Tag Archives: management

Ed Catmull’s thoughts for managing a creative culture

Pixar's Ed Catmull Creativity Inc.

From Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc., 28 ideas on how Pixar engineers and sustains a creative culture.

A culture of innovation is a culture of creativity, enthusiasm and daring. Not a place where efficiency reigns and where mistakes are to be avoided. It also needs constant nurturing, it isn’t a “set-it-and-forget-it program” that consultants come in and help you create.

Last week I reviewed Ed Catmull’s fantastic book Creativity Inc., where I mentioned a few key ideas that stood out for me. Of course, I only mentioned the ones that I thought were interesting, but the last chapter of the book is a sort of summary of how Pixar engineers and sustains creativity.

Here then are some firestarter ideas for you to chew on straight out of Mr. Catmull’s book:

  • Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.
  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
  • It isn’t enough merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.
  • 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.
  • Likewise, if someone disagrees with you, there is a reason. Our first job is to understand the reasoning behind their conclusions.
  • Further, if there is fear in an organization , there is a reason for it— our job is (a) to find what’s causing it, (b) to understand it, and (c) to try to root it out.
  • There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.
  • In general, people are hesitant to say things that might rock the boat. Braintrust meetings, dailies, postmortems, and Notes Day are all efforts to reinforce the idea that it is okay to express yourself. All are mechanisms of self-assessment that seek to uncover what’s real.
  • If there is more truth in the hallways than in meetings, you have a problem.
  • Many managers feel that if they are not notified about problems before others are or if they are surprised in a meeting, then that is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.
  • Careful “messaging” to downplay problems makes you appear to be lying, deluded, ignorant, or uncaring. Sharing problems is an act of inclusion that makes employees feel invested in the larger enterprise.
  • The first conclusions we draw from our successes and failures are typically wrong. Measuring the outcome without evaluating the process is deceiving.
  • Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
  • Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur. If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
  • Similarly, it is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.
  • Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.
  • Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up— it means you trust them even when they do screw up.
  • The people ultimately responsible for implementing a plan must be empowered to make decisions when things go wrong, even before getting approval. Finding and fixing problems is everybody’s job. Anyone should be able to stop the production line.
  • The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal— it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.
  •  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.
  • A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
  • Be wary of making too many rules. Rules can simplify life for managers, but they can be demeaning to the 95 percent who behave well. Don’t create rules to rein in the other 5 percent— address abuses of common sense individually. This is more work but ultimately healthier.
  • Imposing limits can encourage a creative response. Excellent work can emerge from uncomfortable or seemingly untenable circumstances.
  • Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.
  • 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.
  • The healthiest organizations are made up of departments whose agendas differ but whose goals are interdependent. If one agenda wins, we all lose.
  • Our job as managers in creative environments is to protect new ideas from those who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not-so-greatness. Protect the future, not the past.
  • New crises are not always lamentable— they test and demonstrate a company’s values. The process of problem-solving often bonds people together and keeps the culture in the present.
  • Excellence, quality, and good should be earned words, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.
  • Do not accidentally make stability a goal. Balance is more important than stability.
  • Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Working on our processes to make them better, easier, and more efficient is an indispensable activity and something we should continually work on— but it is not the goal. Making the product great is the goal.
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Jeff Bezos: Failure can’t be separated from invention

Jeff Bezos - Caricature

Jeff Bezos – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

How do you maximize people’s potential to drive innovation? As Bob Ross says, “We don’t make mistakes, only happy accidents”. So, let employees make happy accidents.

This is what happens at the world’s most innovative companies, one of which is Amazon.

There are many lessons we can learn from Jeff Bezos about maximizing people’s potential to drive innovation. For example, in his annual shareholder letter, Jeff Bezos closes the letter with some final tips on what lets the company continue to lead. One is that invention comes from everybody, not just senior leaders. A lot of those ideas are going to fail. That’s not a bad thing:

The sad truth about how innovation dies in large organizations

For things to change somebody somewhere has to act differently…

There’s a great thread going on in the Beyond Innovation LinkedIn group about exciting examples of driving a culture of innovation. In my experience, it was one singular person driving it and enlisting people. Always. Most of the people who commented on the thread have similar responses. This is not surprising at all, it is rare an organization that has innovation embedded in their core DNA.

But one response that stood out is about how NOT to drive a culture of innovation!

VP of Culture of Innovation John Coyle at Maddock Douglas chimes in:

How to filter me-too ideas and leave small thinking behind

innovation evaluating between big ideas and small This is a three part post on how to leave small thinking behind. In the first post, I showed you a simple technique for coming up with radical ideas. Here I talk about how to evaluate ideas so they don’t fit into the “me-too” territory. On the third post I’ll tell you how to determine which ideas might work.

We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view. – Mao Tse-tung

I know a handful of people that work in the “innovation/entrepreneurship space” who talk a good talk but when it’s time to put the wheels on the road, more times than not, they revert to small thinking. Heck, I’ve even heard people outright say they think big but when challenged further they are shocked to their bones.

This isn’t an isolated scenario, most everyone is like this. Heck, how many companies plaster their physical and digital (Facebook) walls with inspirational quotes, but when you look inside you see that their actions don’t reflect their wishful thinking.

When you’re looking for innovative ideas that will truly differentiate your company and have major market impact, you must set the yardstick high and keep it high. You may think you’ve left small thinking behind, but often, even if you are benchmarking outside your industry, challenging the status quo of your business, or radicalizing your current strategy, small thinking will creep in. It most always does.

Why?

10 Change your course questions CEO’s need to ask themselves

question everything

Questioning, one of my favorite activities. I’ve been spotting a lot of it lately, and that’s good. Whether it’s because we are entering the last month of the year or because people are feeling the need to reflect, we need to be constantly questioning the obvious.

The obvious, if you’re succeeding, should also include this “change your course question” by Rosabeth Kanter: What is going to destroy our business, and are you taking steps to do it yourself before others do it to you?