The Toy Box – Pixar’s Creativity Inc. Book Review

Buzz Lightyear point at Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc., the story of Pixar from one of the founders and a book that provides some amazing insight into Pixar’s creative culture. 

Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc. is the third book I’ve read centred around a movie studio (the previous being Dreamworks and Disney) and this book has set itself apart from the group. Where the others focus solely on the history of these organizations and drama amongst the big personalities, Ed Catmull has not only given the history of Pixar but distilled many of the aspects that have made it so successful into an engaging and thoughtful story.

Although the history of Pixar is interesting to say the least the book shines coming up with valuable insights into what makes the Company so successful. Having never worked in an organization that would define itself based on the creative process I looked at each of the points as potential ways to work with people in general and how even in areas where creativity seems lacking there is opportunity. Opportunity to broaden people’s perspectives and create a more open and communication friendly environment. Having recently read Eric Schmidt’s How Google Works, it was interesting to see cross over in many areas including hiring, creating an open environment for communication, and allowing people to aim for the stars and support them in the process knowing they may fail but not punishing because of it.

What’s also apparent about this book is that considerable time was spent really thinking about what makes Pixar a great Company. It would be much easier to sit down and write a chronological book about the history of Pixar while dropping general points of business knowledge in there but each point here is supported by examples from various movies and the production teams along the way. The examples also have a personal touch with Ed Catmull providing the setting and his own view on how things took place and why the examples were so important to success and growth.

“Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up – it means you trust them even when they do screw up.” – Ed Catmull

The book for me left the feeling of how do I apply some of these creative ideas to a work environment not known specifically for creativity. An environment full of very smart people but tempered by the nature of the industry and overall environment. It comes down to starting with yourself and the team that surrounds you.  Although I may not be able to specifically implement Company wide changes I can start with the team I work with and in subtle ways. Remembering how critical it is to have a safe environment for communication openness and stressing that going forward; not allowing my own opinion of what’s right and wrong to sway arguments or ideas. Trusting employees to get things done and allowing for mistakes to happen and be learnt from. I like to think that I follow some of these ideas now but it’s never a bad thing to be reminded of how important they can to having a highly productive team.

“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.” – Ed Catmull

It’s refreshing to read business books such as this that open the door to organizations  seemingly shrouded in secrecy and yet always appear to be successful. That in itself is an interesting story but to come up with an entire book of ideas and reasons for success that can be looked at, thought about, and applied elsewhere is what makes this book shine.  Overall I’d give this book a 4 out of 5 and worth a read if you are interested in Pixar but also if you want a well written business book specific to creative organizations or as a manager of people looking to open up the idea generation / communication channels.



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