Thought Leadership Blog

Creativity, Inc. >> How to Build a Creative Workplace that Doesn’t Run off the Road

Creativity, Inc. >> How to Build a Creative Workplace that Doesn’t Run off the Road


Creativity and innovation. Those two concepts may be the most over-used terms
in business since “perfect storm.” But despite the preponderance of use, how many organizations truly achieve creativity and/or innovation?

The answer, Harvard Business  School Professor Clayton Christansen argues, is that
an organization’s capabilities reside in its processes and values. Changing processes, then, runs the risk of eroding value. For this reason, organizations naturally resist change.

On the other hand, as we learned from Blockbuster Video, refusing to change can lead to demise.
What, then, is the solution? How do organizations like Pixar innovate in a mature industry and consistently create an outstanding product? Enter Ed Catmull, President and Co-Founder of Pixar, and author of Creativity, Inc. [ISBN: 978-0-8129-9301-1]

According to the book:

The promise is bold, but then again, everything Pixar does is bold. So, what, exactly, are they doing, and how are they doing it successfully? Ironically, they are successful because they know they have problems. 

“What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view,” said Catmull. “We work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it. This, more than any elaborate party or turreted workstation, is why I love coming to work in the morning. It is what motivates me and gives me a definite sense of mission.”
Interestingly, Catmull does not see solving problems and innovating as a management issue. “The way I see it, my job as a manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, and watch for the things that undermine it,” he said. “When it comes to creative inspiration, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless.”

Leading a creative and innovative company, then, is not about being in charge. Catmull knew that to succeed, he would need the sharpest minds. And to attract the sharpest minds, “I needed to put my insecurities away.”

Armed with the sharpest minds and a creative culture, how does an organization stay on a forward trajectory? How can they ensure quality work, not just creative work?

Catmull offers 6 recommendations for leadership:
  1. [Candor] “Candor communicates not just truth-telling, but a lack of reserve.
  2. [Failure] Failure, when approached properly, can be an opportunity for fearless growth.” To be a truly creative company, you must start things that might fail.
  3. [Originality]Avoid simply “feeding the beast.” Embrace and protect the new. It may not be fully formed, but if an original idea has potential – nurture it. It is management’s job to balance the beast and the new ideas.
  4. [Change] As we become successful, our approaches that work are documented and reinforced, and we therefore become resistant to change… when we are perfectly aware that change is vital for growth.
  5. [Quality] Every aspect of every single process needs to be done well. So it is imperative to listen to reasoned opinions, even if they contradict your own.
  6. [Meaningful engagement] Empower front line employees to provide feedback, and be careful not to dismiss unexpected answers. Then, talk through the feedback and turn it into something tangible, usable and valuable.

For companies to grow, especially after a period of slow growth or stagnancy, it is crucial to dismantle the processes and the culture that caused the challenges. If a person is fixiated on existing processes and the notion of being right, they are unable to see the flaws in their thinking and move the organization forward. 

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