Creativity Inc: The Paradox of Innovative Structure

Creativity and management structure can seem like a counter-intuitive point to many. The very essence of innovation seems to hinge on having limited structures for freedom. And yet, Ed Cadmull constructed one of the greatest environments for creativity we know today: Pixar Inc. Not only that, he was capable of turning around another studio to bring back their creative force: Walt Disney Animation.

Pixar Inc. makes for a fascinating case study for the process of creativity. And hearing its account first-hand from the person who engineered it and learned from his early mistakes is a rewarding read. Even if the book had nothing to do with management, I’m sure many would already be fascinated enough by the process of creating classics like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and The Incredibles.

Cadmull shows us that creativity can be fostered in an organization. But it has to be done properly. I love that Cadmull is honest about the mistakes he made along the way, but also how he learned from them which gives tremendous insight.

The most interesting event that stuck with me was when Cadmull described the production of Toy Story 2. Since Pixar had to completely revamp the movie in 9 months, including story, animation and acting, they were on an extremely rushed timeline. But somewhere along the road, someone had accidentally executed a line of code that delete 80% of their rendered animations! And then they found out the backup computer had a failed hard drive! This would have completely decimated their movie release if not for the fact that one employee was working from home and had everything saved on an external drive.

The real lesson though was when Cadmull said he didn’t care one bit for finding out who did it. While I assumed that would be the first question that would arise, Cadmull knew that everyone in the organization only had the best intentions for the movie. So why hunt down and punish someone for what was clearly an accident? It seems obvious, yet I’m not sure how many organizations follow such a principle.

Another was understanding that the key to innovative thinking was communication. Of course, any company will have organization structure. But to have open communication across all lines, to the point where any individual worker can stop production for errors, gives everyone the leverage to bring forth new and often risky ideas. Communication is the key to a creative organization.

The book reads amazing as a chronological account of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation. Even if you’re not a business-minded individual, there are many takeaways on how you can properly help and lead a creative group to shine.

If you’d like the book, you can find it at my Amazon affiliate link here. Connect with me on Facebook and Instagram to let me know more of your thoughts!