Creativity Inc. Book Summary


Hi Success Titan reader, I’m Sal Damiata, and that’s the summary of Creativity Inc. written by Ed Catmull. 

Why this Book?

Would you like to know what the secrets to unleash creativity when working in any team are naturally? If you’re a professional or a creative team leader that wants to learn how to do this with your team, keep reading.


Creativity Inc. is a book that explains how creativity works and what practices help its natural blossom rather than its suppression. Anyway, is it really true that anybody can build powerful creative teams with the right practices? Let’s discover it together.

Who’s it For?

  • Creative Team Managers & Leaders;
  • Creative Entrepreneurs and professionals working in creative environments;
  • Everyone who wants to understand better how creativity works.

What You’ll Learn from it

  • Effectively manage teams of creative people;
  • Easily overcome creative blocks both in you and others;
  • Understand how to manage people in various businesses effectively.

In a Nutshell

  • An excursus of how Pixar managed to overcome the creativity problems of its employees by implementing specific cultural, organizational, and behavioral practices aimed at fostering it. 

Amongst such practices are creating a fearless culture, creating the right team, fostering free communication between employees, and making them feel like they contribute to the final outcome.

3 Sentence-Summary

  • Managers of creative companies must understand that putting trust in all its employees by respecting their positions as essential for the success of the business will improve their creative performances. 
  • The working environment plays a huge role in the creativity levels of the employees working there. Make sure to make it as a stimulant for each individual as possible, giving each one of them complete freedom.
  • Put a great team of people in the same room to solve a problem together and encourage them to be candid with each other. If they can empathize with one another, trust will be built, and creativity will be enhanced. Creativity is a practice, but it can’t come if trust is not present amongst team members.

Big Ideas

Those are the most relevant ideas expressed in the book that we’ll explore together.

  1. Build The Right Team 
  2. Make Employees Contribute
  3. Balance is Key
  4. Create a Fearless Culture
  5. Beware of Confirmation Bias
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Big Idea #1: Build The Right Team 

One concept that many creative team managers fail to understand is that the biggest determinant in fostering creativity amongst people is not adopting he right creative process or the right idea; the secret lies in creating the right team. From what Ed Catmull saw during his work experience, a good idea can quickly die if it is harvested in the wrong team. 
Conversely, a very bad idea in a good team can be transformed into a good one. This means that it’s much better to have a bad idea in a good team rather than a good idea in a bad team.
To build such a creative team, Ed advises on taking a group of passionate and well-informed people, putting them together, and encouraging them to be candid with one another. 
He doesn’t say honest because being candid to him is a better way to build trust and thus foster creative collaboration.

A Relatable Example

Have you ever found yourself in a group of people where, no matter how much effort everybody put into talking, nobody ever really clicked with each other? How much creative energy was present there? How free did you feel at expressing yourself?
What about, instead, when you were in a group of people where you all seemed to click between each other spontaneously? How much creative energy was present in the air? How free did you feel at expressing yourself? 
Reflect on your own life cases to better understand what Ed Catmull means in his book.

Big Idea #2: Make Employees Contribute

Ed, in his book, talks about how many creative problems could be overcome if only managers would give their employees the freedom to contribute to aspects outside of their domain as well. 
When you employ somebody to do something specific in your firm and give him the possibility to express himself when it comes to general problem solving, you’ll see how much happier your employees will be and how much more creative solutions you’ll get.
That’s why hierarchical structures prevent employees from giving honest and oftentimes precious feedback. To avoid such problems, you make your employees feel more important by giving them higher responsibilities. 
It has been seen, in fact, how employees are happier and more productive when they know that their work is an important part of the whole process. 

A Relatable Example

Ed talked about the period when he was producing Toy Story 2, and the company was having problems with production managers. 
Anyway, those problems were all solved thanks to the company culture that has been created where every employee knew that he was an essential contributor to the excellence of Pixar. 
Eventually, they succeeded and made 500 Million at the box office, but only because the production managers knew that without them, the production of Toy Story 2 was doomed to fail. 

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Big Idea #3: Balance is Key

In his book, Ed also talks about this idea where the “Ugly Baby” as he calls it represents an initially good idea that should be protected while the “Hungry Beast” is what is fed by success, and the more it gets, the more it wants. 
In any creative process, there will be a conflict between the hungry beast and the ugly baby, and the goal is to always balance them rather than using one or the other only. 
If you want to maximize your creativity, balance your focus as well, meaning that you should both be able to focus on one thing and see the broad perspective of it as well. 
Finally, always keep a beginner’s mind as if you believe you have nothing more to learn, new information can’t get into your brain.

A Relatable Example

One idea where Ed brings the concept of dualism is the door metaphor. One one side of the door, there is everything known, and on the other side, there is everything unknown. 
In order to create, it’s essential to have one step inside the door and another outside of it because, in order to create, we must absolutely jump into the unknown. 

Big Idea #4: Create a Fearless Culture

Another way to foster the creativity of your employees is by creating a company culture where making mistakes is ok. Many employees are terrified by expressing their opinions because they are afraid of failure. 
What Pixar did in order to avoid that creativity stuck was to create that fearless culture, where exploring new and crazy ideas was actually a good thing.

To create such a culture, encourage free communication amongst employees, and assume that people’s intentions are good. Then if you will ever fail, just create recovery techniques where the whole team cooperates to restore the situation. 

A Relatable Example

At Pixar, not every story that has been thought has eventually made it to the big screen. That’s normal as there are good creations and bad creations, what’s important anyway is to inspire people to create new ideas and explore new areas even if that seems crazy. 
That’s how Pixar came out with some crazy cartoons like Toy Story, Cars, Ratatouille, or Monsters Inc.

Big Idea #5: Beware of Confirmation Bias

As human beings, we often tend to be biassed towards certain things more than others. One of the ways with which we have this biased tendency is by seeking information that confirms or supports our opinions, regardless of actual accuracy. 
In psychology, that’s called the confirmation bias. Why does Ed talk about it in his book? Because usually, company managers believe that their ideas are always the best, even if they aren’t. 
That’s not true anyway, and managers of creative teams can avoid this bias by acknowledging that employees might have better ideas than them. 

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A Relatable Example

During the one meeting at Pixar, one of the employees suggested to managers that it was probably much better to create animations of the stories once they were finished. 
The company, in fact, used to make animations along with the creation of the story that, most of the time, ned up being changed and thus forcing the animators to start all over again. 
The idea of first completing the stories and then going into the animation part saves the company a lot of money time and energy, all of that thanks to the idea of one employee. 

Conclusion & Takeaway

Ideas are not created singularly but are instead a collective process that takes form with movement and directed action. This shows how creativity is a practice that can be fostered by creating trust-based teams, fearless cultures, and an open mind towards the unknown. 

My Advice for You

I would suggest you put into practice the principles explained in this books that hit you the most or that sparked your curiosity the most. Then confront yourself with other people working in creative environments and see for yourself if those principles are true or not. 
In the end, the best thing you can do for yourself is internalizing those concepts so that you can apply them in any creative area of your life and profession.

About The Author

Ed Catmull is the Co-Founder of the successful movie company Pixar. As a young child, he always dreamed of becoming a movie animator, inspired by cartoons like Pinocchio and Peter Pan. He went on to study computer sciences and worked as such in various companies. 
Later on, anyway, with the advent of 3D computer animation, he decided to combine his computer skills with the animation ones to create his first computer-animated movie. 
That evolved to his career at Pixar, giving him worldwide success along with several prestigious awards like the “Academy Award” (Oscar). To date, he retired from Pixar even though he is still an adviser. 

Reading Suggestions

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  • “Zero to One” – Blake Masters
  • “The War of Art” – Steven Pressfield
  • “Good to Great” – James C. Collins
  • “Creative Confidence” – Tom Kelley
Armin is an online entrepreneur and writer in the dating, psychology and spirituality areas of the self-help industry.
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