Creativity, Inc. (the story of Pixar)

Inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Tobias Van Schneider (whose story is amazing), I read Creativity, Inc.

Why read this book?

It addresses nuances no other book on working with people addresses. It’s not a list of “rules,” but a story on how to engage and work with others. If you are a human and you work with other humans, read this book.

Favorite quotes (page numbers from hardcover book in parens). There are quite a few, and they are worth reading.

“As I gained experience, I was asking questions that intrigued me even as they confused me.” (21)

“Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.” (23)

“When moving objects are in perfect focus, theatergoers experience an unpleasant, strobe-like sensation, which they describe as ‘jerky’…Without motion blur [in a movie], our brain thinks something is wrong.” (24)

“I remember going home at night, exhausted, feeling like I was balancing on the backs of a herd of horses — only some of those horses were thoroughbreds, some were completely wild, and some were ponies struggling to keep up. I found it hard enough to hold on, let alone steer.” (31)

“For all the care you put into artistry, visual polish frequently doesn’t matter if you are getting the story right.” (37; in other words, people overlook flaws when something is compelling)

“Their certainty about their existing systems had rendered them unable to see.” (51)

“…we need to free ourselves of honesty’s baggage [that it comes with too much moral weight/judgment attached]…One way to do that is to replace the word honesty with another word that has a similar meaning but fewer moral connotations: candor…the word communicates not just truth-telling but a lack of reserve…Nobody thinks being candid makes you a bad person (while no one wants to be called dishonest).” (85-86)

“Because early on, all of our movies suck…saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions of our films really are. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so — to go, as I say, ‘from suck to not-suck.’ This idea — that all the movies we now thin of as brilliant were, at one time, terrible–is a hard concept for many to grasp…We dare to attempt these stories, but we don’t get them right on first pass. And this is as it should be. Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and iterative process–reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds its soul” (90)

“You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas you will take offense when they are challenged.” (94)

Paraphrased: to speak candidly with frank talk, spirited debate, laughter, and love, the intent matters greatly. At Pixar, “to the extent that there is ‘argument,’ it seeks only to excavate the truth.” (99)

“Seek people who are willing to level with you, and when you find them, hold them close.” (105)

Pixar believes in iterative processes and endorses failure (without judgment). “There is an alternative approach to being wrong as fast you can. It is the notion that if you carefully think everything through, if you are meticulous and plan well and consider all possible outcomes, you are more likely to create a lasting product. but I should caution that if you seek to plot out all your moves before you make them–if you put your faith in slow, deliberative planning in the hopes it will spare you failure down the line–well, you’re deluding yourself. For one thing, it’s easier to plan derivative work–things that copy or repeat something already out there. So if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal. Moreover, you cannot plan your way out of problems….The over planners just take longer to be wrong (and, when things inevitably go awry, are more crushed by the feeling that they have failed).” (114)

“When efficiency and 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.” (135)

“Self interest guides opposition to change, but lack of self-awareness fuels it even more.” (153)

“During the intensive research phase [of Inside Out] Pete [Docter] was surprised to hear from a neuroscientist that only ‘40% of what we ‘see’ comes through our eyes. The rest is made up from memory or patterns that we recognize from past experiences.'” (178)

“Companies, like individuals, do not become exceptional by believing they are exceptional but by understanding the ways in which they aren’t exceptional. Post mortems are one route into that understanding.” (215) The reasons to do a post-mortem include to:

  • “Consolidate what’s been learned.
  • Teach others who weren’t there.
  • Don’t let resentments fester.
  • Use the schedule to force reflection — 90% of the value [of post-mortem meetings] is derived from the preparation leading up tot the post-mortem.
  • Pay it forward…good post mortems arm people with the right questions to ask going forward.”

“‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure’ is a maxim that is taught and believed by many in both the business and education sectors. But in fact, the phrase is ridiculous — something said by people who are unaware by how much is hidden.” (219)

“There are limits to data, however, and some people rely on it too heavily. Analyzing it correctly isdifficult, and it is dangerous to assume that you always know what it means. It is very easy to find false patterns in data. Instead, I prefer to think of data as one way of seeing, one of many tools we can use to look for what’s hidden.” (219)

“Here’s my approach: measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure the vast majority of what you do.” (219)

“…there is a sweet spot between the known & unknown where originality happesn; they key is to be able to linger there without panicking.” (224)

“As Andrew [Stanton] says…’If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, then why the hell are you sailing?’ he says. ‘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 your 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.'”

“[A Pixar producer] credits the clinical psychologist Taibi Kahler with giving her a helpful way of visualizing her role. ‘One of Kahler’s big teachings is about meeting people where they are…'[Being a manager is like] taking the elevator from floor to floor in a big building. ‘It makes sent to look at every personality as a condominium…People live on different floors and enjoy different views….’ Regardless, to communicate effectively with them all, you must meet them where they live. ‘The most talented members of Pixar’s workforce–whether they’re directors, producers, production staff, artists, whatever–are able to take the elevator to whatever floor and meet each person based on what they need in the moment and how they like to communicate.'” (233-234)

“It’s difficult sometimes to tell the difference between what is impossible and what is possible (but requires a big reach).” (unknown; after 234)

“There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.” (316)

“Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.” (317)

“Similarly, it is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.” (317)

“If there is more truth in the hallways than in meetings, you have a problem.” (317)

“Be wary of making too many rules. Rules can simplify life for managers, but they can be demeaning to the 95 percent who behave well. Don’t create rules to rein in the other 5 percent — address abuses of common sense individually. This is more work but ultimately healthier.” (318)

“Our job as managers in creative environments is to protect new ideas from those who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be a phase of not-so-greatness. Protect the future, not the past.” (319)

NYT: Can You Regain Muscle Mass After 60?

NYT article summarized:

– The question: can you regain muscle as you get older?
– “Sedentary adults can lose 30-40% of the total number of fibers in their muscles by the time they are 55.”
– Two things happen to muscle as we age: some die, some simply weaken if unused.
– Those that die can not be regained.
– Those that remain can be strengthened and can increase in size.

NYT: Children’s Headphones May Carry Risk of Hearing Loss

NYT article summarized:

– Wirecutter, a product review site, reviewed 30 pairs of kids’ headphones which promise to limit volumes to safe levels.
– Half of the 30 did not restrict volumes to safe levels as promised.
– The decibel scale does not have a linear relationship. 80 db is twice as loud as 70 db and 90 db is four times as loud.
– 100 db (like a power lawn mower) is safe for 15 min. 108 db is safe for less than three minutes.
– There is no regulation or standard for sound levels in headphones.
– Bottom line, for kids, if they can’t hear you with the headphones on it’s likely an unsafe volume.