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.

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.

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:

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 “

Richard Feynman On The Folly Of Crafting Precise Definitions

I’ve often struggled with the notion of definitions when working in organizations. On the one hand, too many of us hide our ignorance and uncertainty behind a wall of jargon and terminology. Terms fall in and out of favor and their relationship to the underlying real world is often less important than their value from a marketing perspective.

On the other hand, new terms and language can help us point to and see new ideas and new opportunities for action. Here’s a recent post from Bob Sutton that sheds light on these challenges and is worth thinking about.

One of my best friends in graduate school was a former physics major named Larry Ford. When behavioral scientists started pushing for precise definitions of concepts like effectiveness and leadership, he would sometimes confuse them (even though Larry is a very precise thinker) by arguing “there is a negative relationship between precision and accuracy.” I just ran into a quote from the amazing Nobel winner Richard Feynman that makes a similar point in a lovely way:

We can’t define anything precisely. If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers one saying to the other: “you don’t know what you are talking about!”. The second one says: “what do you mean by talking? What do you mean by you? What do you mean by know?

Feynman’s quote reminded me of the opening pages of the 1958 classic “Organizations” by James March (quite possibly the most prestigious living organizational theorist, and certainly, one of the most charming academics on the planet) and Herbert Simon (another Nobel winner). They open the book with a great quote that sometimes drives doctoral students and other scholars just crazy. They kick-off by saying:

“This is a book about a theory of formal organizations. It is easier, and probably more useful, to give examples of formal organizations than to define them.”

After listing a bunch of examples of organizations including the Red Cross and New York State Highway Department, they note in words that would have pleased Feynman:

“But for the present purposes we need not trouble ourselves with the precise boundaries to be drawn around an organization or the exact distinction between an “organization” and a “non-organization.” We are dealing with empirical phenomena, and the world has an uncomfortable way of not permitting itself to be fitted into clean classifications.”

I must report, however, that for the second edition of the book, published over 20 years later, the authors elected to insert a short definition in the introduction:

“Organizations are systems of coordinated action among individuals and groups whose preferences, information, interests, or knowledge differ.”

When I read this, I find myself doing what Feynman complained about. I think of things they left out: What about norms? What about emotions? I think of situations where it might not apply: Doesn’t a business owned and operated by one person count as an organization? I think of the possible overemphasis on differences: What about all the times and ways that people and groups in organizations have similar preferences, information, interests, and knowledge? Isn’t that part of what an organization is as well? I could go on and on.

I actually think it is a pretty good definition, but my bias is still that I like original approach, as they did such a nice job of arguing, essentially, that if they tried to get more precise, they would sacrifice accuracy. Nonetheless, I confess that I still love trying to define things and believe that trying to do so can help clarifying your thinking. You could argue that while the outcome, in the end, will always be flawed and imprecise, the process is usually helpful and there are many times when it is useful pretend that you have a precise and accurate definition even if you don’t (such as when you are developing metrics). “

Richard Feynman On The Folly Of Crafting Precise Definitions – Bob Sutton:

Euan Semple on nurturing a knowledge ecology

This gem from Euan Semple made the rounds earlier this summer. I was too busy then to do more than note it.

Ten ways to create a knowledge ecology

TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2011 AT 7:08AM

A tweet yesterday prompted me to remember sage advice from Dave Snowden which I took to heart in my work with social tools at the BBC. “You can’t manage knowledge but you can create a knowledge ecology”. I thought it might be useful to others to list the ten most important things I learned about doing this.

1, Have a variety of tools rather than a single system. Not everyone sees the world the same way or has the same needs so mixing up different tools with different strengths allows people to find one that works for them. Avoid single platforms like the plague.

2. Don’t have a clear idea where you are headed. The more fixed you are in your aspirations for your ecology the less likely you are to achieve them. Be prepared to go where people’s use of the tools takes you and enjoy the ride.

3. Follow the energy. Watch where the energy in the system is and try to copy the factors that generated it. Get others interested in why energy emerges and they will want some of it themselves.

4. Be strategically tactical. You can have an overall strategy of behaving in certain ways depending on how your ecology develops. It is possible to sell this as a strategy to those who need strategies.

5. Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground. Keep doing things, keep talking about what you are doing and why, and have a rough idea of where the high ground is.

6. Build networks of people who care. Don’t try to manage your ecology by committee but cultivate communication and trust between those who care that it works and have the commitment to do something about it – whoever they are and whatever their role.

7. Be obsessively interested. Notice everything that happens and consider why. Tell great stories about what you are observing.

8. Use the tools to manage the tools. Blog about what is going on with your corporate blogging, ask questions in your forum about security, tweet when something is changing in your ecology and ask people why it is interesting.

9. Laugh when things go wrong. If you are pushing limits and exploring new territory things will occasionally blow up in your face. Having a sense of humour and enjoyment of the absurd will help you stay sane.

10. Unleash Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.

(– The Obvious? – Ten ways to create a knowledge ecology)

The paradox of organic approaches to change is that while they appear to be simple and mundane, they also appear to be the only thing that works with any regularity in complex situations. For all the rhetoric of bold plans and audacious goals, the reality is that most change occurs inch-by-inch.

Testing BlogPress

I’ve recently gotten an iPad, which I’m still adjusting to and folding into my toolkit. We’re about to head of to visit family and my goal is to bring only the iPad. One requirement of course is to be able to post here.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad