Staff Picks: Creativity, Inc.

April 6, 2017
Note: Throughout this series one of our staff members will be giving you a recommendation and/or a brief review from the world of music, movies, TV or literature. Hopefully this will serve as a way to see inside the head of our staff members and direct you towards some listening, viewing or reading material for your own personal growth and enjoyment. Today’s post is from our Senior Pastor, Mark Ott.

Many years ago, I was reading an article in Sports Illustrated when a professional athlete said something that became deeply challenging for me.  I don’t know that most people would have found this statement thought provoking, or would have held onto it for more than a decade to self-evaluate, but something about what he said really stuck with me.  Basically, he was talking about how hard he was training and preparing for the upcoming season, and he said something like this: “At this level, you can’t get by on just talent.  You need to work hard to get the most out of your ability.” His approach to his career made me ask some uncomfortable questions about how I was approaching my calling.  Was I skating by, doing whatever came easily, and neglecting the work it would take to make the most out of the skills and gifts God had given me?  Certainly, as a pastor, the stakes are high.  At this moment, I discovered a new calling to work hard at developing my skills to maximize what God wanted to do through me.

Since then, I’ve read many books, attended many conferences, and even spent more than a year listening to every sermon after I preached it.  I was asking myself, “What can I do that will help me improve and get better?”  I wasn’t focused on the areas of weakness… I was searching for intentional investment in what I was already doing well.  Sure enough, there was plenty of opportunity to improve.  The question was whether or not I was willing to put in the time and effort and honesty to ask how I was doing and what I needed to work on.

Leadership is an area I’ve included in this project.  In line with that, the book I’d recommend is Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull. It is essentially the story of Pixar from its roots through its worldwide success as a studio.  As a fan of Pixar movies, I deeply enjoyed some of the ‘behind the scenes’ info on some of the most well-known movies.  The original story of Up was nothing like the final version.  A few movies and stories that never made it to the theater are also described.  And there are many scenes in which we get an insider’s view at Steve Jobs and his role in Pixar.

However, what I really got from this book were the principles of leadership that drive their creative success.  Not surprisingly, they are Biblical principles, although I doubt anyone at Pixar would recognize this.  They trust one another and work in community.  They set aside ego to be honest with each other, and they can do this sustainably because everyone believes that everyone else has their back.  The uniqueness of each individual and the strengths they bring to the process are recognized and celebrated (much like Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 12), so that the whole is much better than any of its parts.

Two concepts really stand out to me.  The first is their view of failure.  They do not fear it and they do not avoid it.  Instead, they virtually expect it.  Ed Catmull says that all of their movies stink when they start, and their job is to make them stink less. I think in Christianity, we have developed an unhealthy fear of failure.  We always want to be right and avoid the wrong. But we don’t try anything big or audacious when we always play for a guaranteed win.  Our God is able to guide us through failure, and we see many stories of God using someone in the face of their mistakes.  A few years ago we went through the book of Genesis on Wednesday nights.  It was clear that the patriarchs were people who often blew it, but God chose them and used them anyway.

The other concept is that Pixar fights hard to keep the main point clear.  They have dazzling technology and innovation beyond description.  Those of us who remember Beauty and the Beast when it first came out can remember the awe that was inspired in the Ball Room Scene when the camera panned out into a three dimensional feel.  That was one of the first projects that incorporated Pixar technology.  And later, when Toy Story became the first CGI move, it was startling to watch this new way of animation come to life.  But the technology is a tool that serves the big picture.  And at Pixar, the story is always the point.  Losing sight of that will undermine any great technological achievement.  It is the same for any church.  We cannot let the stuff we do in service of the main point become the main point.  It isn’t about our music or our building or our welcome.  All of those are tools that serve the main point: Sharing Jesus.  He is the reason we exist and if we let anything else take His place, we truly fail.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves Pixar. And anyone who is responsible for guiding a team on creative tasks.  We can always learn and grow.  The only thing stopping us is believing we don’t need to.