How To Develop A Creative Culture – Creativity Inc

Creative Culture

Creative Culture and how to develop it is the subject of Episode 9 of The Creative Life where I review Ed Catmull’s excellent book Creativity Inc.

Watch the Video

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • Transitioning from a creative individual to becoming a creative leader
  • How to develop a creative culture in an organization
  • How to build creative teams
  • Ed Catmull and his work at Pixar and Disney

Please leave a comment below and tell me what you think.



Welcome to The Creative Life. This is James Taylor.

Hey it’s James Taylor here. I thought what I would do in this episode is talk to you about a book I found to be very very influential, and if you’re interested in creativity, specially in organizations and teams, this is a book I highly recommend that you pick up.

It’s by a writer called Ed Catmull. Ed is president of Pixar and Disney Animation. What’s fascinating about this book is you see his transition from being a creative individual going through to becoming a great manager of people, and actually becoming a creative leader. It’s an incredible book, it’s an incredible journey that he talks about. and if you are working in a team or you’re trying to lead an organization, and you want to do it in a creative way, this is definitely a book you need to pick up.

I just want to pull out a couple of quotes from it that I think are very insightful and I hope you get some use from them as well.

One of the things that he talks about is his aim at Pixar. I think this is very innstructive when thinking about this in an organization. He says: “My aim in Pixar is to enable our people to do our best work.” You know, I’ve seen this in the past in organizations where the very highest person in the company still believes himself to be first and foremost a manager of people. And that, even in mid-sized organization, that’s actually not the case. I think to be a great creative CEO of a company, your job is to create an environment, a process, to enable your people to do their best work. You see that in Pixar, if you see the number of great movies they’ve had, the Toy Story movies, Brave, and it goes on and on and on.

I thought it was very insightful, think about the difference between management and leadership for a start, and really understanding if you do have that role, as a CEO of a company, your first and foremost, your biggest job, is to create that place where people can do their best, can do their most creative work.

So, I love that.

Then he talked about this process about going through being a manager to being a leader. And I love this quote. If you’ve ever managed people, you’ll identify with this. And he said, “I remember going home at night, exhausted, feeling like I was balancing on the back of a herd of horses. Only some of the horses were thoroughbreds, some were completely wild, and some we’re ponies who were struggling to keep up. I found it hard to hold on. Let alone steer.”

And if you’ve ever worked in a creative organization, you’re gonna recognize that quote, because you’ll have very A-type individuals in a creative organization, and they are the thoroughbreds. And you’re going to have some wild stallions in that as well. And then you can have some ponies. Some donkeys as well. That you need to quickly identify because part of your role as a leader, and Steve Jobs said this perfectly, he said, “when you’re hiring, you’re building your team. You wanna be hiring A-players because A-players usually hire A-players. If you hire B-players, B-players hire C-players. C-players hire D-players, and before you know it, you’re in a very uncreative environment where you’re not getting the best construction of a team.

So, I love that. Without feeling kinda overwhelmed with managing a team as well.

And then the other thing, this is specially a case where you’re involved with a start-up or any new creative endeavor, and this should get you comfort. Bear in mind, Pixar’s a massive organization, but if you this book you’ll see it definitely didn’t start that way. And it went through a lot of trials and tribulations. And I love this quote, which is “There’s nothing quite like ignorance, combined with a driving need to succeed to force rapid learning.”

If you’ve ever worked with a startup, I’ve worked with a number of startups in Silicon Valley, there’e definitely that feeling, you know? Everyone is clinging to the edge of their seats, there’s definitely ignorance, which is great, in Zen Buddhism they talk about beginner’s mind. That’s incredibly powerful. I love having to bring people in my team, and maybe they come in the exact industry that I’ve come from before but they come out with a freshness. A newness, something that I have been to myself in my industry for awhile, I kind of have to work to get into that beginner’s mind.

Another quote that I love is really about the importance of people. I don’t think we stress this enough. Especially in creativity, these ideas have the highest priority. And you’re looking at TED talks, ideas is all about ideas. But, this is a very important part, ideas come from people, therefore people are more important than ideas.

When I’m building a team first and foremost is I’m looking at the person, the individual. Likewise if I’m investing in a company, the idea needs to be important. It needs to be a great idea, but I really need to understand the people behind the ideas. Because ideas will come and go, and in any organization, that first big idea will probably not be the idea, it will pivot in some way. What I’m really investing in is the individual, is people. And I truly believe this, that people are truly more important than ideas. And if you’re thinking of recruiting your own team, don’t get waylaid by thinking that his person has great ideas, think about how this person will work within a team, can you see this person generating lots of ideas in the future as well.

And the final one I see is really around goals. And goal-setting as creatives and when in large organizations, big complex organizations like Pixar or Disney, they have to kinda get this thing right between… the core thing here is that I often say that managers are creative enterprises, must hold lightly to goals, and firmly to intentions.

Another way I think about this, if you’ve ever done any goal setting and working towards goals, there’s a danger you get overly attached to the goal itself, and lose all the enjoyment, all the pleasure from actually going to and working towards that goal. And another way of thinking that is when you’re driving. Trying to find this middle way in creativity, to achieve this, when I’m driving, if I hold on to the steering wheel too hard, then what’s gonna happen is that it’s going to cost me lots of pain for a start, and it’s actually probably a bit dangerous. But likewise, if I hold the steering wheel really loosely, one hand, one finger… really dangerous, super dangerous. So, it’s kind of finding this middle way, so holding lightly to goals but being focused on intentions, and understanding what your purpose is as an organization, what your intentions are as an organization.

So, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Creativity Inc. Even if you don’t work in a company, a creative company. Just you, your solo career, you individual creative, it’s definitely worth getting. Just understand how organizations work at this level and thinking, even if you work with a distributor team, or other freelancers, it’s a great way to thinking of building a team with people working creatively.

So once again, the book is Creativity Inc., and it’s by Ed Catmull. My name is James Taylor.

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