzpah. He not only planned to displace me in the day-to-day management of the company, he expected me to think it was a great idea!

  • Steve was hard-charging—relentless, even—but a conversation with him took you places you didn’t expect. It forced you not just to defend but also to engage. And that in itself, I came to believe, had value.
  • The next day, several of us drove to meet with Steve at his place in Woodside, a lovely neighborhood near Menlo Park. The house was almost empty but for a motorcycle, a grand piano, and two personal chefs who had once worked at Chez Panisse. Sitting on the grass looking out over his seven-acre lawn, he formally proposed that he buy the graphics group from Lucasfilm and showed us a proposed organizational chart for the new company. As he spoke, it became clear to us that his goal was not to build an animation studio; his goal was to build the next generation of home computers to compete with Apple.

This wasn’t merely a deviation from our vision, it was the total abandonment of it, so we politely declined. We returned to the task of trying to find a buyer. Time was running out.

  • Months passed. As we approached the one-year anniversary of our unveiling of The Adventures of André and Wally B., our anxiety—the kind that builds when survival is at stake and saviors are in short supply—was showing on our faces. Still, we had fortune on our side—or, at least, geography. The 1985 SIGGRAPH conference was being held in San Francisco, right up the 101 freeway from Silicon Valley. We had a booth on the trade show floor where we showcased our Pixar Image Computer. Steve Jobs dropped by on the first afternoon.

Immediately, I sensed a change. Since I’d last seen him, Steve had founded a personal computer company, NeXT. I think that gave him the ability to approach us with a different mindset. He had less to prove; Now, he looked around our booth and proclaimed our machine the most interesting thing in the room. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said, and we set off on a stroll around the hall. “How are things going?”

“Not great,” I confessed. We were still hoping to find an outside investor, but we were nearly out of options. It was then that Steve raised the idea of resuming our talks. “Maybe we can work something out,” he said.

  • It took another few months, but on the third day of January, 1986, Steve said he was ready to make a deal and addressed, right off, the issue that had concerned me most—his previous insistence of controlling and running the company. He was willing to back off on that, he said, and not only that, he was open to letting us explore making a business out of the nexus of computers and graphics. By the end of the meeting, Alvy and I felt comfortable with his proposal—and his intentions. The only wild card was what he was going to be like as a partner. We were well aware of his reputation for being difficult. Only time would tell whether he would live up to it.
  • The acquisition process was complicated by the fact that the negotiators for Lucasfilm weren”t very good. The chief financial officer, in particular, underestimated Steve, assuming he was just another rich kid in over his head. This CFO told me that the way to establish his authority in the room was to arrive last. His thinking, which he articulated out loud to me, was that this would establish him as the “most powerful player”, since he and only he could afford to keep everyone else waiting.

All that it ended up establishing, however, was that he’d never met anyone like Steve Jobs.

The morning of the big negotiating session, all of us but the CFO were on time—Steve and his attorney; me, Alvy and our attorney; Lucasfilm’s attorneys; and an investment banker. At precisely 10 a.m., Steve looked around and, finding the CFO missing, started the meeting without him! In one swift move, Steve had not only foiled the CFO’s attempt to place himself atop the pecking order, but he had grabbed control of the meeting. This would be the kind of strategic, aggressive play that would define Steve’s stewardship of Pixar for years to come—once we joined forces, he became our protector, as fierce on our behalf as he was on his own. In the end, Steve paid $5 million to spin Pixar off of Lucasfilm—and then after the sale, he agreed to pay another $5 million to fund the company, with 70 percent of the stock going to Steve and 30 percent to the employees. 

The feisty little company called Pixar had been born.

Chapter 3: A defining goal

  • Watching him reminded me of a principle of engineering: Sending out a sharp impulse—like a dolphin uses echolocation to determine the location of a school of fish—can teach you crucial things about your environment. Steve used aggressive interplay as a kind of biological sonar. It was how he sized up the world.
  • The pricing advice I was given—by people who were smart and experienced and well-meaning—was not merely wrong, it kept us from asking the right questions. Instead of talking about whether it”s easier to lower a price than raise it, we should have been addressing more substantive issues such as how to meet the expectations of customers and how to keep investing in software development so that the customers who did buy our product could put it to better use. In retrospect, when I sought the counsel of these more experienced men, I had been seeking simple answers to complex questions—do this, not that—because I was unsure of myself and stressed by the demands of my new job. But simple answers ike the “start high” pricing advice—so seductive in its rationality—had distracted me and kept me from asking more fundamental questions.
  • “Just in time manufacturing”; “total quality control”: The responsibility for finding and fixing problems should be assigned to every employee, from the most senior manager to the lowliest person on the production line. If anyone at any level spotted a problem in the manufacturing process, Deming (an American statistician who was working in Japan and was known for his expertise in quality control) believed, they should be encouraged (and expected) to stop the assembly line. Japanese companies that implemented Deming’s ideas made it easy for workers to do so: They installed a cord that anyone could pull in order to bring production to a halt. Before long, Japanese companies were enjoying unheard-of levels of quality, productivity, and market share.
  • Deming’s approach—and Toyota’s, too—gave ownership of and responsibility for a product’s quality to the people who were most involved in its creation. Instead of merely repeating an action, workers could suggest changes, call out problems, and—this next element seemed particularly important to me—feel the pride that came when they helped fix what was broken. This resulted in continuous improvement, driving out flaws and improving quality. In other words, the Japanese assembly line became a place where workers’ engagement strengthened the resulting product. And that would eventually transform manufacturing around the world.
  • You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility.
  • Three times between 1987 and 1991, a fed-up Steve Jobs tried to sell Pixar. And yet, despite his frustrations, he could never quite bring himself to part with us. When Microsoft offered $90 million for us, he walked away. Steve wanted $120 million, and felt their offer was not just insulting but proof that they weren’t worthy of us. The same thing happened with Alias, the industrial and automotive design software company, and with Silicon Graphics. With each suitor, Steve started with a high price and was unwilling to budge. I came to believe that what he was really looking for was not an exit strategy as much as external validation. His reasoning went like this. If Microsoft was willing to go to $90 million, then we must be worth hanging on to.
  • As we approached Toy Story’s release, it was becoming clear that Steve had something much bigger in mind. This wasn’t just about a movie—this film, he believed, was going to change the field of animation. And, before that happened, he wanted to take us public.

“Bad idea,” John and I told Steve. “Let’s get a couple films under our belt first. We’ll only increase our value that way.”

Steve disagreed. “This is our moment,” he said. 

He went on to lay out his logic: Let’s assume that Toy Story is a success, he said. Not only that, let’s assume it is a big success. When that ha^ênds, Disney CEO Michael Eisner will realize that he has created his worst nightmare: a viable competitor to Disney. (We only owed his studio two more films under our contract, then we would go out on our own.) Steve predicted that as soon as Toy Story came out, Eisner would try to renegotiate our deal and keep us close, as partners. In this scenario, Steve said, he wanted to be able to negotiate better terms. Specifically, he wanted a 50/50 split with Disney on returns—a demand, he pointed out, that also happened to be the moral high ground. In order to fulfill these terms, however, we would have to be able to put up the cash for our half of the production budgets—a significant amount of money. And to do that, we would have to go public.

His logic, as it often did, won the day.

As our first movie broke records at the box office and as all our dreams seemed to be coming true, our initial public offering raised nearly $140 million for the company—the biggest IPO of 1995. And a few months later, as if on cue, Eisner called, saying that he wanted to renegotiate the deal and keep us as a partner. He accepted Steve’s offer of a 50/50 split. I was amazed; Steve called this exactly right; His clarity and execution were stunning.

  • The good stuff was hiding the bad stuff. I realized that this was something I needed to look out for: When downsides coexist with upsides, as they often do, people are reluctant to explore what’s bugging them, for fear of being labeled complainers. I also realized that this kind of thing, if left unaddressed, could fester and destroy Pixar.
  • Being on the lookout for problems, I realized, was not the same as seeing problems.
  • The artists and technical people experienced this everything-goes-through-me mentality as irritating and obstructionist. I think of it as well-intentioned micromanaging.

Because making a movie involves hundreds of people, a chain of command is essential. But in this case, wa had made the mistake of confusing the communication structure with the organizational structure.

Of course an animator should be able to talk to a modeler directly, without first talking with his or her manager. So we gathered the company together and said: Going forward, anyone should be able to talk to anyone else, at any level, at any time, without fear of reprimand. Communication would no longer have to go through hierarchical channels. The exchange of information was key to our business, of course, but I believed that it could—and frequently should—happen out of order, without people getting bent out of shape. People talking directly to one another, then letting the manager find out later, was more efficient than trying to make sure that everything happened in the “right” order and through the “proper channels.

Improvement didn’t happen overnight. But by the time we finished A bug’s Life, the production managers were no longer seen as impediments to creative progress, but as peers—as first-class citizens. We had become better.

  • The act of thinking about the problem and responding to it was invigorating and rewarding. We realized that our purpose was not merely to build a studio that made his films but to foster a creative culture that would continually ask questions.

Questions like: 

If we had done some things right to achieve success, how could we ensure that we understood what those things were?

Could we replicate them on our next projects?

Perhaps as important, was replication of success even the right thing to do?

How many serious, potentially disastrous problems were lurking just out of sight and threatening to undo us?

What, if anything, could we do to bring them to light?

How much of our success was luck?

What would happen to our egos if we continued to succeed?

Would they grow so large they could hurt us, and if so, what could we do to address that overconfidence?

What dynamics would arise now that we were bringing new people into a successful enterprise as opposed to a struggling startup?

  • As I saw it, our mandate was to foster a culture that would seek to keep our sightline clear, even as we accepted that we were often trying to engage with and fix what we could not see. My hope was to make this culture so vigorous that it would survive when Pixar’s founding members were long gone, enabling the company to continue producing original films that made money, yes, but also contributed positively to the world.
  • We were blessed with a remarkable group of employees who valued change, risk, and the unknown and who wanted to rethink how we create. How could we enable the talents of these people, keep them happy, and not let the inevitable complexities that come with any collaborative endeavor undo us along the way?

Chapter 4: Establishing Pixar’s identity

  • Two defining creative principles emerged in the wake of Toy Story. 

The first principle was “Story is King,” by which we meant that we would let nothing—not the technology, not the merchandising possibilities—get in the way of our story. 

The other principle we depended on was “Trust the Process.” 

  • As John and his creative team went to work, I considered the stark reality we faced. We were asking our people to pull off the cinematic equivalent of a heart transplant. We had less than a year before Toy Story 2 was due in theaters. Getting it there in time would drive our workforce to the breaking point, and there would surely be a price to pay for that. But I also believed that the alternative—acceptance of mediocrity—would have consequences that were far more destructive.
  • In another, smaller meeting with just the Toy Story 2 crew, Steve Jobs added his endorsement. “Disney doesn’t think we can do this”, he said. “So let’s prove them wrong.”
  • 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. It is easy to say you want talented people, and you do, but the way those people interact with one another is the real key. Even the smartest people can form an ineffective team if they are mismatched. That means it is better to focus on howa team is performing, not on the talents of the individuals within it. A good team is made up of people who complement each other.
  • Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.
  • Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas.
  • Find, develop, and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas.
  • In a sense, this was related to my thinking about W. Edward Deming’s work in Japan. Though Pixar didn’t rely on a traditional assembly line—that is, with conveyor belts connecting each workstation—the making of a film happened in order, with each team passing the product, or idea, off to the next, who pushed it further down the line. To ensure quality, I believed, any person on any team needed to be able to identify a problem and, in effect, pull the cord to stop the line. To create a culture in which this was possible, you needed more than a cord within easy reach. You needed to show your people that you meant it when you said that while efficiency was a goal, quality was the goal. More and more, I saw that by putting people first—not just saying that we did, but proving that we did by the actions we took—we were protecting that culture.
  • The ambitions of both managers and their teams can exacerbate each other and become unhealthy. It is a leader’s responsibility to see this, and guide it, not exploit it.
  • Merely repeating ideas means nothing. You must act—and think—accordingly. Parroting the phrase “Story Is King” at Pixar didn’t help the inexperienced directors on Toy Story 2 one bit. What I’m saying is that this guiding principle, while simply stated and easily repeated, didn’t protect us from things going wrong. In fact, it gave us false assurance that things would be okay.
  • Likewise, we “trusted the process,” but the process didn’t save Toy Story 2 either. “Trust the Process” had morphed into “Assume that the Process Will Fix Things for Us.” It gave us solace, which we felt we needed. But it also coaxed us into letting down our guard and, in the end, made us passive. Even worse, it made us sloppy.
  • Once this became clear to me, I began telling people that the phrase was meaningless. I told our staff that it had become a crutch that was distracting us from engaging, in a meaningful way, with our problems. We should trust in people, I told them, not the processes. The error we’d made was forgetting that “the process” has no agenda and doesn’t have taste. It is just a tool—a framework. We needed to take more responsibility and ownership of our own work, our need for self-discipline, and our goal.
  • To ensure quality, then, excellence must be an earned word, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves. It is the responsibility of good leaders to make sure that words remain attached to the meanings and ideals they represent.
  • “The process either makes you or unmakes you.” Brad Bird (joined Pixar as a director in 2000)
  • It is up to the individual to remember that it’s okay to use the handle, just as long as you don’t forget the suitcase.

Part II: Protecting the new

Chapter 5: Honesty and candor

  • A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candor, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.
  • So how can a manager ensure that his or her working group, department, or company is embracing candor?
  • Without trust, creative collaboration is not possible.
  • Compounding matters is the fact that you aren’t the only one who’s struggling with these doubts. Everyone is; societal conditioning discourages telling the truth to those perceived to be in higher positions. Then, there’s human nature. The more people there are in the room, the more pressure there is to perform well. Strong and confident people can intimidate their colleagues, subconsciously signaling that they aren”t interested in negative feedback or criticism that challenges their thinking.

Chapter 6: Fear and failure

  • In general, I have found that people who pour their energy into thinking about an approach and insisting that it is too early to act are wrong just as often as people who dive in and work quickly. The overplanners just take longer to be wrong.
  • The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it. 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.
  • To be a truly creative company, you must start things that might fail.
  • Any failure at a creative company is a failure of many, not one. If you’re a leader of a company that has faltered, any misstep that occurs is yours as well. Moreover, if you don’t use what’s gone wrong to educate yourself and your colleagues, then you’ll have missed an opportunity. There are two parts to any failure: There is the event itself, with all its attendant disappointment, confusion, and shame, and then there is our reaction to it. It is this second part that we control. Do we become introspective, or do we bury our heads in the sand? Do we make it safe for others to acknowledge and learn from problems, or do we shut down discussion by looking for people to blame? We must remember that failure gives us chances to grow, and we ignore those chances at our own peril.
  • One of the most crucial responsibilities of leadership is creating a culture that rewards those who lift not just our stock prices but our inspirations as well.
  • Getting middle managers to tolerate (and not feel threatened by) problems and surprises is one of our most important jobs; they already feel the weight of believing that if they screw up, there will be hell to pay. How do we get people to reframe the way they think about the process and the risks?
  • The antidote to fear is trust, and we all have a desire to find something to trust in an uncertain world. Fear and trust are powerful forces, and while they are not opposites, exactly, trust is the best tool for driving out fear. 
  • There will always be plenty to be afraid of, especially when you are doing something new. Trusting others doesn’t mean that they won’t make mistakes. It means that if they do (or if you do), you trust they will act to help solve it. 
  • Fear can be created quickly; trust can’t.
  • Leaders must demonstrate their trustworthiness, over time, through their actions—and the best way to do that is by responding well to failure.
  • Rather than trying to prevent all errors, we should assume, as is almost always the case, that our people’s intentions are good and that they want to solve problems. Give them responsibility, let the mistakes happen, and let people fix them. If there is fear, there is a reason—our job is to find the reason and to remedy it. Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the ability to recover.

Chapter 7: The hungry beast and the ugly baby

  • The pressure to create—and quickly!—became the order of the day. To be clear, this happens at many companies, not just in Hollywood, and its unintended effect is always the same: It lessens quality across the board.
  • Originality is fragile. And, in its first moments, it’s often far from pretty. This is why I call early mock-ups of our films “ugly babies.” They are not beautiful, miniature versions of the adults they will grow up to be. They are truly ugly: awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete. They need nurturing—in the form of time and patience—in order to grow.
  • I see this over and over again in other companies: A subversion takes place in which streamlining the process or increasing production supplants the ultimate goal, with each person or group thinking they’re doing the right thing—when, in fact, they have strayed off course. When efficiency or consistency of workflow are not balanced by other equally strong countervailing forces, the result is that new ideas—our ugly babies—aren’t afforded the attention and protection they need to shine and mature. They are abandoned or never conceived of in the first place.
  • In animation, we have many constituencies: story, art, budget, technology, finance, production, marketing, and consumer products. The people within each constituency have priorities that are important—and often opposing. The writer and director want to tell the most affecting story possible; the production designer wants the film to look beautiful; the technical directors want flawless effects; finance wants to keep the budgets within limits; marketing wants a hook that is easily sold to potential viewers; the consumer products people want appealing characters to turn into plush toys and to plaster on lunchboxes and T-shirts; the production managers try to keep everyone happy—and to keep the whole enterprise from spiraling out of control. And so on. Each group is focused on its own needs, which means that no one has a clear view of how their decisions impact other groups; each group is under pressure to perform well, which means achieving stated goals.
  • But if the director is able to get everything he or she wants, we will likelu end up with a film that’s too long. If the marketing people get their way, we will only make a film that mimics those that have already been “proven” to succeed—in other words, familiar to viewers but in all likelihood a creative failure. Each group, then, is trying to do the right thing, but they’re pulling in different directions.

If any one of those groups “wins,” we lose.

In an unhealthy culture, each group believes that if their objectives trump the goals of the other groups, the company will be better off. In a healthy culture, all constituencies recognize the importance of balancing competing desires—they want to be heard, but they don’t have to win. Their interaction with one another—the push and pull that occurs naturally when talented people are given clear goals—yields the balance we seek. But that only happens if they understand that achieving balance is a central goal of the company.

  • As director Brad Bird sees it, every creative organization is an ecosystem. “You need all the seasons,” he says. “You need storms. It’s like an ecology. To view lack of conflict as optimum is like saying a sunny day is optimum. A sunny day is when the sun wins out over the rain. There’s no conflict. You have a clear winner. But if every day is sunny and it doesn’t rain, things don’t grow. And if it’s sunny all the time—if, in fact, we don’t ever even have night—all kinds of things don’t happen and the planet dries up. The key is to view conflict as essential, because that’s how we know the best ideas will be tested and survive. You know, it can’t only be sunlight.
  • A good manager must always be on the lookout for areas in which balance has been lost.
  • I often say that managers of creative enterprises must hold lightly to goals and firmly to intentions. What does it mean? It means that we must be open to having our goals change as we learn new information or are surprised by things we thought we knew but didn’t. As long as our intentions—our values—remain constant, our goals can shift as needed. At Pixar, we try never to waver in our ethics, our values, and our intention to create original, quality products. We are willing to adjust our goals as we learn, striving to get it right—not necessarily to get it right the first time. Because that, to my mind, is the only way to establish something else that is essential to creativity: a culture that protects the new.
  • Taking a risk necessitated a willingness to deal with the mess created by the risk.

Chapter 8: Change and randomness

  • There is no growth or success without change.
  • Here’s what we all know, deep down, even though we might wish it weren’t true: Change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. Some people see random, unforeseen events as something to fear. I am not one of those people. To my mind, randomness is not just inevitable; it is part of the beauty of life. Acknowledging it and appreciating it helps us respond constructively when we are surprised. Fear makes people reach for certainty and stability, neither of which guarantee the safety they imply. I take a different approach. Rather than fear randomness, I believe we can make choices to see it for what it is and to let it work for us. The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs.
  • “Some of the best ideas come out of joking around, which only comes when you (or the boss) give yourself permission to do it,” Pete (Docter) says. “It can feel like a waste of time to watch YouTube videos or to tell stories of what happened last weekend, but it can actually be very productive in the long run. I’ve heard some people describe creativity as ‘unexpected connections between unrelated concepts or ideas’. If that’s at all true, you have to be in a certain mindset to make those connections. So when I sense we’re getting nowhere, I just shut things down. We all go off to something else. Later, once the mood has shifted, I’ll attack the problem again.”
  • Change is our friend because only from struggle does clarity emerge.
  • “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
  • Real patterns are mixed in with random events, so it is extraordinarily difficult for us to differentiate between chance and skill. Did you arrive early to work because you left on time, planned ahead, and drove carefully? Or were you just in the right place at the right time? Most people would choose the former answer without a second thought—without even acknowledging the latter was an option. As we try to learn from the past, we form patterns of thinking based on our experiences, not realizing that the things that happened have an unfair advantage over the things that didn’t. In other words, we can’t see the alternatives that might well have happened if not for some small chance event. When a bad thing happens, people will draw conclusions that might include conspiracy or forces acting against them or, conversely, if a good thing happens, that they are brilliant and deserving. But these kinds of misperceptions ultimately deceive us. And this has consequences in business—and for the way we manage.
  • Physics is a discipline that is dedicated to trying to find the underlying mechanisms that govern how our world works. One truly influential idea in physics is the famous principle known as Occam’s Razor, attributed to William of Ockham, a fourteenth-century English logician. On the most basic level, it says that if there are competing explanations for why something occurs the way it does, you should pick the one that relies on the fewest assumptions and is thus the simplest. 
  • Unlike some theoretical ideas, Occam’s Razor accords easily with human nature. In general, we seek what we think are simple explanations for events in our lives because we believe the simpler something is, the more fundamental—the more true—it is. But when it comes to randomness, our desire for simplicity can mislead us. Not everything is simple, and to try to force it to be is to misrepresent reality.
  • Sometimes a big event happens that changes everything. When it does, it tends to affirm the human tendency to treat big events as fundamentally different from smaller ones. That’s a problem, inside companies. When we put setbacks into two buckets—the “business as usual” bucket and the “holy cow” bucket—and use a different mindset for each, we are signing up for trouble. We become so caught up in our big problems that we ignore the little ones, failing to realize that some of our small problems will have long-term consequences—and are, therefore, big problems in the making. What’s needed, in my view, is to approach big and small problems with the same set of values and emotions, because they are, in fact, self-similar (see stochastic self-similarity mathematical concept). 
  • Here, in rapid succession, we’d had two failures and one success, all of them random, all of them unforeseen. The real lesson of the event, though, was in how we dealt with its aftermath. In short, we didn’t waste time playing the blame game. After the loss of the film, our list of priorities, in order, were: (1) Restore the film; (2) Fix our backup systems; (3) Install precautionary restrictions to make it much more difficult to access the deletion command directly.

Notably, one item was not on our list: Find the person responsible who typed the wrong command and punish him or her. 

Some people may question that decision, reasoning that as valuable as creating a trusting environment can be, responsibility without accountability can undermine an expectation of excellence. I’m all for accountability. But in this case, my reasoning went like this: Our people have good intentions. To think you can control or prevent random problems by making an example of someone is naïve and wrongheaded. Moreover, if you say it is important to let the people you work with solve their own problems, then you must behave like you mean it. Drill down, certainly, to make sure everyone understands how important it is that we strive to avoid such problems in the future. But always—always—walk your talk.

  • You don’t always know how big a problem is when you first encounter it. It may seem small, but it also might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. If you have the tendency to put problems in buckets, you may not know which bucket to put it in. The difficulty is that we prioritize problems by size and importance, frequently ignoring small problems because of their abundance/ But if you push the ownership of problems down into the ranks of an organization, then everyone feels free (and motivated) to attempt to solve whatever problem they face, bit or small. I can’t predict everything that our employees will do or how they will respond to problems, and that is a good thing. The key is to create a response structure that matches the problem structure.
  • When Walt Disney was alive, he was such a singular talent that it was difficult for anyone to conceive of what the company would be like without him. And sure enough, after his death, there wasn’t anybody who came close to filling his shoes. For years, Disney employees attempted to keep his spirit alive by constantly asking themselves, “What would Walt do?” Perhaps they thought that if they asked that question they would come up with something original, that they would remain true to Walt’s pioneering spirit. In fact, this kind of thinking only accomplished the opposite. Because it looked backward, not forward, it tethered the place to the status quo. A pervasive fear of change took root. 

Steve Jobs was quite aware of this story and used to repeat it to people at Appple, adding that he never wanted people to ask, “What would Steve do?” No one—not Walt, not Steve, not the people of Pixar—ever achieved creative success by simply clinging to what used to work.

Chapter 9: The hidden

  • I spend a lot of time thinking about the limits of perception. In the management context, particularly, it behooves us to ask ourselves constantly: How much are we able to see? And how much is obscured from view? Is there a Cassandra out there we are failing to listen to? 
  • If you don’t try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
  • While we are all aware of these kinds of behaviors because we see them in others, most of us do not realize that we distort our own view of the world, largely because we think we see more than we actually do.
  • Complex environments are, by definition, too complicated for any one person to grasp fully. Yet many managers, afraid of appearing to not be in control, believe that they have to know everything—or at least act like they do.
  • If we can agree that it’s hard, if not impossible, to get a complete picture of what is going on at any given time in any given company, it becomes even harder when you are successful. That’s because success convinces us that we are doing things the right way. There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.
  • If we don’t acknowledge how much is hidden, we hurt ourselves in the long run. Acknowledging what you can’t see—getting comfortable with the fact that there are a large number of two-inch events occurring right now, out of our sight, that will affect us for better or worse, in myriad ways—helps promote flexibility. You might say I’m an advocate for humility in leaders. But to be truly humble, those leaders must first understand how many of the factors that shape their lives and businesses are—and will always be—out of sight.
  • The past should be our teacher not our master.
  • Only 40 percent of what we think we “see” comes in through our eyes. “The rest is made up from memory or patterns that we recognize from past experience”. (From a neuroscientist)
  • Most think of animation as the characters just moving around in funny ways while they deliver their lines, but great animators carefully craft the movements that elicit an emotional response, convincing us that these characters have feelings, emotions, intentions.
  • The magician doesn’t create the illusion—we do.
  • The concept of “confirmation bias”—the tendency of people to favor information, true or not, that confirms their preexisting beliefs—was introduced in the 1960’s by Peter Wason, a British psychologist.
  • Once a model of how we should work gets in our head, it is difficult to change.
  • We’ve all experienced times when other people see the same event we see but remember it differently. (Typically, we think our view is the correct one.) The differences arise because of the ways our separate mental models shape what we see. I’ll say it again: Our mental models aren’t reality. They are tools, like the models weather forecasters use to predict the weather. But, as we know all too well, sometimes the forecast says rain, and, boom, the sun comes out. The tool is not reality. 

The key is knowing the difference.

Part III: Building and sustaining

Chapter 10: Broadening our view

  • Just as individuals have biases and jump to conclusions because of the lens through which they view the world, organizations perceive the world through what they already know how to do.
  • John Walker came up with a system that would help the crew see what was possible given the available resources. John’s system consisted of popsicle sticks stuck to a wall with Velcro. Each stick represented a person-week, which, as I’ve said, is the amount of work a single animator could accomplish in a week’s time. A bunch of sticks would be lined up next to a particular character for easy reference. A glance at the wall would tell you: If you use that many popsicle sticks on Elastigirl, you’ll have less to spend on Jack-Jack. And so on.

“Brad would come to me and say: ‘We’ve got to have this done today,’” John recalls. “And I could point to the wall and say, ‘Well, you need another stick, then. Where are you going to take the stick from? Because we only have so many’” I see this as a great example of the positive creative impact of limits.

  • The oversight group had been put in place without anyone asking a fundamental question: How do we enable our people to solve problems? Instead, they asked: How do we prevent our people from screwing up? That approach never encourages a creative response. My rule of thumb is that any time we impose limits or procedures, we should ask how they will aid in enabling people to respond creatively. If the answer is that they won’t, then the proposals are ill suited to the task at hand.
  • “Art challenges technology, technology inspires art.” John Lasseter
  • You can learn to set aside preconceptions. It isn’t that you don’t have biases, more that there are ways of learning to ignore them while considering a problem. Drawing the “un-chair” can be a sort of metaphor for increasing perceptivity. Just as looking at what is not the chair helps bring it into relief, pulling focus away from a particular problem (and, instead, looking at the environment around it) can lead to better solutions. When we give notes on Pixar movies and isolate a scene, say, that isn’t working, we have learned that fixing that scene usually requires making changes somewhere else in the film, and that is where our attention should go. Our filmmakers have become skilled at not getting caught up in a problem but instead looking elsewhere in the story for solutions.
  • Sitting down afterward is a way of consolidating all that you’ve learned—before you forget it. Postmortems are a rare opportunity to do analysis that simply wasn’t possible in the head of the project.
  • So much of what we do is not obvious—the results of hard-won experience. Then again, some of what we do doesn’t really make sense. The postmortem provides a forum for others to learn or challenge the logic behind certain decisions.
  • Many things that go wrong are caused by misunderstandings or screw-ups. These lead to resentments that, if left unaddressed, can fester frustrations about the screw-ups in a respectful manner, then they are better able to let them go and move on. 
  • The scheduling of a postmortem forces self-reflection. If a postmortem is a chance to struggle openly with our problems, the “pre-postmortem” sets the stage for a successful struggle. I would even say that 90 percent of the value is derived from the preparation leading up to the postmortem.
  • A good postmortem arms people with the right questions to ask going forward. We shouldn’t expect to find the right answers, but if we can get people to frame the right questions, then we’ll be ahead of the game.
  • In Korean Zen, the belief that it is good to branch out beyond what we already know is expressed in a phrase that means, literally, “not know mind.” To have a “not know mind” is a goal of creative people. It means you are open to the new, just as children are. Similarly in Japanese Zen, that idea of not being constrained by what we already know is called “beginner’s mind.” 
  • As the composer Philip Glass once said, “The real issue is not how do you find your voice, but… getting rid of the damn thing.”

Chapter 11: The unmade future

  • In my experience, creative people discover and realize their visions over time and through dedicated, protracted struggle. In that way, creativity is more like a marathon than a sprint. You have to pace yourself.
  • “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Alan Kay
  • Invention, after all, is an active process that results from decisions we make; to change the world, we must bring new things into being. But how do we go about creating the unmade future? I believe that all we can do is foster the optimal conditions in which it—whatever “it” is—can emerge and flourish. This is where real confidence comes in. Not the confidence that we know exactly what to do at all times but the confidence that, together, we will figure it out.
  • Byron Howard, one of our directors at Disney, told me that when he was learning to play the guitar, a teacher taught him the phrase, “If you think, you stink.” The idea resonated with him—and it informs his work as a director to this day. “The goal is to get so comfortable and relaxed with your instrument, or process, that you can just get Zen with it and let the music flow without thinking,” he told me. “I notice the same thing when I storyboard. I do my best work when I’m zipping through the scene, not overthinking, not worrying if every drawing is perfect, but just flowing with and connecting to the scene—sort of doing it by the seat of my pants.”
  • Moving quickly is a plus because it prevents him from getting stuck worrying about whether his chosen course of action is the wrong one. Instead, he favors being decisive, then forgiving yourself if your initial decision proves misguided. Andrew likens the director”s job to that of a ship captain, out in the middle of the ocean, with a crew that’s depending on him to make land. The director’s job is to say, “Land is that way.” Maybe land actually is that way and maybe it isn’t, but Andrew says that if you don’t have somebody choosing a course—pointing their finger toward that spot there, on the horizon—then the ship goes nowhere. It’s not a tragedy if the leader changes her mind later and says, “Okay, it’s actually not that way, it’s this way. I was wrong.” As long as you commit to a destination and drive toward it with all your might, people will accept when you correct course.
  • “People want decisiveness, but also want honesty about when you’ve effed up,” as Andrew says. “It’s a huge lesson: include people in your problems, not just your solutions.”
  • People want their leaders to be confident. Andrew doesn’t advise being confident merely for confidence’s sake. He believes that leadership is about making your best guess and hurrying up about it so if it’s wrong, there’s still time to change course.
  • If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, then why the hell are you sailing? You have to embrace that sailing means that you can’t control the elements and that there will be good days and bad days and that, whatever comes, you will deal with it because your goal is to eventually get to the other side. You will not be able to control exactly how you get across. That’s the game you’ve decided to be in. If your goal is to make it easier and simpler, then don’t get in the boat” Andrew
  • Pete Docter compares directing to running through a long tunnel having no idea how long it will last but trusting that he will eventually come out, intact, at the other end. “There’s a really scary point in the middle where it’s just dark,” he says. “There’s no light from where you came in and there’s not light at the other end; all you can do is keep going; And then you start to see a little light and then a little more light and then, suddenly, you’re out in the bright sun.
  • The key is to never stop moving forward.
  • Lindsey Collins, a producer who has worked with Andrew on several films, imagines herself as a chameleon who can change her colors depending on which constituency she’s dealing with. The goal is not to be fake or curry favor but to be whatever person is needed in the moment.”In my job, sometimes I’m a leader, sometimes I’m a follower; sometimes I run the room and sometimes I say nothing and let the room run itself,” she says. Adapting to your environment, like a lizard that blends into whatever background it finds itself in, is Lindsey’s way of managing the competing—potentially crazy-making—forces she encounters in her job.
  • “I’m a firm believer in the chaotic nature of the creative process needing to be chaotic. If we put too much structure on it, we will kill it. So there’s a fine balance between providing some structure and safety—financial and emotional—but also letting it get messy and stay messy for a while. To do that, you need to assess each situation to see what’s called for. And then you need to become what’s called for.” Lindsey Collins
  • Make peace with what we cannot control.

Part IV: Testing what we know

Chapter 12: A new challenge

  • In January of 2006, the deal went through. But Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion was not your typical merger. Steve had made sure of that. He proposed that John and I be put in charge of both Pixar and Disney Animation—I’d be president and John chief creative officer—because he thought, and Bob (Iger) agreed, that if the leadership of the two studios were separate, an unhealthy competition would emerge that would eventually drag both studios down.
  • Instead of setting forth a “perfect” route to achieving future goals (and sticking to it unwaveringly), I wanted Ann to be open to readjusting along the way, to remaining flexible, to accepting that we would be making it up as we go.

Chapter 13: Notes day

  • As challenges emerge, mistakes will always be made, and our work is never done. We will always have problems; many of which are hidden from our view; we must work to uncover them and assess our own role in them, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; when we then come across a problem, we must marshal all our energies to solve it. If those assertions sound familiar, that’s because I used them to kick off this book. There’s something else that bears repeating here: Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear. Doing all these things won’t necessarily make the job of managing a creative culture easier. But ease isn’t the goal; excellence is.

Starting points: Thoughts for managing a creative culture

  • Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are that they’ll get the ideas right.
  • When looking to hire people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.
  • Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.
  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and odes, come from anywhere.
  • It isn’t enough merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.
  • There are any valid reasons why people aren’t candid with one another in a work environment. Your job is to search for those reasons and then address them.
  • Likewise, if someone disagrees with you, there is a reason. Our first job is to understand the reasoning behind their conclusions.
  • Further, if there is fear in an organization, there is a reason for it—our job is (a) to find what’s causing it, (b) to understand it, and (c) to try to root it out.
  • There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.
  • The first conclusions we draw from our successes and failures are typically wrong. Measuring the outcome without evaluating the process is deceiving.
  • Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up—it means you trust them even when they do screw up.
  • The people ultimately responsible for implementing a plan must be empowered to make decisions when things go wrong, even before getting approval. Finding and fixing problems is everybody’s job. Anyone should be able to stop the production line.
  • The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal—it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.
  • A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
  • Imposing limits can encourage a creative response. Excellent work can emerge from uncomfortable or seemingly untenable circumstances.
  • An organization, as a whole, is more conservative and resistant to change than the individuals who comprise it. Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change—it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.
  • Protect the future, not the past.
  • Excellence, quality, and good should be earned words, attributed by others ot us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.
  • Balance is more important than stability.

Si vous souhaitez l’acheter pour le lire en entier, cliquez sur le lien ci-dessous (il vous redirigera vers Amazon et me permettra de gagner un pourcentage de votre achat si vous passez par mon lien) : Creativity Inc., ED Catmull with Amy Wallace

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