I have recently picked up the habit of listening to audio books while I do some of my normal tasks in the kitchen.  I found Ed Catmull’s book, Creativity, Inc while I was searching through a list of best-sellers.  Buzz Lightyear is on the cover, and since I have been a fan of Pixar and their films, I decided to give it a shot.

I am so glad I did.  Although I liked the Pixar movies, and was impressed by the dedication the company has made to quality animation coupled with great stories, other than knowing that at one time Steve Jobs was heavily involved in the company (after being forced out of Apple), I could not have named any other leaders.

So, the name Ed Catmull meant nothing to me.  Then.  Now he is one of my leadership heroes.

I wish the book had been available 15 years ago.  Full of examples and stories as well as practical lessons on leadership, this book should really be on the shelf of every leader of every company, but should be especially read by those who are trying to lead an organization with a creative culture.

One of the lessons from his book that will stick with me is the illustration of situations or problems in a work environment being like a giant oak tree.  When we recognize the problem for what it is, and go in to address the problem, we often chop down the oak, and walk away thinking that the problem has been addressed.  What we do not realize is that the oak we chopped down also left acorns and saplings all around it, that have also grown during the life of the oak.  Thinking that we can address one problem without also having a willingness to deal with the repurcussions of that problem, and commit ourselves to consistently dealing with the sprouting acorns and saplings that exist as a result of that problem, is short-sighted.

Such leadership lessons are almost always coupled with a story from the history of Pixar, explainging how that lesson was learned and lived out in the life of Pixar.  This is so valuable, because it shows that the lessons are not just pithy managment maxims, thrown out for the sake of making a book sound good to managers and leaders.

As I read the book I found myself vascillating between two emotions.  First of all, I was really excited about how I could begin to change my own leadership mindset and practices in my current projects.  Secondly, I found myself mourning what we could have been, had I had this book at the beginning of other leadership functions I have been involved in.

Some major themes of the book include the importance of great teams (Catmull writes, “Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.”)  The importance of leaders uncovering the unseen and understanding its nature.  The importance of the manager in creating a culture where it is safe for people to fail (Caskull –  “It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.”)  The value of having a communication structure that allows everyone to communicate with everyone else.

This book moved to the top of my recommend to others list.  In fact, I am going to buy a Kindle copy myself, so I can re-read it slowly and mark key sections.

In the interest of full-disclosure, if you do choose to buy the book and do so by clicking on the link to the right, we will get 4% of the sales.  (You know, so at the same time add a new washing machine or computer to the order!)