Creativity, Inc. is both a great insider’s look at the history of Pixar and a primer on how to nurture and manage a creative culture. An added bonus is new insight, at least for me, into the complex intellectual force that was Steve Jobs.
It’s now hard to imagine that Pixar struggled as a company, but they clearly came very close to collapse several times, especially in the Pixar Image Computer days. Steve Jobs took a huge risk to save them.
The early backstory reminded me that at my first job in around 1990 I helped evaluate hardware from Pixar Image Computer and AT&T Pixel Machines. We eventually bought SGI Indigos. Ed, Steve and the rest of team eventually decided to abandon hardware to focus on their software. Interestingly enough, though, when so many people were advising Jobs to make the same decision about Apple, he didn’t. Staying in the hardware business at Apple ended up being a brilliant decision, as it allowed them to build the iPod, iPhone and iPad.
As successful as Pixar films have been, it was amazing to read about how many almost weren’t. Toy Story 2 was a near disaster. It was proposed by Disney as a quick, direct to video sequel. Only a complete overhaul after a mostly wasted year saved the movie.
But the book is really about Ed Catmull’s very successful management philosophy, primarily for leading creators and builders. A key message in the book is continuous improvement. I would maybe even call it relentless improvement.
Although it’s not funny like the fake blooper reels at the end of their movies, you should definitely stick around for the “Managing a Creative Culture” list at the end of the book. It nicely summarizes the book.