Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

At 27 years old, I still go through periods where I have my Disney playlist on repeat on Spotify. I grew up and enjoyed numerous Pixar classics such as Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and Up. Seeing Pixar receiving exceptional reviews film after film, I come to expect a certain level of excellence from Pixar. What I failed to think about and to appreciate is all the effort required to deliver creative ideas year after year, let alone in an animated setting.

I first laid eyes on Creativity, Inc when it was shown on a book recommendation site. As there weren’t many books on creativity in the business section, this book stood out from the rest. I picked up the book to learn more about creativity, but I’m glad Ed also talks about Pixar’s inner workings and his take on the person Steve Jobs had become.

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Foster a Creative Environment

A misconception on creativity is that to get more creative ideas you need more creative people. Although it is true that some people are more creative than others, we can increase the level of creativity by improving the environment which we work within.

To foster a creative environment, first off people need to feel free to speak their minds and to suggest ideas no matter how unconventional the ideas may be. This may sound simple, but this will require a culture of experimenting and taking risks.

Ideas are never perfect from the start. Contrary to what it may seem, Pixar films all started with simple ideas which turned out to be very different from the resulting films we see in theatres. It is through sharing ideas early and often for feedback that ideas are able to be shaped into something that can provide a lasting impact.

By looking at Pixar’s offices and specifically the Steve Jobs building, I can begin to understand how Pixar is able to consistently produce creative ideas.

“Steve Jobs wasn’t involved in making the movies, but he built this office using the same budget and the same amount of time as one of our movies. In a sense, this is his movie.” – John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar

Steve Job wanted the headquarters to be a place that promoted encounters and collaborations. This led to a big central hub in the middle of the building where employees will inevitably run into each other.

“If a building doesn’t encourage collaboration, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.” – Steve Jobs

I’ll not go into the many details that went into the design of the Steve Jobs building. However, the takeaways are to promote communication and collaboration and allow employees to freely express themselves. If you want to learn more about what went into the design of the Steve Jobs building, here’s a great article which elaborates further on it.

Leadership

“It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.” – Ed Catmull

Since managers are often evaluated and negatively impacted by the errors that their teams make, they often put in measures to prevent risks. However, what this way of approach overlooks is that learning and creativity often come from taking risks. In order to push boundaries and to challenge existing ideas and processes, it will involve doing things out of the ordinary. So if you are in a leadership position, think about ways where you can create an environment where your team can experiment and take risks. Working as an engineer, this can mean having a sandbox environment for people to experiment with potential production changes. It is when you are not fearful of making mistakes, where your creativity can truly shine through.

“As your position changes, people will likely behave differently around you. You will be out of a certain loop and your access of information will be changed.” – Ed Catmull

Most of us have seen this happen to people around us and possibly to ourselves as well. People will likely behave differently when they are interacting with their managers as opposed to their peers. This is easy to spot when you are in an entry-level position or when you are observing the interactions of more senior employees. But when we get promoted ourselves, we often don’t take into consideration how other people will change their behavior when they are around us. New hires who only got to know you when you are in a leadership position tend to behave differently than your peers that you have been working together throughout the years. And as a leader, you will need to take into account that you might be out of a certain loop and lose access to certain information as people might be more inclined to hide their flaws and be more hesitant to provide criticisms. This can mean conducting more feedback sessions and spending more time to uncover different team dynamics.

When you are a leader, it’s your responsibility to get the best ideas out of your team. Push people to contribute and to voice their opinions no matter how much experience they have. If certain people don’t feel free to suggest ideas candidly, you’ll need to uncover why and address any potential issues in the workplace.

“We will always have problems, many of which are hidden from our view; we must work to uncover then and assess our own role in them, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; when we then come across a problem, we must marshal all our energies to solve it.” – Ed Catmull

Summary

Creativity, Inc. is a very well written book on Pixar and creativity. I came away with a deeper appreciation of animated films and the work involved to sustain a high level of creativity. My book review doesn’t do the book justice as there are many takeaways which Ed nicely summarized at the end of the book. I’ll recommend everyone to give the book a read.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance.

 

Start With Why By Simon Sinek

Why did we start doing what we are doing in the first place? Often times when a company becomes successful, its leaders start to focus on what they are doing as opposed to why they founded the company in the first place. Although focusing on what you are doing can get you far, it is having a clear sense of why you are doing things that make people connect with you and support you.

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek explains how great leaders are able to propel their organizations to excel by starting with why. Simon demonstrates how organizations with a clear sense of why are able to have great brand loyalty whereas organizations with a fuzzy sense of why eventually lose their competitive edge.

Even though Start With Why contains less than 250 pages, I find it 200 pages too long. A lot of the same points are made repeatedly with the same set of examples. With that said, I watched Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on Start With Why and I highly recommend it.

People Buy Why You Do It

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

Companies are founded for a cause and to address a problem. However, often times companies forget why they are founded and start to focus on what they are doing. Apple is a great example of a company that starts with why.

Led by Steve Jobs, Apple believes in challenging the status quo and thinking differently. It is reflected in how they develop their products by making it beautifully designed and user-friendly. And they just happen to make great computers. Having a clear why/belief is the reason Apple has great brand loyalty and will have people line up for hours just to get their products. If you focused on what I just said, you would notice I didn’t say computers but products instead. It seems natural that we would buy an mp3 player or a smartphone from Apple. But would you consider getting an mp3 player from Dell?

Dell came out with an mp3 player over a decade ago and it got discontinued shortly after. It’s not because its products are less superior. Dell has access to the same talent and same resources as Apple and definitely have the technical capabilities to design great technology products. It is instead because Dell loses it’s why and started to focus on what which is selling computers. We see Dell as a computer company and can’t imagine getting a smartphone or a smartwatch from a computer company. However, we do that all the time with Apple. This is because Apple has a clear sense of why and people who share that why can connect to its products and even get inspired by it.

Start with why and be consistent with it. That means how you do things, which include your marketing, the people you hire, and your products need to reflect on why you are doing things. And with consistency, people will see and hear what you believe.

Great Leaders Lead With Why

Great leaders embody a sense of purpose that inspires those around them. You can motivate your employees with a higher salary and more benefits. But to get the best out of your employees, they need to feel that the company cares about them and get inspired by the cause that the leader is leading them. Average leaders give their people something to work on, whereas great leaders give their people something to work towards.

Summary

Simon Sinek is a great speaker and an idealist. Although I don’t enjoy the book due to how dragged out I find it to be, I do find the core insights of starting with why valuable. So instead of reading the book, I would recommend watching Simon’s Ted Talk that I shared above.

 

I’m currently reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

Book Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.

I have seen mixed reviews on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Some reviews said it’s life-changing and others said you just need to know what the 7 habits are and the book doesn’t warrant a purchase. After hearing the book getting recommended by my mentor, I decided to give it a read and to stop the “should I give this book a read?” internal dialogue whenever I go book shopping.

Even though this book can be much more concise, it is very beneficial. The 7 habits are indeed easy to grasp, but it’s the methods that Stephen uses to build and reinforces these habits that I can take away and incorporate myself.

Habit #1 – Be Proactive

Until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”

Be proactive and look for ways to get the results you are after. Often times, people attribute their mistakes and failures to external factors such as your boss, your coworkers, or your living conditions. These external factors do have an impact on your results, but they do not determine it. If you have to work with coworkers who often cause mistakes due to their inexperience, spend the extra time to understand and to train them rather than simply be frustrated by their low productivity. You may not determine the situation you are in, but you can take the initiative and the responsibility for you to improve your situation and to make things happen.

Habit #2 – Begin with the End in Mind

You can do it in every area of your life. Before a performance, a sales presentation, a difficult confrontation, or the daily challenge of meeting a goal, see it clearly, vividly, relentlessly, over and over again. Create an internal “comfort zone.” Then, when you get into the situation, it isn’t foreign. It doesn’t scare you.

Efficiency is a big focus nowadays. You study hard and get the highest grade for your courses. You try to do your tasks at work more efficiently. You try to get promoted sooner by putting in the work. But how often do we take a step back and consider if we are taking the right courses and whether we should consider a different degree? How often do we consider whether the tasks we are working on solves a key problem and if it does whether there’s a better solution or an even more important problem that we should be tackling? And how often do we consider whether to switch careers when we do not enjoy what we are currently doing?

Know what your goals are first before you start working. Picture yourself at your own funeral. You see your family, friends, and coworkers giving speeches about you. What do you want them to say? That will be your ultimate goal for the different roles you take on in life. With a lifelong goal in mind, you can work backward and establish yearly, monthly, and weekly goals. Plan out your week around your weekly goals. Doing this will help you allocate your time effectively and let you work with a purpose.

Habit #3 – Put First Things First

If we don’t have a clear idea of what is important, or the results we desire in our lives, we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent.

When you begin with the end in mind, you will have goals for the different roles (ex. brother, coworker, employee, friend, son, individual) you take on in life. Schedule time to achieve the weekly goals for each of your roles. This will give you clarity on what to focus on and will bring attention to the roles that you aren’t dedicating enough time to.

Ask yourself: What is one thing you could do (something you aren’t doing now) that, if you did it on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life? Allocate time for it and spend less time on things that don’t help you accomplish your lifelong goals.

covey-matrix

Keep in mind that urgent is different from important. Focus on and prioritize things that are important. If you don’t schedule time for things that are important, they will not get done since urgent things will take priority.

Habit #4 – Think Win/Win

Win/win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.

Simply put, win/win is when both parties involved in an agreement or relationship are happy with what they signed up for. For any human interactions, think win/win. There will be situations where both parties can’t come to a win/win solution and if that’s the case, you are most likely better off to go for “no deal” rather than forcefully accepting a solution either side isn’t happy with. Even though going for win/lose, when you win and the other party loses, can benefit you in the short term, it can hurt you in the long run as you will have a hard time earning the trust of the other party when you don’t have their best interest at heart.

Emotional maturity is the ability to express one’s own feelings and convictions balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others.

To go for win/win, you not only have to be considerate but also courageous. If you’re not courageous, you won’t express and stand up for your own ideas and will often end up in a lose/win situation.

Habit #5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

The key to effective personal communication is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Everyone wants to be understood, however, not all of us take the time to understand others.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They are either speaking or preparing to speak.

Before making suggestions or providing solutions we often don’t take the time to understand the problem and all of the different perspectives. We don’t trust doctors who prescribe solutions without doing a detailed diagnosis so we shouldn’t take the same approach when we communicate with others to solve problems as well.

When you can present your own ideas clearly, specifically, visually, and most important, contextually – in the context of a deep understanding of other people’s paradigms and concerns – you significantly increase the credibility of your ideas.

Habit #6 – Synergize

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When cooperating with others, value your differences and build on each others’ strengths to compensate for each others’ weaknesses. Ideas that stem from different perspectives can often be leveraged and merged into a better solution.

Habit #7 – Sharpen the Saw

Sharpen the saw is preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.

I’m a firm believer that the best investment you can make is to invest in yourself. The knowledge you gain, the skills you learn, and the character you develop will always stay with you and benefit you.

When investing in yourself, remember to invest in all four dimensions of your nature – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional. The physical dimension involves caring effectively for your own physical body. This means eating healthy and exercising regularly so you will have the energy throughout the day to accomplish your daily goals. The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system. Establish your value system and reflect regularly upon it to see if you are abiding by it. The mental dimension involves education, reading, and writing. Allocate time for learning so your mind is constantly improving and gaining new knowledge. The social/emotional dimension is about communication with others. This is something that we constantly do all the time naturally. Throughout these communications, try to be a better listener, a more creative problem solver, and a better communicator.

Summary

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book I highly recommend to anyone. The concepts themselves are simple but it’s how Stephen Covey implements them that makes the book so insightful. I’ll personally try organizing on a weekly basis rather than on a daily basis as well as try to become a better listener. As always I’ll love to hear your feedback and happy new year to you all! I’ll reflect on my 2018 goals and share my goals for 2019 with you soon. 🙂

I’m currently reading The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.

What I Learned from Steve Ballmer’s Keynote on Leadership

A few weeks ago Index Exchange, where I’m working at as a solutions engineer, held an annual executive summit in Santa Monica. Steve Ballmer was the guest speaker invited who gave a keynote on the principles of leadership.

For those who don’t know, Steve Ballmer was the CEO of Microsoft from 2000 – 2014 and is the owner of the Los Angeles Clipper. As an NBA fan, I would love to get a chance to meet one of the most passionate NBA owners and learn from his experience. I didn’t get to attend but luckily for me, I was able to learn from the recordings and share my takeaways with you!

Ideas Matter

The worst leader of all is the charismatic leader who takes you in the wrong direction

The most important quality of a leader is having the right vision and ideas. What’s the proposition around which you are trying to lead people? Your team won’t buy in if they don’t believe in the direction you are leading them. There are many great ideas, but you need to choose the idea that your organization has the capability to execute on.

Get the Team Right

Talented people are talented people but they got to love where you want to go and collaborate in the right way

Start with ideas first. The team that you will want to put together will be dependent on your ideas. When picking the team, pick great people who believe in your vision and who can work well together.

Passion, Optimism, Persistence

Optimism is a force multiplier

If you don’t have passion, optimism, and persistence, then it’s hard to be in the game for the long term. In the road to accomplish great things, there will always be obstacles along the way. You will need passion to be focused on your goal, optimism to enjoy the journey, and persistence to get through the hard times.

Own the Results

The first step to owning the results is to know what the goal is. Measure your results against the goal. Understand how and why mistakes are made and learn how to prevent it from happening again. Start with yourself, but also hold your team accountable as well. Everyone makes mistakes but enforcing accountability is a must.

Magic of Time

Deciding timeframe for what success looks like and how long you give for ideas to develop is an important part of leadership
Everything has to be in a context of a timeframe that you think is relevant to what your team is working on.

Summary

This is one of the best keynotes I’ve watched. Steve Ballmer is an amazing speaker and all his points are concise and effective. He uses a story to demonstrate each of his key messages, which is something I’m learning to do more of. Unfortunately, the keynote recording is only shared internally, but this video I came across has very similar key messages. I’ll recommend it if you want to learn more about his leadership principles as well as how he communicates on stage.

I’ll love to hear what your thoughts are. 🙂