Managing Creativity

As I mature into management, I read less and less books about them. Most discuss a vigorous process which requires a transformation of the whole company. I don’t know any CEO who has such conviction; I am not one anyway.

Ed Catmull has been a giant in 3D graphics and my hero. I, of course, drew from Foley & van Dam and other classic books. But it was him and Pixar that inspired us at SIGGRAPH, the annual mecca for computer graphics practiioners. I was there when their short films debuted.

He wrote this book as his humble learning process to figure out how to succeed in a creative industry. He contrasted Pixar with Disney Animation, a creative power-house that lost its marbles. He then re-invigored Disney back to its glory that made Frozen.

Software development, what I do, is also a creative business. I, too, struggled to figured out how to made high-quality software, and to come on-budget, on-time, and on-spec at the same time. The secret, it also seemed, is to have a creativity vigor — latch onto a reasonable, not necessary great, idea, then work every mundane days to polish it into a great piece. Creativity is not about sitting idly to wait for the light-bulb moment; it is about taking candid inputs and working hard: struggling, pushing, and fighting hard to get the job done. Inspirations, or ideas, are easy and cheap. The skills to finish the piece are the key to innovation or creativity.

I enjoyed, equally, the history and the managerial wisdom from Creativity, Inc. and was sad to realize how many times myself, or someone I knew, fell into the traps he managed to escape or avoid. His tenet resonated with me that creativity, those high-quality ones, is fundamentally unpredictable. Allowing and even treasuring failures, not punishing them, is part of the deal.

I wanted to buy this book for all my managers.

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