Book by co-founder of Pixar Animation offers great advice for small businesses

Looking for a business book to add to your end-of-summer reading list?

I’d highly recommend a new book by Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation and president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation titled “Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” (Random House, $28).

This is one of the best business books I’ve read.

Catmull, with co-author Amy Wallace, tell the fascinating story of how Pixar became a multi-billion dollar company with such box office hit films as the “Toy Story” trilogy, “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.”

Catmull gives a behind the scenes look into Pixar Animation while providing a treasure trove of advice for building an innovative and creative company.

The story of how Pixar was built over almost 20 years is not unlike the stories of other successful companies, but the real value of “Creativity, Inc.” is discovering Catmull’s management philosophy as it is interwoven with his chronicle of the company’s development.

I found myself jotting down notes as I was reading, something I’ve never done with any other business management books.

It is clear that Catmull, in addition to producing blockbuster films, has spent quite a bit of time thinking about and reflecting on the importance of building a creative, positive and productive culture.

Time and time again throughout the book, Catmull emphasizes that the nature of Pixar’s culture made the success at the box office possible.

I found of particular interest three chapters near the end of the book.

One chapter highlighted how Pixar successfully engaged the entire organization (1,200 employees) to get feedback on cutting costs and dealing with a negative change in the company culture. Their approach, called “Notes Day,” could be used in smaller companies.

Another chapter provided his perspective on Steve Jobs (one of the co-founders of Pixar) and Jobs’ impact on the firm’s eventual success. Jobs’ financial backing is the reason Pixar survived the very difficult, early years.

The last chapter titled “Starting Points” summarizes the 33 principles Catmull has “developed over the years to enable and protect a healthy creative culture.”

These principles are now posted on my bulletin board in my office.

Here are my top five from Catmull’s list of principles for managing a creative culture:

“Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are that they’ll get the ideas right.”

“There are many valid reasons why people aren’t candid with one another in a work environment. Your job is to search for those reasons and then address them.”

“When looking to hire people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important that what they can do today.”

“The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal — it leads to measuring people by mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.”

“An organization, as a whole, is more conservative and resistant to change than the individuals who comprise it. Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change — it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.”

With “Creativity, Inc.” you’ll learn about the genius behind the making of “Toy Story” and other terrific animated films, but more importantly you’ll discover a commonsense business approach where a company’s creative culture is the focal point for success.

Patrick Sisneros is the vice president of College Services at Everett Community College. Send your comments to entrepreneurship@everettcc.edu.

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