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Book Review – Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

CreativityIncCover

 

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace,
Random House, New York, 2014

 

This is an excellent case study of creativity and collaboration at scale. Ed Catmull was one of the co-founders of Pixar. With co-author/collaborator Amy Wallace, Catmull reflects on the lessons he and his colleagues have learned over nearly three decades of superior creative work. 

There’s a management summary of key lessons at the end of the book. For example, here’s Catmull on errors: 

Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.

Pithy, but you’ll do yourself a disservice if you skip ahead to the conclusion. The value here is in the details and the unfolding stories of challenges met and mistakes made. 

I’ve been a fan of the movies forever and I’ve always been intrigued by the complexity hinted at in the credits. It’s easy to be dazzled by the egos of movie stars and auteur directors. The real work of any movie is hideously complex and interdependent. With the likes of Toy Story or The Incredibles, you must integrate art, science, technology, and business in a dynamic balancing act that spans months and years. This is organizational and management challenge in the extreme. 

Catmull is a computer scientist by training who grew into an executive role in a business that makes money by creating art collaboratively. The lessons here are applicable in any organizational context. They are all the more important because the organizational and economic world is moving along paths that Pixar has already travelled. Catmull’s observations and lessons learned are a report from the future. 

Organizations are backward focused. Accounting systems, standard operating procedures, human resource policies all look backwards. That can be appropriate in a slowly evolving world, but that is not the world we live in. That we live in a time of rapid change may be a cliche, but that does not make it less true. Catmull offers timely advice for this new world:

Whether it’s the kernel of a movie idea or a fledgling internship program, the new needs protection. Business-as-usual does not. Managers do not need to work hard to protect established ideas or ways of doing business. The system is tilted to favor the incumbent. The challenger needs support to find its footing. And protection of the new—of the future, not the past—must be a conscious effort.

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Learning to see systems – wolves and rivers

Systems in the real world are messy and complex. There’s a reason that Aldo Leopold was so cautious about interventions:

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” ― Aldo Leopold, Round River: From the Journals of Aldo Leopold

Feedback loops and interactions can be subtle and hard to see. This short video is a nice example of that complexity presented in an accessible and understandable way. It’s been making the rounds in various social media settings. I wanted to post it here so that I can find it and share it more easily.

This video was developed from materials in a TED talk by biologist George Monbiot:

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Interested in being part of a unique problem solving team?

For the past several years we’ve been working to create the world’s largest high-performance team for problem-solving. This two-minute video captures the essence of what we are trying to accomplish:

We’ve been actively recruiting for the next stage in our development, which will be a beta test that will run over the next six months. We expect the time commitment for this phase will be 2-3 hours per week. If you think this is something you’d be interested in, drop us a line at ten.sdnimcnull@ofni and we’ll be in touch.

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How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists « Violent metaphors

I only wish I had been this organized and diligent when I was doing the research for my dissertation. Or that I had had this kind of excellent advice available when I did. 

How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists « Violent metaphors: “What constitutes enough proof? Obviously everyone has a different answer to that question. But to form a truly educated opinion on a scientific subject, you need to become familiar with current research in that field.  And to do that, you have to read the ‘primary research literature’ (often just called ‘the literature’). You might have tried to read scientific papers before and been frustrated by the dense, stilted writing and the unfamiliar jargon. I remember feeling this way!  Reading and understanding research papers is a skill which every single doctor and scientist has had to learn during graduate school.  You can learn it too, but like any skill it takes patience and practice.

I want to help people become more scientifically literate, so I wrote this guide for how a layperson can approach reading and understanding a scientific research paper. It’s appropriate for someone who has no background whatsoever in science or medicine, and based on the assumption that he or she is doing this for the purpose of getting a basic understanding of a paper and deciding whether or not it’s a reputable study.”

While excellent advice in its own right, this blog post is also a reminder that knowledge work requires some pretty sophisticated skills and those skills require practice to develop and maintain.

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Never let “being realistic” get in the way of real problem solving

The good folks at xkcd always have something useful to say. Too many problem solving efforts are sabotaged when someone decides to redirect the conversation towards “being realistic.” 

Realistic Criteria

xkcd: Realistic Criteria

I’m planning on posting this little gem somewhere close by to remind me to view these requests more skeptically. 

When is a request to “be realistic” an honest effort to advance a problem solving effort and when is it a covert effort to derail or delay?

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Twelve years at McGee’s Musings

Still here. Not so many posts here over the past twelve months.

Working on making that change.

When I started this, blogs were pretty much the only way to share your thinking. A lot more choices today, although of late the emphasis seems to have shifted more toward ‘sharing’ than ‘thinking’. Both make the world a better place; striking the balance isn’t magically easy. 

Two efforts have cut into my capacity to share here. Each is moving into a phase where the balance is shifting to a more even split between thinking and sharing. Each will generate footprints here.

The first was finishing and publishing Think Inside the Box: Discover the Exceptional Business Inside Your Organization (WCG Press, 2013). This was a joint effort with my friend Tim Nelson.

My favorite (i.e. most ego gratifying) bit of feedback so far came from Richard Koch, author of The 80/20 Principle, in a review in the Huffington Post. Here’s what Koch had to say about the book:

I’m really excited! I’ve just stumbled across the best new technique for boosting the performance of any business. And guess what — the method is brilliantly retro. But even trend-setters and worshippers of the new new thing can’t afford to ignore the technique. Quite simply, it’s the best strategic display since the BCG Growth Share Matrix.

Richard Koch, Author of The 80/20 Principle:
review in the Huffington Post  - 08/05/2013

You can learn more about the book and the work behind it at Insidethe8020box.com.

The second effort has been work on developing a business/service concept called Collaborating Minds. It’s an effort to create a hybrid between what we know about large technology-augmented groups and high-performance teams. 

So, stay tuned. 

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Wise advice—hard practice. Do the work—share it.

I discovered this in the usual way—by ignoring the advice and following a trail of breadcrumbs that started on Facebook. I’ve paired this talk by Neil Gaiman with a related one by Ira Glass below. I wanted to have both of them ready to hand when I needed some encouragement and a kick in the ass.

Gaiman’s closing advice: ‘Be wise, because the world needs more wisdom. And if you cannot be wise pretend to be someone who is wise — and then just behave like they would.’”

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

 

(Via Neil Gaiman Says It Better (Video) | On Being.)

Here is Ira Glass with a similar set of observations and advice:

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Poking effectively on complex systems

Here is a brief clip from an interview Steve Jobs did in 1995 while he was at Next. It neatly captures an important attitude about dealing with complex systems:

Whenever you poke at a system, the system pokes back. If you grew up with siblings, you learned this at a visceral level. 

Too many of us take a limited lesson from those experiences; we come to believe that we are powerless in the face of a larger, more powerful system (or sibling). The better lesson, which Jobs embodied in his life, is to seek places and directions to poke where your impact can be amplified.

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Eleven Years and Counting at McGee’s Musings

Yesterday marked the eleventh anniversary of the first blog post on McGee’s Musings in 2001.

In two weeks, we’ll practice the American version of democracy, choose a President, revolution will not occur regardless of who wins and, despite the rhetoric, life will go on. We (the U.S. and the rest of the planet) will still face a variety of wicked problems. 

Getting smarter about how we work as individuals, teams, crowds, competitors and the like remains a priority. My efforts in that regard haven’t yet worked their way to visibility here, but they will. Being part of the conversation is important. Listening is half of the process (maybe more). 

As always, my thanks to all of those who’ve been part of the interesting conversations that have taken place over the past year. 

KM Chicago: Collaborating Minds: Solving Tough Problems with a Unique Team

David and I will be talking about the work we’ve been doing on collaboration at next week’s KM Chicago meeting. We’re looking to have a highly interactive session. 

KM Chicago: Collaborating Minds: Solving Tough Problems with a Unique Team: ” Thursday, August 30, 2012 Collaborating Minds: Solving Tough Problems with a Unique Team At 5:30 on Tuesday, September 11th, join Jim McGee and David Friedman at KM Chicago’s monthly meeting to hear a progress report on ‘Collaborating Minds’, their unique problem-solving venture. This meeting will be especially productive in person, but participation online is also available. See details on the right.   As Jim points out, we continue to make progress in developing tools to support the efforts of teams to conduct complex knowledge work. At the same time, we are deepening our understanding of what differentiates highly effective teams from average teams. But these two streams of progress rarely intersect.   Collaborating Minds is the business concept that Jim and Dave have developed that functions at that intersection of complex knowledge work and highly effective teams.    Collaborating Minds tries to answer three related questions:

1. Given what we know about high-performance teams and current social technologies, can we create a virtual high-performance team with several hundred members?

2. If such a team existed, what kinds of problems could it solve that are currently unsolved?

3. Is there an acceptable business model to sustain that team over time?

On September 11th Jim and David will tell us what they’ve learned to date and will lead participants in a design collaboration that will help shape Collaborating Minds’ next stage of development.

Headshot DavidFriedmanDavid Friedman is passionate about problem-solving and about relationship building as fundamental human activities. That’s why he’s developing Collaborating Minds. He wants people to be much more productive and enjoy themselves much more too. He writes about collaboration at Positive Structures.  David was a partner at McKinsey & Company (a global consulting firm) and through his firm Bridgewell Partners has advised professionals on growing their practices through systematic relationship building. You can contact David here.  

 

 

McGeeJimHeadshot 20120807Jim McGee is an expert in knowledge management and knowledge use. He also knows a lot about technology, and about where technology and knowledge work intersect (or should). That’s why he’s a founder of Collaborating Minds. He’s been writing about these topics since 2001 at McGee’s Musings. Jim was a founder of Diamond Technology Partners (a technology and management consulting firm) and has been, among other roles, a faculty member at the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. You can contact Jim here. Posted by KMChicago at 5:15 PM “