Collective Creativity (using Pixar and Disney as an example)


Some people believe that good ideas are rarer and more valuable than people. However, this is

"...a misguided view of creativity that exaggerates the importance of the initial idea in developing an original product. And it reflects a profound misunderstanding of how to manage the large risks inherent in producing breakthroughs..."

Ed Catmull, 2008

Creativity needs to be present at every level of the organisation.

Creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many inherently unforeseeable problems. The challenge is to foster collective creativity.

Parts of collective creativity (11 parts)

i) place the creative authority for product development firmly in the hands of project leaders, ie keep the corporate executives out

ii) build a culture with processes that encourages people to share their work in progress and collaborate, ie to bring out the best in everyone

iii) disband the natural barriers that divide disciplines, like solos

iv) be willing to hire people who are smarter than you

v) need to be continually challenging assumptions and searching for flaws that can destroy its culture

vi) have a peer-based, creative brain trust who act like executive coaches, ie only have the power of giving feedback and advice, not decision making

vii) set people up for success by giving them all the information they need to know to do the job right, without telling them how to do it, ie encourage ownership

viii) appreciate contributions regardless of where or from whom they originate, ie it must be safe for everyone to offer ideas

ix) regularly review progress, like post-mortems, in a non-threatening environment with the maximum number of stakeholders able to make comments, ie need fresh eyes to look at challenges

x) offices are designed to maximise inadvertent encounters rather than functional purpose

xi) need to continually challenge the status quo, ie systematically fighting complacency and handling the blinding mindset of success,

More on collective creativity

You need more than clear values, constant communications, routine post-mortems, and regular injections of outsiders who will challenge the status quo; you also need strong leadership.

Management's job is not to prevent risk but to build the capacity to recover as failures occur, and encourage an environment where it is safe to tell the truth.

As most managers have a natural tendency to avoid or minimise risk, this means there prevails a preference to choose successes rather than create something new and different. In the movie industry this explains why a lot of films are very similar.

If you want to be original,  you have to accept uncertainty, despite being uncomfortable with it. At the same time, you need to ensure that the organisation has the capability to recover when it takes the risks and fails. The key to being able to recover is employing talented people. This means getting talented people working together so that the whole is greater than the accumulation of the parts. This takes trust and respect which can only be earned over time (see virtuoso teams elsewhere in this knowledge base). If you get it right, you create

"...vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people..."

Ed Catmull, 2008


"...if you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up: if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they will either fix or throw it away and come up with something that works..."

Ed Catmull, 2008

Usually a creative vision comes from a couple of individuals, and not from either corporate executives or the development department. Thus

"...Get great creative people, you bet big on them, you give them enormous leeway in support, and you provide them with an environment in which they can get honest feedback from everyone..."

Ed Catmull, 2008


Bringing in outsiders, ie people with fresh perspectives can cause 2 problems:

i) 'not invented here' syndrome (as staff prefer their own ideas to an outsider's, they may reject these new ideas)

ii) 'the awe of the institution' syndrome (most obvious in young new staff coming to work for a successful organisation. As the organisation is regarded as successful, new staff need to have the confidence to speak out and to challenge the status quo and not be over-awed)


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