On Ed Catmull’s “Creativity, Inc.”

A bite-sized summary of the Pixar co-founder’s terrific book on leadership…

The book cover of Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace’s “Creativity Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiraton”, featuring Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear with a conductor’s baton.

For some reason, people assume that if you’re really good at something, you’ll be really good at leading other people to do it, too. Having worked under some great leaders, having worked under some not-so-great leaders, and having been a leader myself, I’ve come to learn that there is a very big difference between doing, teaching, and leading. Just because you’re good at dancing, does not necessarily mean you’ll make a good dance teacher. Just because you’re a good employee, does not automatically mean you’ll be good at leading other employees. If only someone wrote a book on leadership to help current and future leaders avoid common pitfalls that lead to mediocrity…

Ed Catmull, Co-Founder of Pixar and former President of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Wait a minute! Ed Catmull (with ghost writer Amy Wallace) did just that!

I can attest that this is the best book on leadership I’ve ever read. I was going to just share my top few favorite quotes from this book on a simple LinkedIn post, but there were just too many golden nuggets for one tiny post!

So, I decided to compile all my favorite quotes from the entire book right here in this article for your viewing pleasure! Enjoy!

Ed Catmull:

  1. “Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.”
  2. “If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill-prepared to lead.”
  3. “It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.”
  4. “The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.”
  5. “Ask ‘How do we enable our people to solve problems?’ Not ‘How do we prevent our people from screwing up?’”
  6. {On the power/importance of research}: “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, an 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.” {This is similar to a concept I have about theatre acting, that the more research you do as an actor, the audience may not see exactly everything you researched, but your confidence in knowing you did all that research will be what seeps through to the audience-leading to stronger performances.}
  7. “You’ll never stumble upon the unexpected if you stick only to the familiar.”
  8. “Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.”
  9. “The new needs protection. Business-as-usual does not. Managers do not need to work hard to protect established ideas or ways of doing business. The system is tilted to favor the incumbent. The challenger needs support to find its footing. And protection of the new-of the future, not the past-must be a conscious effort.”
  10. “Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the ability to recover.”
  11. “The goal…is to uncouple fear and failure-to create an environment in which making mistakes doesn’t strike terror into your employees’ hearts.”
  12. “The good stuff was hiding the bad stuff…When downsides coexist with upsides, as they often do, people are reluctant to explore what’s bugging them, for fear of being labeled as complainers.”
  13. {My paraphrase}: “Don’t just have employees defend their thoughts-make them engaged about their thoughts.”
  14. “It wasn’t enough for managers to have good ideas-they had to be able to engender support for those ideas among the people who’d be charged with employing them.”
  15. “Creativity is more like a marathon than a sprint. You have to pace yourself.”
  16. “There is a sweet spot between the known and the unknown where originality happens; the key is to be able to linger there without panicking.”
  17. “The future is not a destination-it is a direction.”
  18. “We must meet unexpected problems with unexpected responses.”
  19. “No one-not Walt [Disney], not Steve [Jobs], not the people of Pixar-ever achieved creative success by simply clinging to what used to work.”
  20. “Working with change is what creativity is about.”
  21. “The past should be our teacher, not our master.”
  22. “The magician doesn’t create the illusion-we do.” {As in, we just have to make it as easy as possible for the audience’s/consumer’s brain to trick the mind. But it’s their brain forming the illusion for them-not us.}
  23. “The most creative people are willing to work in the shadow of uncertainty.”
  24. “Pulling focus away from a particular problem (and, instead, looking at the environment around it) can lead to better solutions.”

Wow! What great quotes! But wait, there’s more!

Luckily for us, Catmull doesn’t just share from his own reservoir of genius. He also quotes some of the other masterminds behind our favorite animated films!

Pete Docter, Director of animated hits such as Monsters, Inc.; Inside Out; up; and Soul!

Pete Docter (Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, and Director of Monsters, Inc.; Up; Inside Out; and Soul):

  1. “The process of developing a story is one of discovery…However, there’s always a guiding principle that leads you as you go down the various roads…the bittersweet goodbye you feel once a problem…has been solved. You suffer through it as you struggle to solve it, but by the end you’ve developed a sort of fondness for it, and you miss it when it is gone.”
  2. “I’ve heard some people describe creativity as ‘unexpected connections between unrelated concepts or ideas.’” {This is similar to a concept in comedy, that juxtaposing two seemingly unlike things will lead to funny concepts/sketches.}
Andrew Stanton (Co-Writer/Co-Director of A Bug’s Life; Finding Nemo; and Co-writer of Monsters, Inc. and the entire Toy Story series)

Andrew Stanton (Co-Writer/Co-Director of A Bug’s Life; Finding Nemo; and Co-writer of Monsters, Inc. and the entire Toy Story series):

  1. “Teach in a way that [y]our [subordinates] will think smart when [you’re] not around.”
  2. “If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, 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 the 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.”
Brad Bird (Director of The Iron Giant; The Incredibles; The Incredibles 2; Ratatouille)

Brad Bird (Director of The Iron Giant; The Incredibles; The Incredibles 2; Ratatouille):

1. “You need all the seasons…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 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.”

Apple’s Chief Scientist, Alan Kay.
Apple’s Chief Scientist, Alan Kay.

Alan Kay (Apple’s chief scientist):

  1. “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Oh my! Just typing those quotes I feel re-inspired!

Hope you enjoyed this list of quotes, and if you want more Datz lists, check out my list of the Best Movies of All Time!

And for more things Datz, check out eddiedatz.com!

Actor. Comedian. Writer. Director. For all things Datz, check out eddiedatz.com