Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull
here if you want to buy the book yourself
One-line review: If you want a feel good story about the hard-worked success story behind the most influential animation studio in the world (hint: it's not Disney) that reads like a conversation, I'd highly recommend. 7.5/10
I finished this marvel of a biography (I'm treating this as a biography of both Ed and Pixar in this case) thanks to a friend who works in the cross section of creativity and tech as an UIUX designer. As a creative myself (since anyone who posts on instagram is now considered one) and someone trying to rip off the banking mantle and attempting to put on a tech suit, it has been awhile since I was this excited to read a book. Note that since my obsession with Junie B. Jones in elementary school, I haven't been much of an avid reader.
As much as I want this to be a boring book review focused on Ed Catmull's development of the greatest animation company in world history (sorry Mickey), I wanted to take this opportunity to put this gem against another book that I consider fundamental for anyone living after June 29th, 2007 (for those of you with less sophisticatedly nerdy memories, this was the release date of the first iteration of that 6 inch touch display in your pocket or what you're reading this on). After I turned the last page and felt super accomplished for adhering to my "try to finish five books by 2022" plan, it hit me that I read a very similar book before which happened to share varying aspects with Creativity Inc. - Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
Both books, one narrated by the person of focus and the other as a reflection on a collection of interviews conducted by the author, personifies two pairs of tech and cultural giants. It just happens to be that in hindsight, neither Ed nor Steve and even more so Pixar nor Apple would have survived and become what it is today without its counterpart. I can spare you their tight-knit history as both books do a far better job explaining how they came to cross paths (fun fact, most of Jobs' money when he passed came from Pixar, not Apple), but the biggest takeaways for me from both books are fairly consistent and rather obvious aspects of life that we need to remind ourselves:
There's no one route to success - if there was we'd all be successful. I'll go into rant mode on this below.
At the end of the day, every company is a "people's" business. Pixar sells animations and Apple sells computers, but none of this is possible without an innate and detailed understanding of what people need and want. This isn't a Eureka moment or anything, just a reminder that you can make the "best" product all you want, but if it doesn't meet and exceed human needs and wants you're not going to be the subject matter of a biography any time soon.
I don't need to go into detail about how Ed was a computer science PhD student coming from a family of educators (his father was a principal) and how Steve studied pretty text fonts at a university who's unofficial slogan was Communism, Atheism and Free Love. As we know with the thousands of rags to riches stories and cringey LinkedIn posts about the "untraditional" route our connections have taken to build their E-Commerce FBA empire, there is really no set standard for success, especially in 2021. This is typically viewed as something positive in today's generation - encouragement that serves the general public in a "anyone can succeed if they wanted to through learning how to code in Python through Youtube" kind of way. Call me cynical, but if anything I think this should be a cause for concern. In the old days (which is only a couple decades ago) there still were many avenues towards success, especially at the level of Ed and Steve, but if your aspirations were capped at having a middle class lifestyle with that you'd see on ABC Family, there were formulas you could follow. Nowadays, it seems like unless you have a day job, a side hustle, a hustle to that side hustle and a blog that no one reads, you can barely afford to rent a studio (while feeling adequate as a semi-decent human being). I don't mean for this book review to turn into me complaining about the very culture of hustle that I'm actively buying into, but it's a tangential thought that derived from my analysis of these two very successful men.
Creativity Inc. is a great read - it reads much like a conversation (one-sided) that your nice, rich and smart uncle had with you at Christmas dinner when you were seven about his road to success. The frequent references to significant feature films (starting with Toy Story) and "Easter Egg" moments in Ed's climb to the top (did you know that Pixar was originally a spin-off company from LucasArts?) is a culture nerd's dream come true. Even if you aren't a friend of Woody or Star Wars, anyone with aspirations of building a career or leading an organization would seriously enjoy this book.
I really hope we're back in theaters and would appreciate it someone reading this could send me some free AirTags.