Monday, December 15, 2008

A Creative Environment: Seven steps to getting it right

Ed Catmull is the president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios. He is a graduate

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of the University of Utah with BS degrees in computer science and physics and a Ph.D. in computer science. He was also a co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios.

Ed was the guest lecturer for the Organick Lecture Series at the University of Utah on December 8, 2008. His lecture was on what he has learned about the creative process as it relates to creating animated movies and shorts, and risk.

The following points from his lecture stood out to me as essential to any creative process. It’s interesting that, with the exception of the first point, they all center on dealing with people.

1. In a creative environment nothing stays the same; there is no safe place. Our measure is taken by how we respond to things when they go wrong.
2. Gather people around you that can do things you cannot do. Don’t be intimidated by people that are better than you are at what they do. Let people work and solve the problems that arise. Trust people; they will make mistakes, but the mistakes can be fixed. Mistakes are part of the creative process. Trust takes time; putting together a group of talented people is not the same as having a group that can work together, be honest about the work with each other, and become cohesive.
3. Ideas are very complex. It may start with a high concept, but eventually there are thousands of decisions that must be made and things that must be done, and most of what is generated won’t get used.
4. As a creative brain trust you must be self-aware and be able to self-assess. Every contributor’s work must be in the open and subject to review by the group at all times. You learn with each other.
5. Talent isn’t fair. You must employ the talent that you have.
6. Push responsibility out to the lowest level possible. Let people work through the difficulties.
7. Make other people look good.

Like so many things in life there is no single way to be creative and what works changes over time. No matter how things change these steps help refine the process. As Ed Catmull pointed out: Our measure is taken by how we respond to things when they go wrong.

Review in Deseret News

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