Welcome to my last blog post on Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace’s “Creativity, Inc.” Last week we examined how embracing failure can produce better results and gain employees’ trust, which makes them more likely to conquer their fear of other things, such as rejection.
Once those two feats are accomplished, great things can happen. Catmull’s company, Pixar Animation, is proof of that, as its films have captured the heart — and money — of viewers of all ages.
But once something new is created despite fear and failure, what happens?
Protecting the new should be a priority for managers leading teams that thrive and profit from their creativity.
“Our job as managers in creative environments is to protect new ideas from those who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not-so-greatness,” Catmull wrote.
It seems pretty fundamental: if your people are making new stuff, it’s your responsibility to back it as much as possible, no matter how many times failure crops up during production.
Protecting the new isn’t enough, however. Like a bird watching its baby fly out of the nest — or, like in “The Incredibles,” a superhero mom letting her kids try out their own powers — there has to be balance between how much managers stand by innovation and how much they push it to continue improving upon itself.
In 1998, Catmull wanted Pixar to start an internship program, but production managers were reluctant because of the time and money it would cost. “Their reaction was a form of protection, I suppose, motivated by a desire to protect the film and to aim every dollar at making it a success,” Catmull wrote. But not bringing in interns meant not bringing in fresh energy and potential talent, something that wasn’t benefiting the company as a whole even though it was making it easier to allot funds for individual projects.
Catmull went ahead with the plan but made the program a corporate expense rather than something that had to be added to a film’s budget. After a few years, the production managers recognized the benefit of having interns on the crew and were willing to add it to their budgets, taking it off of Catmull’s list of responsibilities, and since then the program expanded to have 100 interns last year. It needed protection to put down its roots, then engagement to grow.
Perhaps Pixar’s 2007 film, “Ratatouille,” explained it best when notorious food critic Anton Ego said: “There are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”
Being a friend to the new doesn’t mean simply standing up for it against criticism or marginalization. It also means being willing to support it in its growth.
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