Thursday, April 10, 2014

How Are Creative Companies Different?

Throughout this entire semester I have attempted to make a conscious effort to recognize creativity in the world around me. Whether it is "Big C" creativity or "little c" creativity, we are consciously surrounded by people, companies, and other institutions that are attempting to work toward the next big thing. The western culture in which we live is consciously striving for a novel and creative product to make our lives in some way better. In a competitive world economy it is easy to see this strive for creativity in the corporate world. So what makes one company better than others? What makes creative powerhouse companies like Apple and Pixar different from other companies? Although initially it seems that these companies are more creative because of the amazing end product that they produce (i.e. IOS, iPhones, Finding Nemo, and Toy Story), it only takes a little effort to realize that what separates the creative from the non-creative is the process that is used to develop the end product.

In an article written regarding Pixar's creativity, Ed Catmull examines how the motion picture studio is different and superior in the digital media world. Unlike many other major studios, Pixar has never brought scripts, ideas, or technology in from the outside and as a result have had to continue to produce new stories and new processes to continue to progress and grow. When conversing with a Pixar executive, Catmull was told that Pixar believes that what makes them different is an adherence to a set of principles to manage creative talent as well as managing risk. This business operating structure is seemingly opposite of what most major corporations do today. Pixar recognizes that a true community and family feeling produces happier and more productive employees. Furthermore, they believe that managements job is not meant to manage risk and make sure to minimize creative "waste" and maximize tangible product. It is the job of management to foster an environment where individuals are encouraged to attempt new thing, to recognize that failure will occur, and to focus on the ways to fix a failure only after it occurs not preventing it before it takes place. 

In a product focused society, it is easy to forget that the creativity of hundreds of people go into producing that one final animated film. There is hundreds of thousands of ideas suggested for a single movie, with thousands of those initial ideas actually helping to produce what you see on the screen. Thus, creativity must be present at every level within Pixar as well as in every step along the proaction process. According to an executive at Pixar, " If we aren't at least a little scared, we aren't doing our job." It is the job of executives in companies to break the tendency in business and give up on trying to avoid or minimize risk. If you want creativity and ingenuity it is necessary to accept uncertainty and accept failure. 

This seemingly reversed business model to what people consider as standard today is what Simon Sinek speaks about in his TED talk on the Golden Circle. As we discussed in class cultural differences drive the focus of the corporate world. Western society is extremely product driven while eastern cultures care more about the process that is used to get to a product. Sinek focuses on the fact that people that we see as creative often times have essentially the same resources available to us. He discusses the intangible thing that makes Apple or Pixar different from others. The golden circle includes why you what you do, how you do what you do, and what you do. Most companies work from what--> How--> why, while those that are successful reverse the order. He puts this difference into a simple statement: "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." This focuses on the importance of focusing on the process for success not necessarily on the goal of a creative product at the end of the process. 

This article as well as the TED talk by Sinek have interesting implications for individual people as well as corporations. As Sinek says, what makes people creative or successful isn't necessarily a drastic difference in available resources, it is simply a change in thought process and focus. By working so hard to produce something creative we may possibly be hindering our creative ability. By giving more focus to the process we would likely produce more creative solutions. Additionally, by accepting the possibility of failure we are able to allow ourselves to be creative.

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