Just getting started

Kevin Kelly has a post on Medium today that is a terrific kick in the pants for anyone who’s thinking all the good ideas have already been taken.

I’ve pondered before that things are just now getting good, that we are just getting started on our greatness.

Kelly posits the same thought, especially related to the internet and the snowball of technology our generation is starting to get rolling:

So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2014 is the best time to start something on the internet. There has never been a better time in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside, than now. Right now, this minute. This is the time that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh to have been alive and well back then!”

We are living in a golden age of human history. It’s easy to be distracted by bad news and worries about the future. But we’ve got it so good compared to every generation prior to this one. The challenge before us is to imagine without limits the possibilities of what we can do and who we can become?

If not now, when? If not you, who?

Be audacious. Dream big. And take action. Let’s get something started that will make the wonders of this moment seem like a mere stepping stone to the glorious age to come.

 

Courtesy and kindness

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Kindness is the king of virtues.

Rage can win headlines and whip a crowd into a frenzy. A stadium roars in approval when a coach goes on a rampage against an official. A politician’s poll numbers will rise if she goes off on a sanctimonious rant against an opponent in a debate. “Look how tough I am” is often the message. Ego is at stake.

Anger is loud. Kindness is quiet.

It’s easy to give in to anger. It’s a powerful emotion. That’s why defaulting to kindness and courtesy, especially when righteous anger seems justified, when someone has done you wrong, requires great strength and genuine courage. Whenever I have snapped at someone (which, truly, does not happen often), the regret is immediate and painful.

Next time I feel I’m losing my temper or itching to rant, I need to catch myself in the act and find the strength to observe the emotion rather than venting it.

 

The near win

Reaching a goal can derail you. Accomplish it and then what? New goals, I suppose. But a life built around systems and process and thoughtful routines will bring more excellence and more consistent satisfaction than the ups and downs of goal-setting.

There’s something transcendent about striving, reaching for what you know may actually be unreachable. It keeps you hungry and sharp and makes you open to change and growth.

Success is an ending, and can leave you feeling lost on a regular basis. Mastery, though, is a pursuit. It’s a journey, not a destination.

I enjoyed this brief TED Talk by art historian Sarah Lewis, who champions the merits of the “near win”, of falling short, yet, or consequently, continuing to strive and improve and ending up further along than success would have propelled you.

Seeing this resurrects the desire in me to find some sideline activity that I can pursue in an attempt to achieve mastery. A hobby or craft or physical discipline that has no end other than a path of excellence.

By the way, I appreciated Lewis’s speaking style. Her stage presence is not effusive, not charismatic, and not quite conversational. But she’s quietly solid and impressively clear. It seems like it’s more of a spoken-word essay than a talk, but it works for her. This seems like who she is, and she clearly cares about what she’s saying and what she’s learned.

Seeing her on stage reminds me that there is no one best way for speakers to connect. Well, there is one way, and that is authenticity. That works for every speaker.

Daring in design, cautious in execution

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I’m reading Titan, Ron Chernow’s massive biography of John D. Rockefeller. Early in Rockefeller’s career, his approach to business is described as “daring in design, cautious in execution.”

That’s a good motto for undertaking any endeavor. Be bold with your vision. Go where no one has gone. Go bigger. Go better. Have the courage to be audacious with your plan.

Then pursue that vision with care and meticulous attention to detail. Be patient and plodding, even, as you painstakingly nurture and craft the small things that are necessary to make your big plan truly daring and worth talking about.

Apple works this way. Their vision is bold. They want to change the world with their products. But they are conservative with their execution, famous for patiently and secretly refining and iterating, unwilling to release anything that doesn’t meet their high standards, even if profit is assured.

The big picture is crucial, and having a daring goal can spark action and unleash possibilities previously unimagined. But it’s the execution – the follow-through and the commitment to the countless difficult decisions and unglamorous hours honing and reworking the details – that determines the destiny of the dream.

Dream your big dreams. Open to a blank page and put down those daring, scary ideas. Commit to the vision that most delights you, and then get busy doing the deep, detailed work necessary to make that dream fulfill its promise.

Inspiration will jilt you. Move on without it.

From Erin Rooney Doland‘s chapter in the excellent book, Manage Your Day-to-Day:

Leigh Michaels, prolific author of more than eighty romance novels, once said that “waiting for inspiration to write is like standing at the airport waiting for a train.” Conditions to produce one’s craft are rarely ideal, and waiting for everything to be perfect is almost always an exercise in procrastination.

Inspiration will leave you in the lurch and repeatedly break your heart. You still will love it and long for it and put up with its philandering ways. And you will wait and postpone good things in hopes that it will arrive any moment now.

The best way to summon it is to ignore it, play hard-to-get, and just start doing your work, whether you feel like it or not.

I aim to write something every day. Some days I wait and wait, longing for even a tiny nudge of inspiration, and the day gets late with no love from the muse. Then I just have to start writing something to keep that daily commitment, even if I’m sure what I write will be lame or trite or completely unoriginal. This is one of those posts.

Inspiration did not arrive, but I did.

Rob Lowe and Marcus Aurelius

Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides – it’s another way of saying that there’s no upside to envy.

Rob Lowe

My wife, Shanna, shared this Rob Lowe quote with me recently. (Yes, that Rob Lowe, the “brat pack” actor you remember from the 80s and more recently of The West Wing TV series.)

That quote is a nice bit of wisdom. When she read it to me I responded that it reminded me of a line I had just read in Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations.

And Shanna laughed.

She’s got a great laugh. She thought it was funny that she was quoting a Hollywood celebrity, and I was quoting a second century philosopher-king. She’s amused by my eggheaded eccentricities.

We’re a good match, she and I.

It’s a nice reminder that wisdom doesn’t have to be ancient to be meaningful. Nor does it have to come from a sage. And really, everyone, regardless of education or station in life, has a bit of Yoda or Mr. Miyagi or Marcus Aurelius (or Rob Lowe) in them, a unique insight on life that could only come from living their life, from seeing the world through their eyes.

Be open to insight and wisdom from anyone. And don’t judge yourself or be discouraged in comparison to the person you perceive someone else to be. Trust Rob Lowe on this.

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

–Marcus Aurelius

Advice for getting started after college

My first job out of college was on Capitol Hill, working on the staff of a member of Congress. I lived alone on the Hill and walked to work every day. There was no internet in 1987, of course, and no cable TV then, surprisingly, on the Hill. I didn’t have much money and didn’t socialize much. Dinner was often finger food from whatever Congressional reception was on my boss’s schedule for the night. My family was far away. I had friends, but it was a very introspective, often delightfully solitary, relatively distraction-free time in my life.

My primary pastime when I wasn’t working was reading. I spent whatever I could on acquiring books, mostly biographies and history. As I was beginning my adult life with audacious dreams of greatness I wanted to be instructed by the examples of the lives of great men and women. I particularly remember reading Plutarch’s Lives and biographies of U.S. presidents. A fun Friday night for me was browsing the shelves of a bookstore.

It wasn’t exactly a monk-like existence, but I often wondered if I shouldn’t have been more social and had more fun. Looking back on it, though, I realize it was a great way to begin forming my identity and learning to think for myself and being intentional about who I wanted to be. I wasn’t molded by peers or social expectations or distracted by frivolities. That alone time was worthwhile. Much of who I am now and the way I think was formed in those years as a bachelor with books.

I was reminded of this time in my life by a post on Brain Pickings. The author Florence King gives her advice to young people on getting started in their adult lives, and it sounds a lot like what I did:

Put yourself on cruise control and go into limbo for a year. I’m not talking about a neo-grand tour; don’t bop around Europe, you’ll just get in trouble. Nor am I talking about what your parents’ generation called “dropping out.” I mean forget about success for a while, get yourself an ordinary job, an ordinary place to live, and live without worrying about what Americans call, in uppercase, the Future.

Go somewhere different, but stay away from big cities. If you’re from a place you call “godforsaken,” go to a small city in another part of the country…

Get a dead-end job — they’re plentiful now because nobody wants them. Tell your employer the truth: that you’ll be around only a year or so, but promise to work hard. Keep your promise. Little triumphs are the pennies of self-esteem. If you do well in such a job and make yourself indispensable to somebody, you will realize Robert E. Lee’s farewell words to his men after the surrender at Appomattox: “You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from a knowledge of duty faithfully performed.”

Live alone, even at a financial sacrifice. If you have a roommate, the whole college uproar will just start all over again…

Read, read, read. When you don’t have to worry about passing exams on them, subjects you studied in school suddenly become interesting…

What I am recommending is traditionally called “finding yourself.” The difference is, there is no bohemian excess here, none of the “experiencing everything” that comprises nostalgia de la boúe. It’s productive, constructive goofing-off.

This was close to my experience of being on my own for the first time. I was in a big city but was not particularly living a big city life. I was alone, far from family and old friends, and I used that time to read and think and start figuring out what was important to me. I didn’t have a “dead-end” job. It was intense, yet fun, and I learned what it meant to do good work and to be part of a team. But it didn’t end up being the field I would devote my career to.

I remember about that time discovering the work of Joseph Campbell, the great expert on mythology and comparative religion. His influence continues to resonate with me. He told of a similar period early in his career during the Great Depression when he couldn’t land an academic job. He ended up living in an isolated place for a few years, and all he did was read. Campbell credits that quiet time in his life for the success he ultimately found in his work life.

I know what it’s like to be 22 and eager to make your mark, to prove you’ve “arrived” and are bound for something big. Our connected and distracting world today only makes this impulse more irresistable and more burdensome. But understanding that it’s the long game that’s more meaningful is so reassuring. Attempt to peak at age 60 rather than, say, 27, and you’ll likely be more awesome at 27 than you would have been playing the short game, trying to succeed fast.

Take the time to ease your way into your adult life, to ponder and reflect and get to know who you are and who you want to be outside of the expectations of your family and the influence of your friends. There’s no hurry, people. The future is arriving fast enough.

Write what you want to read

I’m reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson now. (Thanks to my friend, Jesse, for the recommendation.) It’s an epic fantasy novel (1,000 pages in this first of a planned ten book series) and not my usual reading fare. But I’m immersed in it and marveling at the compelling narrative and level of detail the author has created. Years ago, before the movies ever came out, I read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and felt a similar level of awe at the marvelous world an author can create.

Intrigued by this young author’s career, I found this interview with Sanderson and appreciated his approach:

I can only speak from my own experience, which may be abnormal, but I really feel that the times where I worried too much about the market were the times I wrote my worst fiction. And the times where I wrote: “this is what I want to read — this is what I’m passionate about,” I wrote my best fiction. And so that’s what I would advise.

That being said, I was very steeped in this genre. You can say what I wanted to read was very naturally an outgrowth of what a lot of what the fandom wanted to read because I was one of them. That’s why it worked for me. And I’m sure there are a number of people who are writing to their passion, and it just doesn’t end up catching on. I wrote 13 books before I got published, and at the end of the day I decided I would rather keep writing and never publish than give up writing or go do something else. And if I reached the end of my life and had 70 unpublished novels, I’d still consider myself a successful writer. That decision has driven me ever since and it’s worked out for me. -Brandon Sanderson

He’s writing what he wants to read and seems as if he would be content if he was never published.

That’s a good formula for work in general, not just writing. Make things that will delight you. Do your best, not for the chance for advancement or to impress bosses or to win some sales competition. Be awesome in all that you do whether anyone else notices or not. You will notice. And you will delight in the intrinsic rewards of work that shines regardless of any extrinsic rewards.

And that approach is more likely to produce quality work that does resonate and connect with others in a more meaningful way than trying to figure out what will sell.

Not your average bread and butter

Kottke shared this video today of a chef, Dan Richer, who is taking bread and butter as seriously as entrees:

I love his delight in his craft. He exudes joy as he talks about making bread and butter, and his passion for getting it just right is inspiring. You can roll your eyes that it’s just bread and butter, or you can admire that he cares deeply about doing something really well. (And butter is one of the all time greatest edible delights ever created. Please don’t tell me you eat margarine.)

Restaurants can get by just fine with average bread and butter. That’s what customers expect. But amazing bread and butter? Bread and butter that inspires short films? Richer is doing this for his own delight and for those he serves, but it certainly sets his restaurant apart from all the others that are fine with average. I would love to visit this chef’s restaurant.

Satisfactory is forgettable. There’s nothing heroic or inspiring about average. Why not make the thing you do, even if it seems basic or simple, as awesome as you can?

Near the end of the video, Chef Richer says this:

I’m like the anti-chef. I want to do less to something, and I want to put less on the plate. If there’s an ingredient that I can take off of the plate to make it more simple and more pure so you can actually experience the essence of what it is that we’re serving… That’s what’s special to me.

I am more wowed by simple elegance and clarity of execution than by complex and convoluted products and experiences. Simplify. Eliminate inessentials. Make the basics beautiful.

And eat butter. (Take it easy on the bread, though.)

Socrates: A Man for Our Times

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I just finished reading Paul Johnson’s Socrates: A Man for Our Times. It’s a quick read at 224 pages, maybe too quick. (By contrast, I’m currently reading Titan, the acclaimed biography of John D. Rockefeller. Titan weighs in at a massive 832 pages. No offense to John D., but Socrates easily is one of the most influential figures in all of human history. The page differential in these two books seems crazy.)

I was looking for a bit more depth and detail, but Johnson’s book is nice as an introduction to Socrates. He seems completely worthy of the acclaim he gets as the first and maybe the greatest of the world’s philosophers. His character was consistent with his philosophy, and he was greatly admired by seemingly all who knew him in his beloved Athens.

Socrates was not interested in philosophy as an academic pursuit but only in how it could be applied to daily life, to help people live better lives. He wouldn’t be likely to get a job in the philosophy departments at most colleges were he living today.

He fully and humbly embraced his own ignorance, and that makes him such an appealing character. He regularly claimed to know nothing and that he was just trying to find things out. From the book:

His one reiterated insistence was that he knew nothing. What he did feel he could do, and what was the essence of his ministry, was to help ordinary humans to think a little more clearly and coherently about what constituted good behavior, worthy of humanity at its best.

“He cannot teach Wisdom because he has none, and he cannot give birth to Wisdom any more than he can give birth to a child. But if someone else has Wisdom within him, or her, he can assist, by his questioning, and help them to give birth to the truth they carry within their minds and hearts.”

He seems to have felt he knew nothing about the things that really mattered. When his friend Chaerephon, while visiting the Oracle of Delphi, asked if any man was wiser than Socrates, the answer came: “There is none.” When told about this, Socrates was not flattered but puzzled. He eventually concluded that what the Oracle meant was that his wisdom consisted in knowing his own ignorance.

Considered to be one of the wisest men ever, Socrates thought of himself simply as someone who was only sure of how little he knew.

His approach epitomizes one of my favorite notions:

“He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. But he who knows he doesn’t know, knows.”

Socrates regularly challenged others, by words and by his own example, to examine their lives, to not just go through the motions. It’s easy to default to navigating your life on auto-pilot, but you’ve got a fabulously interesting mind and the freedom to inquire and explore. What a missed opportunity if you don’t live with intention and seek to craft for yourself a virtuous and excellent life.

For Socrates, ideas existed to serve and illuminate people, not the other way around. Here was the big distinction between him and Plato. To Socrates, philosophy had no meaning or relevance unless it concerned itself with men and women. It is worth repeating, and emphasizing, Cicero’s summary of Socrates’ work: “He was the first to call philosophy down from the sky and establish her in the towns, and bring her into homes, and force her to investigate the life of men and women, ethical conduct, good and evil.”

For Socrates saw and practiced philosophy not as an academic but as a human activity. It was about real men and women facing actual ethical choices between right and wrong, good and evil. Hence a philosophical leader had to be more than a thinker, much more. He had to be a good man, for whom the quest for virtue was not an abstract idea but a practical business of daily living. He had to be brave in facing up to choices and living with their consequences. Philosophy, in the last resort, was a form of heroism, and those who practiced it had to possess the courage to sacrifice everything, including life itself, in pursuing excellence of mind. That is what Socrates himself did. And that is why we honor him and salute him as philosophy personified.

Examine your life. Embrace not-knowing. Be as excellent as you can be.

Striving

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If the most satisfying rewards are the intrinsic ones, striving for mastery, for artistry in your work, becomes a joyful end in itself. “Making it” is an illusion. You never get there. There is no there there. Imagine how dull life would be if you did “arrive” and just sat by the pool all day. I could take a week by the pool, mind you, maybe even two, but a life of leisure with nothing to strive for, nothing to keep you sharp, sounds miserable.

John Mayer expressed practically the same sentiment as Coltrane’s:

It’s only fun when you’re trying to get it in your grasp. It’s like, you know, once you catch it, throw it back in the water then catch it again. That’s really what I want to do my whole career. -John Mayer

Comfortable? Got it figured out? Time to get busy upping your game, mastering something new, starting from scratch, striving.

Well conceived, clearly said

I saw the quotation below in this article yesterday: Microsoft’s New CEO Needs an Editor.

“Whatever is well conceived is clearly said,
And the words to say it flow with ease.” -Nicolas Boileau

Many words and fancy words do not impress. They communicate, instead, a lack of clarity and likely an ill-conceived idea.

When my sentences keep getting more complex and tangled in paragraphs that need yet another paragraph to explain further, I should stop and rethink what I’m trying to accomplish. Go back to “Why?” and scrap it if I can’t come up with a clear answer.

Tolstoy called for us to be honest and brave and “to act and speak that your motives should be intelligible to an affectionate seven-year-old boy.” (I’ve got a seven-year-old daughter who is mostly affectionate. Tolstoy would nominate her to be my editor.)

Flow is the desired state. I might need to write my way into it and hack through adverbs and jargon to get there, but what I deem inessential should not make it past my Publish button or Print icon.

Share nothing that is not simply stated and easily understood.

 

 

“How do I move the needle?”

I enjoyed this video about screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s writing process shawnblanc.net linked to today:

Black, who wrote the screenplays for J. Edgar and Milk, has a richly complex, yet clear and beautiful process for putting together his screenplays. Watching him lay out all those note cards on that giant table sparked memories, happy memories, of working on a research paper in college. I wrote an honors thesis in a religion class my senior year and used a similar process where I researched like crazy and then sorted my note cards like I was playing a delightfully challenging game of solitaire. I would rearrange and discard and rethink and see it all eventually unfold into a meaningful narrative that flowed logically and came to a satisfying conclusion.

Black has a clear commitment to digging deeply into a subject, doing meticulous, even excruciating work, and taking his time to let the story come to him. And he’s willing to let go of ideas he loves to better serve the story.

I find a similar workflow works for me in light table view in Keynote. It’s the digital equivalent for me of a table full of note cards. Analog or digital, there’s much to value in a process where you can see the big picture of a story or a project or an idea and make connections and rearrange and discard to better serve the narrative arc.

Do the hard work. Dig deep for details. Spend the time necessary to know your stuff. Then zoom out and find the big picture. That zoomed out perspective might show you a completely different direction than you had originally expected.

Of course, the big picture, the point of your work, has to begin and end with “Why?” Black says just this at the beginning of the video:

“That’s where I start, taking an idea, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, and figuring out why. Not just what you’re going to tell, not that it’s entertaining or interesting. But why are you telling that story? What is the purpose of that story? For me it’s always, How do I move the needle? How do I change the culture? Now.”

We all want to “move the needle”, to do something worth talking about, to make a difference. I’m inspired to invest in a crisp, new stack of note cards and get busy crafting a story worth telling.

Pick a date and make your idea happen

My wife and I hosted a cookout tonight for the students I work with. It’s our way of thanking them for all the hours they put in during the summer.

We decided just this week to move the cookout to today. And we were busy the last couple of days getting the house ready, doing yard work, and buying and preparing food. We got a lot done in a short time, and our home and yard are in better shape than they’ve been all summer.

Without this cookout to prepare for, those chores around the house would not have gotten done anytime soon.

Deadlines make things happen, especially public ones. It’s worth setting a deadline just to spark action.

Need to clean your house? Invite someone over. Want to make an idea of yours come to life? Pick a date and put something on the line that will force you to get moving.

“Magnificent desolation”

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My family just got home from an hour-long full moon guided hike at the botanical garden nearby. It was a nice change from our usual Saturday night. We learned about nocturnal creatures and enjoyed hearing the fading sound of the cicadas being replaced by the katydids as the sun went down.

As we drove home, the full moon was shining brightly. After walking in the woods and experiencing such variety of life and landscapes, imagining the stark emptiness of the moon is striking.

I read this comment about the moon from Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin this week:

My first words of my impression of being on the surface of the Moon that just came to my mind was “Magnificent desolation.” The magnificence of human beings, humanity, Planet Earth, maturing the technologies, imagination and courage to expand our capabilities beyond the next ocean, to dream about being on the Moon, and then taking advantage of increases in technology and carrying out that dream – achieving that is magnificent testimony to humanity.

But it is also desolate – there is no place on earth as desolate as what I was viewing in those first moments on the Lunar Surface. Because I realized what I was looking at, towards the horizon and in every direction, had not changed in hundreds, thousands of years. Beyond me I could see the moon curving away – no atmosphere, black sky.

Cold. Colder than anyone could experience on Earth when the sun is up- but when the sun is up for 14 days, it gets very, very hot. No sign of life whatsoever.

That is desolate. More desolate than any place on Earth.

I saw a tweet from physicist Brian Cox this morning speculating that Earth may be the only planet in the Milky Way with intelligent life. He later tweeted that intelligent life is likely elsewhere in the universe, but it’s his opinion that we are it for our galaxy.

We are living in wonderland, an oasis of fabulously interesting complexity and variety and beauty. I tend to be oblivious to how magnificent our world is. It’s nice to be reminded regularly that we are surrounded by wonders on this lovely little planet. Indeed, we are wonders ourselves.

Learn from everyone

I saw this Emerson quotation referenced in an Austin Kleon tweet yesterday:

I will learn from everyone and be no one’s disciple.

I couldn’t find the original source for it, but it seems very Emersonian.

Learn from everyone. Don’t assume you are wiser than anyone you encounter. Every person has experienced things you haven’t. Be open to what others can teach you. Be humble. Assume nothing about anyone.

When inclined to judge, try to understand instead.

This is all easy to say. Not so easy, though, to be the kind of person who truly faces the world so open-heartedly, so teachable and humble. Maybe this means asking more questions of others and genuinely listening to the answers. Listening more than you talk.

Then there’s the “be no one’s disciple” half of the phrase. No matter how together someone seems or how authoritative they are said to be, don’t bow down to their opinions and copy them into your worldview. Accept nothing without reasonable inquiry and solid evidence. Don’t give over your freedom to anyone else. Ever.

Dropping keys

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Catch yourself locking others up in your expectations, your dogma. And stop it.

Break out of the constraints others place on you. Be authentic. Be real. Be your rowdy, unfiltered self, regardless of what others want you to be and regardless of how imperfect you will be exposed to be.

Your freedom just might liberate someone else. Your vulnerability just might embolden those around you who are only going through the motions, who feel trapped in cages built by someone else.

The wise man accepts the beautiful messiness of life and does not try to fix others. He just wants them to be free.

Stop building cages. Start a jail break.

Creativity, Inc.

© Disney • Pixar

I recently finished reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar and Disney Animation. It’s really good. So many business books come across as superficial or self-serving PR pieces. But Catmull has created an enlightening, useful book filled with candid insights into the creative powerhouses he has helped to build.

Catmull tells the fascinating story of how Pixar came to be and then goes on to share how they have adapted in response to internal challenges to continue making remarkable movies. This is a particularly great read if you are responsible for leading other creative people or if you are part of a team of creatives. Catmull doesn’t sugarcoat Pixar’s success. He focuses repeatedly on failures and stresses that have forced the company to keep reinventing its processes.

This book is worthwhile for anyone who wants to understand what it takes to create and cultivate a great organizational culture.

If you’re part of an organization or a team or a family even, and you care about it being the best it can be, you must care about the group’s culture. If you’re not intentional about shaping and cultivating the culture, then brace yourself for the culture to be shaped randomly, and possibly destructively. Culture is everything for an organization.

It’s clear that Catmull and his partner John Lasseter (and the late Steve Jobs) were meticulous in crafting the culture of Pixar to bring out the best in the creative people on their team. And they’re still learning and failing and trying new approaches.

Here are some passages I highlighted as I read:

“Figuring out how to build a sustainable creative culture—one that didn’t just pay lip service to the importance of things like honesty, excellence, communication, originality, and self-assessment but really committed to them, no matter how uncomfortable that became—wasn’t a singular assignment. It was a day-in-day-out, full-time job. And one that I wanted to do.”

“My hope was to make this culture so vigorous that it would survive when Pixar’s founding members were long gone, enabling the company to continue producing original films that made money, yes, but also contributed positively to the world.”

“Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.”

“Candor isn’t cruel. It does not destroy. On the contrary, any successful feedback system is built on empathy, on the idea that we are all in this together, that we understand your pain because we’ve experienced it ourselves.”

“You need storms. It’s like an ecology. To view lack of conflict as optimum is like saying a sunny day is optimum. A sunny day is when the sun wins out over the rain. There’s no conflict. You have a clear winner. But if every day is sunny and it doesn’t rain, things don’t grow. And if it’s sunny all the time—if, in fact, we don’t ever even have night—all kinds of things don’t happen and the planet dries up. The key is to view conflict as essential, because that’s how we know the best ideas will be tested and survive. You know, it can’t only be sunlight.”

“My rule of thumb is that any time we impose limits or procedures, we should ask how they will aid in enabling people to respond creatively. If the answer is that they won’t, then the proposals are ill suited to the task at hand.”

“Better to have train wrecks with miniature trains than with real ones.”

“Paying attention to the present moment without letting your thoughts and ideas about the past and the future get in the way is essential. Why? Because it makes room for the views of others. It allows us to begin to trust them—and, more important, to hear them. It makes us willing to experiment, and it makes it safe to try something that may fail. It encourages us to work on our awareness, trying to set up our own feedback loop in which paying attention improves our ability to pay attention. It requires us to understand that to advance creatively, we must let go of something. As the composer Philip Glass once said, ‘The real issue is not how do you find your voice, but … getting rid of the damn thing.’”

“My goal has never been to tell people how Pixar and Disney figured it all out but rather to show how we continue to figure it out, every hour of every day. How we persist. The future is not a destination—it is a direction. It is our job, then, to work each day to chart the right course and make corrections when, inevitably, we stray. I already can sense the next crisis coming around the corner. To keep a creative culture vibrant, we must not be afraid of constant uncertainty. We must accept it, just as we accept the weather. Uncertainty and change are life’s constants. And that’s the fun part.”

“Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear. Doing all these things won’t necessarily make the job of managing a creative culture easier. But ease isn’t the goal; excellence is.”

What a refreshing book. Great stories. Candid insights. Humble confessions. Helpful advice from many of the key players at Pixar on how to work in a more effective and creative way. Pixar can seem to do no wrong. (Except for Cars 2. What happened there?) This book continues the string of excellent stories from what has become maybe our nation’s most iconic story teller.