Today, creativity has become an essential component in every facet of work. All organizations expect their employees to employ creative and innovative means to solve tasks at hand, at the time ensuring productivity and profitability. 

Creativity, Inc. explores the journey of Ed Catmull, President and co-founder of Pixar, which was later acquired by Disney Animation Studios. He takes us through strategies that will help us understand how to maximize creative potential, achieve excellence in management while minimizing risk and achieving success and profits along the way. Below are my biggest 8 leadership lessons from the book:

Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.

1. Get Honest Feedback From Employees

Getting honest opinions and feedback from employees is essential to the successful functioning of any company. Feedbacks and opinions enable the management to understand the direction of the organization and the mood amongst employees. However, hierarchical structures in organizations cannot generate honest feedback from employees.

Companies need to create open systems of feedback between hierarchies where employees can provide their honest opinions without the fear of backlash. For example, in 2013, Pixar started ‘Notes Day’, which enabled employees to share opinions about the company openly. On Notes Day, Pixar shuts down all work for a day to have brainstorming sessions throughout the entire company.

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Open feedback systems are great, however, employees need to know that their valuable opinions and feedbacks are worked upon. Often, employees tend to either avoid giving feedback to leadership fearing that their opinions won’t be considered or will be treated with disdain. It is therefore essential that everyone takes ownership of their work. If people own their work, they will take pride in finding successful solutions for problems identified.

Ed, therefore, makes it a point to meet his team members individually to understand the problems they face and makes them comfortable to share opinions with him.

2. Embrace The Fear Of The Unfamiliar And Failure

Some amount of risk-taking is necessary for any job. However, the fear of failure and mistakes makes people risk-averse, and they become reluctant to change or try something new. This fear eventually makes people proceed with caution while making decisions about the future and make them opt for the safer route. This holds true for every stage of life, whether it is for a student learning something new, or for an employee in an organization.

The fear of uncertainty and inflexibility often makes employees and in turn, the organization lose out on unexpected opportunities. During the Pixar and Disney Animation Studios merger, Ed Catmull turned down a carefully conceived two-year plan for the future drafted by the HR of Disney. He knew planning future goals in a structured manner would limit the creative possibilities and opportunities could come their way. He decided to embrace uncertainty instead of structure and went with the Pixar culture – which embraced the unfamiliar and failure.

3. Leaders Should Watch Out For Confirmation Bias

It is a proven fact that we, as humans fall prey to confirmation bias. Confirmation bias refers to the behavior we display where we tend to prefer our own views and information that confirms our opinions. This makes us blind to any other alternatives, even if they are better or even at times, the correct decisions to make.

Managers often tend to fall prey to confirmation bias over certain decisions, simply because of the hierarchy. Managers and leaders in an organization should be wary of confirmation bias and be open to listening to opinions and ideas from others as well.

The norm at Pixar was for the animators to work parallel to the production processes. However, this system of working was time and resource-consuming, resulting in many edits. 

The leaders at Pixar implemented an idea given by an employee that the management move animation work to after the production was completed. It proved to be a success and helped in saving the company time, effort, and thus money by reducing the hours per person put in for the job.

When looking to hire people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.

4. Go The Extra Mile

Employees need the drive to go the extra mile to ensure consistent top-notch performance. This drive is often seen amongst employees who have an ambitious goal set that they want to achieve. This goal needs to be a goal that drives them to perform collectively.

Moreover, when employees see that their passion for the goal is an important part of the entire process, the drive will push them to work harder and pursue success with fervor.

During the production of Toy Story, some of the staff considered production managers a hindrance to their work. However, despite knowing that the rest of the team has this viewpoint, the production managers were able to ignore the co-workers and pursue their jobs with passion because they knew that their efforts were essential for a successful end result.

5. Hire The Right Team

No matter how great an idea the company has, it can only be successful if the company has the right people working on the idea. Moreover, even the best talent in the pool will be of no use if they cannot work well with each other.  

Any organization, to be successful needs to place more importance on hiring a team of people that are able to work harmoniously with each other.  It is seen that teams with people from diverse backgrounds tend to be more successful.

The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.

6. Trust People To Do What They Are Hired For

No one likes a helicopter manager. In fact, studies have proven that managers who tend to micromanage their teams end up killing creativity as well as the morale of the team.

Pixar has an interesting team called the ‘Braintrust’. It is a team that comprises of Pixar’s film production experts, who review the production process of all films. Nevertheless, it is the decision of the director of the movie to take their advice or not.

Managers should, to an extent allow employees to have the freedom to make necessary decisions. Managers also need to be able to trust their employees to act responsibly with the freedom given to them. The worst thing a manager can do after hiring someone is to tell them how to do their job. If you have hired correctly, leave your people alone and trust them to do their job. They will often end up surprising you with their performance.

Ed Catmull follows a rule to hire only those people he thinks are talented enough. While conventionally, managers and leaders would be insecure to hire their own competition, he finds that it produces the best teams by constantly pushing the bar.

7. Get Back Up Quickly After A Fall

Mistakes are part of life and failures are important learning opportunities. It is therefore essential that organizations have recovery techniques in place to be able to bounce back soon. 

Pixar has iterative processes in place that help them accept mistakes and weed them out after each iteration. Moreover, since mistakes are the responsibility of the entire team rather than just one individual, the entire team takes time to analyze and explore their mistakes early on to avoid serious expenses in correcting them at the later stage.

Further, if there is fear in an organization, there is a reason for it—our job is (a) to find what’s causing it, (b) to understand it, and (c) to try to root it out.

8. Create An Culture Of Creativity

Leaders should help to create an environment that boosts creativity and fosters it. Things like incorporating creativity designs in the architecture and interiors of the workplace, giving each employee the freedom to creatively express themselves, and add personal touches to their desks are some ways leaders can create a culture of creativity

Another way to foster creativity in the organization is to incorporate flexibility. Rigid routines lead to boredom and hence inhibit creativity. Organizations should give employees more freedom and flexibility in working in their own styles and pace.

Ed’s Wisdom

Creativity should be at the roots of an organization. Additionally, it should be part of the value system that the organization follows. Archaic strategies and systems of working should be discarded to invite new creative ways of working. Organizations can include more flexibility by ensuring their people function well as a team, by building trust with employees, giving them the freedom to express, and weaving a creative environment and atmosphere into the very fabric of the organization.