Right now I am reading one of the most amazing business books I have ever read and it isn’t even a book about business. The book is called “Creativity, Inc. - Overcoming The Unforeseen Forces That Stand In The Way Of True Inspiration” by Ed Catmull.
Ed Catmull is the President and Co-Founder (along with Steve Jobs) of Pixar and also President of Disney Animation Studios. He led the teams that produced and directed all 3 Toy Story movies, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Up and more.
It sounds like it might be more like a self-help book. But it’s a business book through and through. It is a book about how to lead through inspiration. How to manage with candor. How to win through creativity. And how to empower teams with trust.
I am a long time believer in the power of candor. I have always thought that if life is too short, then our business lives (our careers) are even shorter.
And while you never want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or make yourself look stupid, you should always be as candid as possible and share an opinion that might help someone or your business, to move forward.
I find candid people refreshing and have always been attracted to the trait in business leaders. It takes courage. It makes you vulnerable. But I believe the impact can be profound. Especially when candor and trust are evident in the dynamics of a team.
Build a “Brain Trust”
What is a brain trust? It is a team of passionate, focused and driven people in your organization who come together to help solve a problem.
What does the brain trust do? They challenge the owner of the problem, whether it’s company strategy, product decisions, a new marketing campaign.
How does the brain trust work? According to Catmull, the key ingredient to the power of the brain trust is complete candor.
The team is invited to share their opinions with pure honesty. Catmull says that one of the tricks is to make sure “it never gets personal.” As long as the whole brain trust is aligned on moving the company forward.
Another important element to the success of a brain trust that Catmull describes is authority. “The brain trust should have no authority.” They are only advising the owner of the problem. This helps avoid defensiveness that comes naturally when someone feels they could be undermined by their peers.
Focus on Team Dynamics To Create A Culture Of Ideas
Catmull talks about working hard on the dynamics of your management team structure. “there are good reasons why people hold back and don’t say what they think.”
He advises leaders to focus on the structure of the team and the environment to make sure that ideas can flow easily from anywhere inside your organization. “As a manager, you want to focus on the dynamics of your team, not the ideas they are producing,” Catmull says.
You are Wrong More Than You Think
Catmull believes that the 80/20 rule is wrong. He believes it makes you think you are right more often than you are. And this is a delusion.
He said it’s important to realize that you are wrong more often than you think. Leaders need to open up to this realization and allow other people’s ideas and creative processes to inform your decisions. Getting and taking advice is tough. It requires you to admit that you might now know everything.
This also sets up the right conditions for creativity, the free flow of new ideas, empowered teams and individuals. It erodes the classic power dynamics of personal politics so pervasive inside businesses.
And it allows teams to begin to figure out how to trust each other. According to Catmull, candor and trust are the most important dynamics of effective teams.
Let Your Ideas Suck
Pixar created record-breaking blockbuster animation films, one after the other, for many years. And yet, Ed argues that the process wasn’t easy. “All that anyone sees is the final product and there’s almost a romantic illusion about how you got there. When we first put up something–these stories suck.”
By accepting that your first round of ideas are probably wrong, opening to the advice of others, and creating a candid operating environment based on trust, Pixar was able to produce all these amazing successes.
So he advises us to allow our first ideas to suck. Iterate and pivot. And then open up to the creative ideas of others.
Are you building a culture of candor and trust?
I was really inspired by these ideas. With four kids and both mine and my wife’s career and travel to manage, I don’t get to read too many books. But this one is proving to be well worth the time.
But now tell me what you think?