Management Lessons from Creativity, Inc.

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You can think of Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace  as a book about Pixar or about nurturing creativity. But that is not all. It’s a management book and tells us how we can effectively deal with the unseen forces that make our businesses less creative, less exciting and not-so-great places to work at. It is a book about allowing people to bring on their best, by creating a workplace and culture that values input—not from just those with designations; but from anyone.

If you’ve ever watched Pixar creations—who hasn’t?—you’d want to know about this amazing place. Creativity, Inc.. does a great job at showing you. Ed Catmull, who’s been there from the start, shares this feeling of amazement himself. Says he: “Every morning, as I walk into Pixar Animation Studios—past the twenty-foot-high sculpture of Luxo Jr., our friendly desk lamp mascot, through the double doors and into a spectacular glass-ceilinged atrium where a man-sized Buzz Lightyear and Woody, made entirely of Lego bricks, stand at attention, up the stairs  past sketches and paintings of the characters that have populated our fourteen films—I am stuck by the unique culture that defines this place. Although I’ve made this walk thousands of times, it never gets old.”

That is part of what makes this book exciting. It is an unvarnished book about how one team made history by creating the first full length feature film Toy Story. Pixar did not stop there. They kept on making history. Catmull, who has been dreaming of animation movies for most of his life, and of making a full-length animated movie for 20 plus years till Toy Story came out, is ideally placed to share the lessons of managing creativity in the workplace. And he does so with incisive analysis and disarming honesty.

Many of the lessons in Creativity, Inc.. come from the extraordinary efforts of a group of people to give wings to creativity. The three defining characters in Pixar’s history are Edward Catmull, John Lasseter and Steve Jobs.

In 1986, Edward Catmull became the president of “a new hardware company whose main business was selling the Pixar Image Computer… The only problem was I had no idea what I was doing,” he says at the beginning of Chapter 3. It makes you want to read on, following him and discovering the lessons he learnt along the way.

If you begin the book by thinking Pixar is a magical place, you finish the book feeling a lot more admiration  and respect, beyond the magical qualities.

Even the Pixar building is special.

Steve Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings. Jobs wanted the Pixar building—which has been named The Steve Jobs Building, after his passing—around a central atrium designed to encourage random encounters and unplanned collaboration. “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

In the words of Pixar’s creative officer John Lasseter, “Steve’s theory worked from day one… I kept running into people I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.”

Ugly babies and nurturing ideas

From building design, to organization culture to holding meetings and inviting ideas, Pixar is a great case study in how creativity and new ideas can be given fertile ground to be born, nurtured and developed beyond their fragile, often misunderstood beginnings. And then how they can be turned into award winners and blockbusters.

Catmull’s appreciation for leaving room and time for ideas to take root and grow came from his post doctoral days. “The leaders of my department understood that to create a fertile laboratory, they had to assemble different kinds of thinkers and then encourage their autonomy”, says he. “They had to offer feedback when needed but also had to be willing to stand back and give us room. I felt instinctively that this kind of environment was rare and worth reaching for. I knew that the most valuable thing I was taking away from the U of U (University of Utah) was the model my teachers had provided for how to lead and inspire other creative thinkers. The question for me, then, was how to get myself into another environment like this—or how to build one of my own.”

Many aspects of Pixar culture, and Catmull’s life philosophy come together to make Pixar this same kind of environment.

Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere. 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.

Make it possible for anyone to speak to anyone. “A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.”

Being open to ideas isn’t enough. Getting people to engage and drawing on the collective brainpower is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, it is your job to coax ideas out and to keep pushing people to contribute.

Beware of idea-rejecting stances. “There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.”

Share ideas early and often. “Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others” says Catmull. “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.” This is about acknowledging that most ideas begin their life as ‘ugly babies’. They begin to look better over time, with effort and energy invested in nourishing and protecting them.

“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.”

Problem solving

Creativity, Inc.. shows us an organization that focuses on problem solving. To begin with, Pixar culture borrowed many ideas from Japanese management techniques. This is how it embraces the idea that problem solving can become anybody’s business and that the more people are invested in the idea, the better overall for everyone.

Other aspects of Catmull’s philosophy also contribute to make Pixar’s a problem-solving culture that boosts innovation. Humility and a keen awareness of human failure and limitations make this an insightful book. A pressing need for being realistic and avoiding arrogance and delusion—born of talent, position or success—threads across the book.

The first conclusions we draw from our successes and failures are typically wrong. Measuring the outcome without evaluating the process is deceiving.

Change and uncertainty are a part of life. Instead of resisting, we should build the capability to recover from unexpected events. “If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.”

Preventing risk is not the manager’s job. A manager’s job is to make it safe to take risks.

Failure isn’t evil. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new. Taking such a stance naturally invites innovation and taking risks.

Disagreement and fear should be understood and dealt with. He says that “if someone disagrees with you, there is a reason. Our first job is to understand the reasoning behind their conclusions.” The same goes for fear in an organization. Managers should find what’s causing it, understand it, and try to root it out.

Challenges make us stronger and more creative. “Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.”

Empowering people

In Catmull’s opinion, those who are “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.”

He also reminds us that the desire to have everything run smoothly is a false goal because it leads to measuring people by their mistakes rather than by their ability to solve problems.

Innovation and ideas can only grow within a culture of trust, respect and learning.

Hire for potential: “When looking to hire people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.

Hire those who are smarter than you. “Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.”

Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up—it means you trust them even when they do screw up.

When respect for ideas, people, reality and a problem solving culture come together, it creates a potent combination leading Catmull to declare that “New crises are not always lamentable—they test and demonstrate a company’s values. The process of problem-solving often bonds people together and keep the culture in the present.”

In a world that relies so much on appearances and often, self-bloated reputations, Creativity, Inc.. succeeds in reminding us a simple truth: “Excellence, quality, and good should be earned words.” They should be “attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves”.

As far as management books go, Creativity, Inc.. is a difficult book to summarize. But I hope I’ve given you a good idea of what you can expect from it . I hope I have inspired you to read the entire book.

Let me know what you think.
Bob

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration; by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace. April 2014

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Are YOU Managing Yourself?

 

drucker-quote-quiet-reflection

Interesting question, wouldn’t you say? I sometimes ask this myself in quiet moments. Am I managing myself, say as opposed to muddling through life, instead of doing the best I could?

Have you asked yourself this?

In his book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, Peter F Drucker dedicates his concluding chapter to the new demands that will be placed on individuals in the workplace. An article on the same theme was published in the Harvard Business Review in 2005. The message in both are the same, but the book offers better context. So the summary here is from the book.

Knowledge workers will have to manage themselves, says Drucker. “They will have to place themselves where they can make the greatest contribution; they will have to learn to develop themselves.” If that wasn’t challenging enough, Drucker adds more requirements to the list. Knowledge workers of the 21st century “… will have to learn to stay young, and mentally alive during a fifty-year working life. They will have to learn how and when the change what they do, how they do it and when they do it.”

This is something I come across every day. I am sure many of you, especially those crossing the 50 year mark are coming across around the country and around the world.

Surviving and thriving in a Changing World

People are living longer. Today’s worker bees are knowledge workers rather than manual workers. Most do not have the luxury of lifelong employment their grandparents, and some of their parents enjoyed. That means that we’ll have to change our employment and even careers over our lengthy work life. Many of us have done that already.

This also means learning new things as well as unlearning what we used to know. Realities of the workplace, how work is organized and how it is done, is changing too. More and more people are in part time jobs, and holding more than one job at a time. Others are working from home or working in teams that are spread across the globe. The traditional 9 to 5 job is not a reality for a lot of people. In such a context, when the onus of managing oneself becomes the key to productivity and performance, how will we fare?

We can prepare to meet these new demands by finding answers to a series of questions.

managing-oneself-peter-drucker

What are my strengths? HOW do I work?

“Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong.” What do we do then? In Drucker’s view, we need the answers today because we have choices to make. It is only by knowing our strengths that we can know where we belong.

Feedback analysis helps us find our strengths. Here’s how this simple technique works: whenever you make a decision or take a key action, write down your expectation of what will happen. Drucker admits that he has been doing it for 15 to 20 years. “And every time I do it I am surprised,” he says. “And so is everyone who has ever done this.”

Within two or three years of doing this, you will know your strengths—“probably the most important thing to know about oneself.” It will show what you do or fail to do that deprives you of a full yield from your strengths. It will show areas where you are not particularly competent and where you have no strengths.

Once you know, you work on a number of action conclusions:

  • Concentrate on your strengths. This means putting yourself where your strengths can produce results.
  • Work on improving your strengths and fill gaps in one’s knowledge. This enables you to fully realize your strengths.
  • Overcome intellectual arrogance which causes disabling ignorance. Pride in ignorance is self defeating.
  • Remedy bad habits that inhibit effectiveness and performance. For example, things like too much time planning and little time on execution or bad manners can impede performance.
  • Learning what not to do. This means staying away from taking on work, jobs and assignments in areas where we have not talent and skill.
  • Waste no time (or as little as possible) on improving areas of low competence. Even in an organizational or teaching context, energy, resources and time should be spent on making competent people into star performers. Do not waste time trying to make incompetent performers into mediocre ones.

On surface, there is conflict between the first two and the last two points. You should try to leverage your strengths especially when choosing work. But that does not mean you should let your weaknesses ruin your life.

How do I perform?

This is an equally important question, says Drucker. Feedback analysis will show you if there is something amiss in how you perform, but not its cause.

Whether you are a reader or a listener and how you learn—your preferred learning style—play a role in how you perform. Whether you are a loner or work well with people, and in what contexts—as team members, subordinates, or as coaches or mentors—matters too. Do you work best as a decision maker or as adviser? All these make a difference to how you perform.

Once you have an understanding of how you perform, here’s Drucker’s advice: “Do not try to change yourself—you are unlikely to succeed. Work to improve the way you perform.”

Pick work consistent with your values, especially when there are conflicts between strengths and values. Drucker explains how he was performing “extremely well as a young investment banker in London in the mid-1930s,” but while it clearly fitted his strengths, he did not see himself making a contribution as an asset manager because he realized people were his values. “I saw no point in being the richest man in the cemetery. I had no money, no job in a deep Depression and no prospects. But I quit—and it was the right thing.”

Values “are and should be the ultimate test”, he says.

Where do I belong?

Knowing your strengths, how you perform and what your values are enables you to decide where you belong. However, Drucker cautions that this is “not a decision that most people can or should make at the beginning of their careers”.

While a minority of people will know very early whether they will become mathematicians, musicians or cooks, he says that “most people, and especially highly gifted people, do not really know where they belong till they are well past their mid-twenties.” However, by the time a person reaches this age, they should know their strengths, how they perform and what their values are, which would help them decide where they belong.

It is equally important to know where you do not belong.

Successful careers are not “planned”, says Drucker. “They are the careers of people who are prepared for the opportunity because they know their strengths, the way they work and their values. For knowing where one belongs makes ordinary people—hardworking, competent but mediocre otherwise—into outstanding performers.”

What is my contribution?

This calls for moving from knowledge to action. But, it isn’t about what you want to contribute or what you are told to contribute. It is about what you should contribute. As knowledge workers, we will have to learn to ask “What should my contribution be?”. And then only ask whether it fits our strengths, whether it is what we want to do and whether we find it stimulating.

“What should my contribution be?” needs to balance three things: What does the situation require? How could I make the greatest contribution (in the context of strengths, way of performing and values)? What results must be achieved to make a difference?

Knowing what you should contribute, naturally gives you both freedom to decide and responsibility to act upon it.

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Relationship responsibility

Most people work with others and are effective through others. This is why relationship responsibility is part of managing oneself. There are two aspects to this.

To be effective we need to understand the strengths of others, how they work and what their values are. Beyond understanding their values and strengths, we need to understand whether our bosses, subordinates and team members are readers or listeners. How best do they learn—is it by hearing, reading, writing up, or doing things hands on? How we receive and give instructions and feedback, how we organize and carry on our work, how we report our performance or evaluate others’ performance will have an impact on both our performance and theirs. If we cannot modulate ourselves to work well with others, fitting our modes of working with theirs in a compatible manner we are setting everyone up for poor performance.

Taking responsibility for communications is the second thing we need to do to manage ourselves effectively. Once we figure out our strengths, values, how we perform and what our contribution should be, naturally we need to communicate this. Who needs to know this? On whom do I depend? And who depends on me? Once everyone on that list knows about us, and we know about them in this manner, working together will become much easier.

We would not fall into the trap that Lyndon B Johnson fell into, not knowing he was a listener. When John Kennedy was President, he always got his assistants to put everything in writing, and read them first, before discussing anything. Kennedy was a reader and knew it. When Johnson succeeded to Presidency, he kept those brilliant writers on his staff and they continued to write. According to Drucker, “Lyndon Johnson destroyed his Presidency in large measure, by not knowing that he… was a listener.”

There are many other interesting examples from politics and business in Drucker’s book.

The second half of your life

Preparing for the second half of one’s life is a key aspect of managing oneself. People are living longer, and often outliving organizations they work for. While manual workers may want rest and relaxation after retirement, knowledge workers still feel they are not ‘finished’ when they reach the traditional 65, the age for retirement. Most people are facing 15 to 20 years beyond retirement.

Drucker says there are three things we can do in that time:

  • Start a second or different career
  • Develop a parallel career
  • Become a social entrepreneur

“People who manage the ‘second half’ may always be a minority only,” says Drucker because the majority may” keep doing what they are doing now, that is, to retire on the job, being bored, keeping on with their routine and counting the years until retirement”. He is of the view that this who see the long working-life expectancy as an opportunity both for themselves and for society who may increasingly become the leaders and the models and the success stories of the future.  managing-oneself-peter-drucker-1

Conclusion

The changes discussed in Management Challenges for the 21st Century go beyond management, the individual and his or her career. It is really a book about the future of society. The time you invest in reading it, and the lessons will help you in life, not just in your career. It will also help you think more about how trends in motion today that can change your life.

Resources

So what do you think?

Are we managing ourselves the best we could? Making the best possible contribution for the time we spend on earth? Or are we just muddling through life?
Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Bob

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Why work doesn’t happen at work// Ted Talks

Jason Fried has a radical theory of working: that the office isn’t a good place to do it. He calls out the two main offenders (call them the M&Ms) and offers three suggestions to make the…

Source: Why work doesn’t happen at work// Ted Talks

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TED – Celeste Headlee: 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation

“When your job hinges on how well you talk to people, you learn a lot about how to have conversations — and that most of us don’t converse very well. Celeste Headlee has worked as a rad…

Source: TED – Celeste Headlee: 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation

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8 Simple habits to slow down your biological clock

Photo post.

Source: 8 Simple habits to slow down your biological clock

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I believe

Я верю, что в каждом человеческом сердце теплится желание делать добро. Проявляйте свою любовь и сострадание, когда у вас появляется возможность. Ничто на свете не доставляет человеку большей радос…

Source: I believe

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kindness

Kindness may be a simple thing, but it can make a world of difference in helping us discover success, satisfaction and significance.

Most people would agree about the links between satisfaction and significance–another word for meaning. But success linked to kindness?

Try reading Givers and Takers by Adam Grant and you’ll discover that many givers, a lot more than takers are found at the top of the success ladder.

how to love books

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You…

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Ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer Now Gets His Zen on With Mediation

Source: Ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer Now Gets His Zen on With Mediation

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5 Ways to Deal With Distracting Thoughts

distractions
In Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport puts forward the Deep Work Hypothesis:

The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life will thrive.

Newport defines deep work as ‘Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit.’ These efforts, he says, create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Shallow work in contrast is “Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted.”

Sounds familiar? Yes, it does. In Newport’s view, these efforts do not create much new value in the world and are easily replicated.

Deep work is a valuable skill

deep-work-cal-newportDeep work is a valued and valuable skill in the New Economy; something winners cannot do without.

Deep work helps us learn complex things quickly. And it gives us the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of quality and speed (whatever it is you are working on). Our competitive edge depends on how to quickly we can master complicated things. Those who fail to cultivate the ability for deep work are likely to fall behind as technology advances.

The good news is that anyone wishing to cultivate a capacity for deep work can do so, with effort.

The bad news is that our modern tools and lifestyle, unceasing connectivity and the desire to be or to be seen as connected makes us less capable and, more alarmingly, less inclined to engage in deep work.

The book, Deep Work, is a compelling read. The final chapters discuss rules that can help you cultivate the skill of deep work.

Distraction, the enemy of deep work

Distraction is the enemy of deep work and deep thought. It is not just our environment, tools and societal expectations that make us into totally distracted beings. It is also our complicity, our willingness to get by with just shallow work.

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At the bottom of everything is the idea of free will. Despite all the distractions and shallow-work expectations, what if we want to stay from being distracted? Any brave souls who want to attempt this?

Five time-tested ways to defy distraction

Here are five time tested ways to defy distraction; to get your mind to focus on what you want it to focus on. These are methods that Buddhist monks have used for thousands of years to focus their minds on the task at hand: meditation.

Despite all our technology and worldly sophistication, we are still battling with our own minds, when it comes to avoiding distracting thoughts and concentrating on the work in hand.

Try these, beginning with the first ones, and progressively moving towards the latter ones for especially cumbersome and sticky distractions.

This article is strictly about dealing with your thoughts. It is not about distractions that you can easily get rid of, like the ping noise or buzz on your smart device which you can easily silence at will.

1. Think of something else

The human mind can focus on only one thing at a time. So nature and science are with you on this one. If you are able to take your mind off something, its urgency immediately drops. It is your focus that fuels the desire to continue being distracted. So focus your mind elsewhere, preferably on a less distracting thought. This gives your mind the time to rest and stabilize so that it can concentrate better on what you must get done.

2. Think of the drawbacks

What are the disadvantages of being distracted at this moment, in the middle of this task? What have you to gain by concentrating and what do you lose by distraction? Weigh pros and cons.

Thinking about advantages and disadvantages of concentrating on the task in hand can really clarify its importance to you, your life, work, goals, family and values.

3. Ignore the unwanted thoughts

You close your eyes when you see things you don’t like; be it an accident or a violent scene or part of a horror movie. In the same way, close your mind to the distracting thought, just as you would close a window pane against wind or rain.

Doing this is going to be slightly easier than trying not to think of a pink elephant, but it can be done. If you ignore something, deprive it of attention, it vanishes into the background. Its ability to draw your focus, and its self-importance disappears. Without focus, the urgency withers away and your mind can settle down to concentrate.

Who knows, you may even end up getting some deep work done.

4. Try thought fabrication 

If that sounds like a mind game, that is because it is.

If you are uncomfortable while sitting, what do you do? You shift positions. You change your position once, and then again until you find a more comfortable position. Thought fabrication is similar to this shifting of positions. It engages your conscious mind in a series of other thoughts.

One way to do this is to look to the source of your distracting thought. Where is it coming from? And instead of reflecting on the thought itself, and granting it validity, reflect instead on what makes it distracting.

And if all these methods fail, there is always the last resort.

5. Beat the unsavory thoughts out of your mind

If denying the unwelcome thoughts reflection and attention seems not to work, it is time to remove them out of the mind by force. Crush it out with your will. Clench your teeth, press your tongue against the roof of your mouth and thrash it out of your system as if it were evil. Such beating down does work at times.

Do so with awareness and positive intentions. In all this, remember, the goal is none other than getting rid of distracting thoughts to focus on your task in hand, be it studying, finishing a report or relaxing in mindfulness.

A few articles on distracting thoughts

Here are a few articles I came across on the topic of negative and distracting thoughts. They offer further tips of achieving focus and concentration.

I’d like to hear your thoughts

Which of these five methods have you tried when distracting thoughts plague your productivity? Which have worked and which have not?

I look forward to hearing your comments. Please share our thoughts with us.

Wishing you Success, Significance & Satisfaction (#3S)

Bob

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Tick, Tock: Writers and Photographers Reflect on Time

In words and images, bloggers from around the world tackle temporality and the way we perceive it.

Source: Tick, Tock: Writers and Photographers Reflect on Time

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