Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Notes - Creativity Inc.

Unhindered communication was key, no matter what your position.

The definition of superb animation is that each character on the screen makes you believe it is a thinking being.

By ignoring my fear, I learned that the fear was groundless… Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.

For all the care you put into artistry, visual polish frequently doesn't matter if you are getting the story right.

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 [Jobs] used aggressive interplay as a kind of biological sonar. It was how he sized up the world.

While Toyota was a hierarchical organization, to be sure, it was guided by a democratic central tenet: You don't have to ask permission to take responsibility.

Whatever these forces are that make people do dumb things, they are powerful, they are often invisible, and they lurk even in the best of environments.

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

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."

Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right…. That means it is better to focus on how a team is performing, not on the talents of the individuals within it…. 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.

But always, its most essential element is candor. This isn't just some pie-in-the-sky idea - without the critical ingredient that is candor, there can be no trust. And without trust, creative collaboration is not possible.

This principle eludes most people, but it is critical: You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged. To set up a healthy feedback system, you must remove power dynamics from the equation - you must enable yourself, in other words, to focus on the problem, not the person.

It is natural for people to fear that such an inherently critical environments will feel threatening and unpleasant, like a trip to the dentist. The key is to look at the viewpoints being offered, in any successful feedback group, as additive, not competitive.

Believe me, you don't want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas of policy are being hashed out. The best inoculation against this fate? Seek out people who are willing to level wit you, and when you find them, hold them close.

By insisting on the importance of getting our ducks in a row early, we had come perilously close to embracing a fallacy. Making the process better, easier and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on - but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal.

In an unhealthy culture, each group believes that if their objective 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.

It is management's job to figure out how to help others see conflict as healthy - as a route to balance, which benefits us all in the long run. I'm here to say that it can be done - but it is an unending job.

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 if for what it is and to let it work for us. The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs.

...One of my core management beliefs: If you don't try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.

At Pixar, we joke that only one mention of Star Wars is allowed per meeting.

There is a fantastic chapter in the book about Steve Jobs since he was a huge piece of the company. It is very much worth the read. I've never personally been a huge fan of Jobs - for all the innovation that Apple is, he seemed to me to be a massive jerk. But after reading that narrative about him from someone that knew him well, I've kind of changed my mind.

Highly recommended - the book is a great read.

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