by Ian Doescher
I recently read Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. I’d heard of it before from a few different people, but a client mentioned it a few weeks ago because, he said, it sounded like our culture here at Pivot. Suddenly, the book moved to the top of my reading pile!
Creativity, Inc. was written by Ed Catmull, who runs Pixar. It describes not only how Pixar came to be, but also their corporate culture. Most interesting to me was Catmull’s description of Pixar’s Brain Trust: a group of people who sit around and review their stories (before and during production) and refine the stories. At Pixar, they believe the story is everything, and Catmull says that key to making their stories so great is having a group that is willing to be completely open and honest with each other — and know that no one is being personally attacked — as they discuss a particular story.
The word Catmull uses over and over, to describe what they aim for, is “candor.” They try to create an atmosphere of candor, talking to each other candidly — honestly, openly, constructively — about the project so they can make it better.
As I read the book, I realized that Pivot’s creative team aims for candor in our meetings, but we don’t always describe it that way. The common wisdom in most brainstorming meetings is the saying “there are no bad ideas,” which means people should feel absolutely free to express *any* idea they come up with, no matter how crazy it might sound (because sometimes those are or lead to the best ideas). At Pivot, we sometimes tell clients that we reject the notion that there are no bad ideas. There *are* bad ideas, we say, otherwise you would just pick the first idea you come up with and run with it. What we mean by this is we’ve all seen brainstorming meetings run off in a direction that the client will never choose or that simply just isn’t very good marketing. By acknowledging that there are bad ideas, we’re saying that we need to direct the brainstorming as it happens and be open and honest with each other — even while still feeling free to express whatever idea comes to mind.
In saying this, though, we’re defining the problem negatively instead of positively. What Creativity, Inc. taught me, more than anything (and there are many other cool things I could say about the book and about Pixar’s culture), is that a better way to talk about a good approach to brainstorming is to talk about candor. Pivot strives for candor in coming up with ideas for campaigns. Yes, we want everyone in the room to feel free to express even the craziest ideas, and we approach all ideas with candor: with honesty and forthrightness, and the shared recognition that no one is being attacked, we are just, together, trying to come up with the best possible product, whether that product is a campaign idea or a new company name or a plot for a video or whatever.
Love live candor!