Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
I hate anyone who tries to tell other writers how to write, who pretends to know the exact elements that a story “must” have. Anyone who thinks that there is a clear formula or clear method of creating a story is diluted.
Creativity Inc. was recommended to me by a good friend years ago, but I only got around to reading it this holiday season because of my New Year’s resolution to read and watch things that people recommended to me (as opposed to putting it off for weeks, months, or years). And hey, the title was about unleashing creativity, not work-shopping a story. How bad could it be?
It was phenomenal.
Entertainment: 5/5 Intellect: 5/5 +1 for idea fodder Overall: 10/10
As I learned from this book, Ed Catmull is one of Pixar’s three “co-founders.” John Lasseter was the storyteller, Steve Jobs was the businessman, and Ed Catmull was the tech guy. Catmull admired Disney growing up and always wanted to be an animator, but found that he wasn’t talented enough with a pen. He went to college for computer science, but never gave up on his dream of creating the world’s first full-length animated movie. When Catmull was beginning his career in Silicon Valley, he saw countless people start promising, creative, entrepreneurial ventures, only to make managing mistakes and send their company under. So when Steve Jobs gave Catmull and Lasseter a chance to fulfill their dreams, Catmull was determined to be vigilant, constantly evolve his company, and never ever fall into the creative slumps that sent other big companies in the wrong direction.
(Quick note: all of the sections below contain spoilers)
Creativity Inc. is a third Catmull biography, a third Pixar biography, and a third advice on managing creative people. But every bit of it is fascinating. Not only was I addicted to listening to this book (I’ve gotten into Audible), but it made me want to rewatch Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille. I was invested in the stories of every Pixar employee as much as I would have been for a TV character, and I was treated to special behind-the-scenes stories of how my favorite Pixr movies have changed over the years. There’s really not much else to say besides, “I loved reading this book, and I wish there was more to read.”
Now, the main purpose of this book is to give advice. I was hesitant to hear advice on “how to write a story,” and to my pleasure I didn’t have to endure that. Instead, I was treated to advice on how to deal with people (who are much more straightforward compared to story-writing).
Creativity Inc. gave me several lessons that I hope I’ll take to the grave, especially the ones on how to deal with editors and feedback. I never want to forget that hindsight often is not 20/20, that editors are not always right but are always onto something, and, of course, that things change, and no one will ever reach a steady state where they know how to solve every problem that comes their way.
But interestingly enough, the book had insight into another issue that I had been considering for some time: narratives on things in real life. Most recently, I’d been thinking about this in terms of the singer, Ke$ha. I know this seems off-topic, but bear with me. I came across Ke$ha’s song, “Praying,” and immediately assigned it a narrative. People in the comments, however, assigned it other narratives. One person assumed that the soulful, serious song was a bid at manipulating and tricking her audience into respecting her. Another person assumed that her tastes had merely changed as she grew older. I had personally assumed that she had needed to pretend to be an upbeat pop partygirl to get famous, and then struck out on her own and was now doing the music she had always wanted to do. Which narrative was right? To this day, I don’t know.
Similarly, in Creativity Inc., Catmull described Pixar’s acquisition by Disney. The narrative that I had initially assigned to this was far, far different from Catmull’s. In my mind, Pixar had come to challenge Disney in its weakened state during the Disney Dark Age. Disney, once it had risen back to power, absorbed Pixar when it was Pixar’s turn to be in a weakened state. Boom: no more competition. Since Disney has been making nothing but 3D animated features since then, I figured that they were making Pixar do all of the animation while Disney got all the profits.
Catmull set me straight: Pixar was at the height of its popularity when it “merged” with Disney, and was not about to go bankrupt. Not only that, but Disney and Pixar had been partnered less closely even beforehand. In fact, it was Disney’s idea to make Toy Story 2, and Disney already owned the rights to several of Pixar’s characters. Pixar and Disney were standoffish at the time, but Steve Jobs decided that Pixar would do better if it had Disney’s marketing might. Additionally, Disney had just acquired a new CEO, Bob Igor, who was much more respectful towards Pixar. Catmull and Lasseter both gave Igor a chance, and eventually agreed to Jobs’ proposal. Their hands were never forced, and Pixar retained almost all of its autonomy under Disney. In fact, Catmull and Lasseter got to have control over Disney’s animation department, which I learned is still around to this day but was eager to adopt the hottest new technology for their films (starting with Tangled).
I pray that I will have the wisdom to remember this lesson in the future: several different spins can be put on any story.
I gave Creativity Inc. a +1 for idea fodder because it inspired me to think of many different ways I could work with editors and other writers in a friendly way. In fact, I’ve already implemented some of them, and it gave me the strength to be frank with editors who I’ve already shared harsh words with in the past. This book made me rethink my attitudes towards the editing process: why was I always keeping things secret from my editors, instead of just telling them what I was trying to get across? Why do people automatically assume that writers are proud and think their stories are flawless? These are the kinds of questions that the Pixar leadership would ask themselves (along with more complex ones having to do with much larger companies) and then set out to solve, even if everyone else had given up on those solutions as being lost causes.
Creativity Inc. is entertaining, inspirational, and goddamn it’s useful. Just as my friend recommended it to me, I highly recommend it to everyone else.