Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Pixar

creativity animated

creativity animated

My father is my personal Pinterest of old fashioned newsprint and glossy pages. He’s always finding the best tidbits of life wisdom, geeky news, educational insights and a plethora of other blips to keep me reading in those moments I catch between work, caring for my little princess and the business of doing life. Sometimes he strikes gold and I find a piece of writing so inspiring it stays tucked beside my bed or in my pile o’ stuff (okay I really have lots of those, but the one for bits of reading I want to save), like the one I found today: “Creativity Inc.,”a feature in Fast Company about Pixar’s behind the scenes leader Ed Catmull and his business philosophy.

Pixar is an inspirational organization. When the movie industry became a proud peddler of mediocre, if not appalling scripts, along came this humble animation company that reinvented the precedent for storytelling on the big screen. One example: the first 39 dialog-free minutes of Wall-E tell more story and give deeper character development than the entire franchise of Transformers. Still not convinced? Toy Story 3 grossed $1.06 billion. Adults cried. I saw it three times in theaters.

The article reminded me that Pixar originated as a part of the Lucasfilm animation department, so it’s no surprise that groundbreaking is in their nature. What I didn’t know was that Pixar counts failure as a part of their creative process and relies on a system that embraces candid reworking of an idea until it’s as right as it can be. They don’t tie anyone to a project unless they were a part of its inception and they don’t let one person’s creative process overwhelm the entire venture. What a concept.

If I remembered this when I get single-minded in my pursuit of a writing career, my forest-for-the-trees storytelling would be strengthened. “You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when challenged,” Catmull says.

If we applied this to education, the pundits demanding higher-level thinking would be sated. “There is this notion that fewer screw-ups is always better, so the tendency is to say that zero is the optimal number of defects. But in most industries, that is completely false. The notion of zero errors in our industry is completely false. Zero errors in educating a child is not meaningful,” Catmull tells in his interview.

If more companies allowed failure and think-tank sessions, perhaps the human capital would be worth more dollars in the long-run instead of tight-fisted budgets that eke out a profit. Imagine if creativity ruled more of the adult world. I love the way Pixar embraces creativity –with unique passion. They succeeded at being creatively different to the point where the Disney giant stooped to beg their forgiveness when they realized that animation without story doesn’t work (Walt would surely have shouted that from the rooftops). But story doesn’t come from a machine or some perpetually rehashed franchise, it comes from people; and good stories come from people who are given the freedom to think and rethink.

I believe creativity is innate in everybody. Somewhere along the way we form inhibitions that wall in or choke our creative processes. Sometimes this comes from management, sometimes it comes from ourselves. In either case, creativity is too often stifled before it can bloom and so the same old, comfortable routine becomes the norm.

Ultimately, those who long to be creative will. However, this is a monumental task. Life gets in the way. It’s easier to sit on the couch and suck in entertainment than to sit at a computer and tell stories through the keys. Adults have too much to worry about right? Clean the house or write a blog? I get to feeling like I’ve let my adult-self down if two hours have passed and I’ve done nothing but rewrite a few paragraphs or look up craft ideas online. “We can’t spend time doodling about projects,” our programmed conscious tells us. Strangely enough, Pixar’s next movie addresses just that-the inevitability of growing up but still retaining a child-like spark in our minds. Inside Out tells the story of Riley’s emotions and how they help her cope with a move to San Francisco from their position at “headquarters.” Ticket fees are a small price to pay for inspiration.