Lessons I Learned from the President of Pixar's Book, Creativity Inc. and How to Apply Them
June 1, 2021

In today’s video, I’m breaking down my main takeaways from Creativity, Inc., an amazing book by the president of Pixar (a Disney animation studio). So let’s dive in, and let’s get it started.

First things first, Creativity, Inc. was a super awesome read. It’s by Ed Catmull, he is the president of Pixar, as well as Disney Animation Studios. This guy worked with Steve Jobs, George Lucas, and so many other inspirational and aspirational folks in this business

And so, as a web design agency owner, I took this read as something that can help me get engaged with my team, provide creativity in an environment where we’re able to flourish and do really, really well. So let’s dive into these tidbits and things that I found in the book that were super helpful and that you can make applicable into your business, as well.

1. Hire Folks Smarter Than You

My first takeaway, basically, hire someone, right? He needs to have taken a risk, and that risk yielded the highest reward.

So one thing Catmull always talks about that most of us know is to hire really intelligent folk. Hire people that are smarter than you, more adept than you, and are really great at what they do.

2. Review Projects With Your Team Often

Ed talked a lot about the brain trust, and this is super crucial to any agency—whether you’re a freelancer or a small team. He talked about, on each morning, how they had a braintrust meeting. Basically they gathered for a screening of a film in progress.

After the screening, they head to a conference room, they have some lunch, they gather their thoughts, and they sit down to talk. So they’re always talking about specific projects and being very open with each other. The director and producer of the film will provide a summary of where they think they are, and then they say, “Where are we locked down, and then these are the things that we’re having issues with.”

So the braintrust is essentially a group of people that get together to discuss these problems continuously throughout the project. It’s a great way to keep everyone connected, and everyone’s on the same page as well, and creating that cohesiveness that you need where a project is at.

3. Talk and Walk Through Mistakes

So Ed talked about failure and not waiting till things culminate into a huge snowball. So he talks about, “How do you make failure into something people can face without fear?” And this was super helpful for me, I took massive notes from this.

Basically, the answer is simple: “If we, as leaders, can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, then we make it safe for others.”

This is HUGE! As an entrepreneur, you already know: people out here telling you all the good things that happened to them, all their positive stories, but they never talked about the issues and problems that they’ve had. Some of the best videos that are put forth on my channel have been about the mistakes that I’ve made, and the things that I’ve learned from them.

So that’s why he makes it a point of being open about meltdown inside of Pixar. If someone had any issues, they had to be open, they had to be honest, and they had to be candid. His goal is not to drive fear out completely, because fear is inevitable in high stakes situations, but he wants it to loosen its grip on us.

As we all know, when we make mistakes, we sometimes hold those close, we don’t tell people. And if we keep going into that problem, what’ll happen is, people will think, “Oh, well this person’s doing everything right. I can’t tell them that I’m making mistakes because then, that’ll make me look bad.”

Think of the Cost of Failure as an Investment in the Future

He talks about, “We must think of the cost of failure as an investment in the future.” This one I love.

So Ed and his team, as you know, Pixar is a huge biz right now. They’ve released amazing animated films, and they’re about pushing the envelope in regards to design and development of these projects.

4. Some of the Best Ideas Come From Joking Around

So one thing that Ed talked about is joking around, right? Playing around. Some of the best ideas come from joking around, which only comes when you or the boss give yourself permission to do it.

So you gotta have fun with it, you know. I mean Pete, one of his partners and directors on a few of the films from Pixar, says, “It can feel like a waste of time to watch Youtube videos or to tell stories of what happened last weekend, but it can actually be very productive in the long run.”

So make sure you’re being open, make sure you’re having fun. As you can see, guys, behind me I’ve got Boba Fett in there, I’ve got my Spider-Man action figure—I’m actually a big kid, and I love what I do. And I think a lot of that creativity and passion comes through in my web design projects.

So make sure you’re having fun, be open, do what you enjoy, and you don’t always have to equate everything you do to a business, side hustle, or making money.

5. Do Extensive Research

Oh, here’s another thing: as you all know, Pixar is top-tier when it comes to animated films. But one thing that differentiates them from the pack is they do their homework. So they do research trips, they challenge preconceived notions, and they keep cliches out.

So, in one example, the thing about research is—they were researching Ratatouille, which is a film about a mouse who essentially becomes like this top chef. They actually went to these specific restaurants, they walked to the kitchen, they talked to chefs.

And even though people are watching the film and not realizing that these are things that are very on point about the industry, it just tells the story better because you add a level of authenticity.

So, as a web design agency owner, as a designer, make sure you’re doing your research and diligence. Look at your competitors, look at people in the space, look at folks that are doing the right thing. You don’t necessarily have to copy, but you can emulate some things that other people are doing right in your business that have already been proven.

So make sure you’re doing your research, do your homework, and really do that research upfront to provide a stellar product for your client.

6. Braintrust

Again, I do want to talk about the braintrust aspect because, my team and I, we do this all the time. I had a call last week with our account executive, and we had our own braintrust where we go over ideas, spec talks and processes, and systems in the business.

So, just so you know and just so we have the right definition: a braintrust is a safe arena in which to solicit and interpret candid responses to developing projects. So it’s literally a room where you just sit down with your team, your folks, and just literally go through everything. You go through the creativity, you go through the process, and it’s just a great way to go through those ideas from out of your mind and onto paper.

7. Hiring Talents

Here’s another thing I really like that Ed did. Now, of course, you know Pixar has a huge team. But for some specific projects, they need specialists.

So he talked about how he hired key talents across the studio, but then outsourced certain parts of the process that wouldn’t affect quality. This is HUGE, and I tell people this all the time.

You can hire team members locally, off shore, make sure you have your solid team in staff that trained in your team, but then you can also have a process that you can delegate to people outside that are maybe specialists or do something specific.

So in my example, we have three designers on staff, but then we also hire freelancers and specific types of individuals for projects that fit that criteria. So one thing we do is a lot of illustration. So we might hire a freelance illustrator that has a specific style that we really like.

So really think about building your core team, and then also think about creating other processes that you can delegate to other team members that are outside of your realm. But you’re able to leverage these really outstanding people that you might not necessarily specialize.

8. Personal Project Days

Oh man, this is one idea that I really love. So they had personal project days at Pixar where you get 2 days a month, where engineers are allowed to work on any project they want using Pixar’s resources to engage in any problem they find interesting.

And this is great, because it gives folks a chance to kinda unwind, work on things that they love—and as we know, everybody these days has a side hustle or a project that they love. If they were to leverage the tools and resources at Pixar, and do some really have-fun stuff.

And sometimes some really cool things come out of that. I mean, they had some designs and some motion-sensing input devices that they were able to update because someone was just working on it as a side project.

Okay, now we’re gonna run down a few of my favorites from the recap chapter, so stay tuned. I’m gonna speed read these. Let’s go.

9. Potential Growth is More Important

So the first thing is, “When looking to hire people, give their potential to growth more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they are able to do today.”

I’m a BIG proponent of that. I’m always hiring people that are passionate, that are hungry. All these skills that we do in the web design agency can be learned and taught. You just have to look for the fundamentals of people that click with your business.

10. Don’t Wait for Things to be Perfect

Lastly—and these are rules that I live by—make sure that if you miss anything else, make sure that you listen to this one: “Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early, and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way. And that’s as it should be.”

Man, thank you Ed Catmull, for writing this amazing book. This is going to the library and I’m just really excited to be able to share my thoughts with you all.

And if you have any questions, let me know—drop a comment below. Please make sure you like the video, subscribe. The more people that see this content, the merrier, and I’m happy that I get to share this content with you.

I hope you have a great week, and I’ll see you soon.

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