Centeva Book Report: Creativity Inc. — Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration
January 22, 2021
Ed Catmull is the Present of Pixar and Disney Animation and he tells the story of how Pixar was created. His goal in life was to make the first computer-generated movie. When that was done he felt rudderless because he had accomplished his life-long goal. He decided then to make his next goal be to make the best company possible that fosters creativity and innovation. The book tells about the many things he learned while guiding Pixar and Disney to success.
While Pixar is a movie studio that gets to work on fun movies, I found that our two businesses are really quite compatible. A lot of the problems that Ed and Pixar struggled through are similar to the problems that we have. They have daily standups, retros, and teams similar in make up to ours and they also have similar problems. For example, after Toy Story ended he discovered that there was a rift between the production managers and the animators. He hadn’t been aware of it, but he later learned that the production managers felt like second-class citizens. I’ve seen this at Centeva at times, and we can learn from their experiences.
Pixar is very proactive in identifying problems and taking action to solve them. In fact, a lot of the problems they are able to identify before they even really become problems. For example, after they had made about 10 movies Ed Catmull and John Lasseter noticed that some of the new employees were less willing to offer insights and suggestions because they figured the people that had been there were successful and knew what they were doing. They had lost some of their ideas-can-come-from-anywhere culture and they wanted to solve that. So they created what is called Notes Day which allowed everyone to make suggestions and come up with ideas.
John Lasseter is a big proponent of research. He makes sure to send as many people involved on the project on research trips. For example, he sent a bunch of people to Paris when they were working on Ratatouille. They toured lots of high-end Paris restaurants and sewers. Ed says this about research:
Here’s a curious thing about research: The authenticity it fosters in the film always comes through, even if moviegoers know nothing about the reality the film is depicting. Very few moviegoers have actually been inside the kitchen of a high-end French restaurant, for example, so you might think the obsessive specific of Ratatouille’s kitchen scenes — the chefs’ clogs clacking on the black and white tile floors, the way they hold their arms when they cut up vegetables, or how they organize their work spaces — would be lost on the audience. But what we’ve found is that when we are accurate, the audiences can tell. It just feels right. Does this kind of micro detail matter? I believe it does. There’s something about knowing your subject and your setting inside and out — a confidence — that seeps into every frame of your film. It’s a hidden engine, and unspoken contract with the viewer that says: We are striving to tell you something impactful and true. When attempting to make good on that promise, no detail is too small.
Pixar tries really hard to make sure that everyone can contribute and offer opinions and that no one is afraid to try something new. They do not let a fear of failure have footing in the company.
Things to Consider Implementing
Notes Day — a day or part day set apart to brainstorm ideas for ways to make Centeva have better quality, streamline production, make it a better place to work, etc. I think this might be a good thing to do after the Inspections go-live.
Culture — Fostering an ideas-can-come-from-anywhere culture, making sure that no one has a fear or submitting feedback or new ideas.
Easy isn’t the goal. Quality is the goal.
You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.
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.
To be a truly creative company, you must start things that might fail.
I believe that you should not be required to justify everything. We must always leave the door open for the unexpected.
I’ve known many managers who hate to be surprised in meetings, for example, by which I mean they make it clear that they want to be briefed about any unexpected news in advance and in private. In many workplaces, it is a sign of disrespect if someone surprises a manager with new information in front of other people. But what does this mean in practice? It means that there are pre-meetings before meetings, and the meetings begin to rake on a pro forma tone. It means wasted time. It means that the employees who work with these people walk on eggshells. It means that fear runs rampant.
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. Emphasis is placed on doing safer projects that mimic proven money-makers just to keep something — anything! — in the pipeline