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Creativity, Inc.

Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

By Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace
  • Read in 15 minutes
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

Creativity, Inc. explores the peaks and troughs in the history of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios along with Ed Catmull’s personal journey towards becoming the successful manager he is today. In doing so, he explains the management beliefs he has acquired along the way, and offers actionable advice on how to turn your team members into creative superstars.

Key idea 1 of 9

Hierarchical structures prevent honest employee feedback, especially if directed at superiors.

Would you ever ring up your boss with your ideas about how you think the business could be improved? Probably not. Most likely, you – like most people – would feel too scared or unimportant to talk to the head honcho. 

Yet, this paralyzing fear can have consequences for the business: if the right people aren’t aware of problems that need fixing, they remain unfixed. So how can you get around this?

You can start by creating feedback systems that allow information to be shared freely and openly between hierarchies. Animation company Pixar, for example, held a “Notes Day” in 2013, when the company halted all operations and the entire staff spent the day working with each other in teams and giving their feedback about the company.

Notes Day was invaluable for the company, as staff members felt free to engage in an open dialogue about the issues they faced, meaning that problems were shared and solved.

But you don’t just want any feedback. In order to get the best feedback from staff, leaders should ensure that their employees take ownership of their work.

For example, Japanese companies in the 1940s were able to improve their productivity with a simple idea: rather than giving only senior managers the power to stop the factory assembly line, all workers could halt production by simply pulling a cord if they saw there was a problem. Workers thus felt pride when they fixed problems on their own rather than waiting on management’s solution. This also boosted efficiency as it led to fast problem solving.

Finally, workers should feel that their opinions and suggestions are actually valued. Unfortunately, they’re often afraid to voice their opinions because they believe management will simply ignore them, or worse, treat them with disdain.

That’s why Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, visits all his employees individually in order to hear and gain insight about their opinions and problems, thus ensuring that they feel confident to speak to him with their opinions.

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