Uncovering the Pixie Dust of our World with Creativity, Inc.
“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” – J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan
When Ed Catmull was a little boy growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah, he had two idols. One was Walt Disney. The second was Albert Einstein. Disney created made-up and make-believe worlds using the latest in technology while always giving credit to the those who proceeded him and his colleagues. He would gather his teammates at the broadcasts of The Wonderful World of Disney and explain how Mickey and Donald Duck came to be.
Einstein, on another hand, created a doorway to worlds that already existed, but were often not seen. He showcased different perspectives on how the universe worked. He invited us to question what we thought we knew and thus changed our understanding of what we saw as reality.
Both Disney and Einstein were so different, but had one thing in common. And that is curiosity: seeing and uncovering the pixie dust.
Candor is necessary. We cannot identify obstacles unless we speak of them freely.
They were interested in seeing what was in front of them. Sometimes in plain sight, but often hidden or only in their imaginations. Years later, after Ed Catmull fulfilled his dream of becoming an animator, and subsequently, founded Pixar Animation, he wrote Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.
It might be the best book on management, or as Forbes said, it “just might be the best business book ever written.” It is a book on imagination, curiosity and introspection. On how to uncover the “pixie dust” and make it possible for people to be creative. On how to foster a creative company culture.
It all starts with the people. What is more important, good people or good ideas? Sadly, so many of us still believe that it is the ideas. Ideas come from people. Thus, hire smart, bright, fearless people. Hire people smarter than yourself. Even if just to overcome your paralyzing arrogance and to overcome your fears and to think differently.
“If you give a good idea to 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.” According to Catmull, the right team has to have the right chemistry. No hierarchy system. Everyone talks to everyone. The right people getting along and communicating are the key.
A great team is made up of people who have lives and passions outside work. Supporting these employees means we make it easier for them to have balanced lives by listening to their needs and inviting them to do what gives them joy. Happy people make a happy workplace. Happy people must feel safe, so trust is paramount. Trust that no one is judged for their failures. Failures are a necessity, because failures mean taking risks and applying beginner’s mind. Yet, accountability and ownership are essential.
Because, according to Catmull, the only business plan that exists is excellence. Everyone striving to do and be their best. Everyone together going the extra mile. “Quality is the best business plan … quality is not a consequence of following some set of behaviors. Rather, it is a prerequisite and a mindset you must have before you decide what you are setting out to do.”
Quality of team work doesn’t exist without candor. Honesty is hard. Candor is also challenging, yet, according to Catmull, it has fewer moral connotations. “Candor is forthrightness or frankness – not so different from honesty … in common usage, the word communicates not just truth telling, but a lack of reserve.”
Candor is necessary. We cannot identify obstacles unless we speak of them freely. So many of us are petrified to name problems or complain, and thus, nothing gets done. Disagreement or conflict is avoided at any cost. There is no growth. There is no innovation. Because there is a fear of ruffling feathers, candor is not applied, and conflict is viewed as toxic.
Catmull invites us to reevaluate this approach: “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.” Constructive criticism, which Catmull calls good note, leads to potential solutions.
Solutions are always needed, since a new way of seeing invites us to uncover challenges. Failure is a part of these challenges. During childhood we are taught that failure is bad. If we failed, we did something wrong. We were wrong. We didn’t study enough. We were lazy. We were not prepared. Hence, for the rest of our lives the minute we fail at something, we live in shame. Shame that we are not enough.
Catmull invites us to be introspective and to change our perception. Mistakes are a necessary evil. If we are in the arena as Teddy Roosevelt said, mistakes will be made. Failure is painful, but how we feel about failure doesn’t have to be painful.
“We need to think about failure differently. … failure, when approached properly, can be opportunity for growth.” So, as Andrew Stanton, creator of Finding Nemo and other films at Pixar says, “fail early and fail fast” and “be wrong as fast as you can.”
Creativity, Inc. emphasizes that we ought to become fast friends with change. Change and uncertainty are a part of life. Thus, fall in love with those two and then you can recover from the unexpected quickly. Catmull says that the “self-interest guides opposition to change, but lack of self- awareness fuels it even more.” He states that a person who cannot change his mind is dangerous. Changing is a sign of strength and not of weakness.
Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets said: “Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers. Let me keep company always with those who say ‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment and bow their heads.”
By spending some time with Creativity, Inc. and returning to it on occasion, you will keep company with the likes of Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and especially Ed Catmull. Jobs, who was not known for hyperbole, called Catmull “really, really smart,” “very self-aware,” “very wise,” and “really thoughtful.”
So, read this amazing book slowly, get to know Ed and his teammates, and “really, really” see the pixie dust within you and around you. You will be astonished what you will uncover!
Astrid Ambroziak is editor of parknews.biz. She can be reached at email@example.com.