Military Book Reviews

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Creativity, Inc: Overcoming theUnseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace (Random House, April 2014, 386 pages)

What does a book about animation and moviemaking have to do with the military? Actually, quite a lot. Creativity, Inc., written by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, describes the founding of Pixar and how it came to dominate the animation industry. It would be easy to dismiss this book due to some of its technical computer and design jargon. But, in reality, this is a book about a man’s journey to becoming a leader, finding his passion, and building a company that exudes his excitement and ideals. Pixar’s success didn’t occur overnight. Instead, its leaders intentionally cultivated and developed the company culture while supporting open communication and intellectual creativity. As military leaders, there is a lot we can learn from this example. 

Confronting Uncertainty

As we progress through our military careers, we are thrust into new leadership roles and into new environments where we may be uncomfortable or doubt our ability to succeed. This uncertainty is captured in Creativity, Inc. as Ed describes his career and the changes he encountered. Although he began as a graphic designer and researcher, his job description changed multiple times over the years. We see his resilience and positive attitude even during difficult times, and his continuous pursuit for new and innovative techniques becomes infectious within his staff. Although we aren’t in the business of making movies, as military leaders we oversee large groups faced with ever changing dynamic situations and there is a lot we can glean from the struggles that Ed and his team faced. 

Notes Day

One of my favorite parts of this book describes an event called “Notes Day.” This was a day set aside for the employees to come together and formulate ways to make the company better. Employees submitted topics to discuss; and each employee was free to participate in any of the 120 topics discussed throughout the day. The employee led initiative, supported by all levels of leadership, culminated in multiple ideas to improve the company, and, where possible, implemented immediately. To me, this demonstrated the employees of Pixar cared deeply about their workplace and wanted to make it better; and they were supported in these efforts. This is the environment I want to develop in my future teams, and I’m thankful for the example provided. 

Themes: Reinvention, Empowerment, Perseverance

In addition to employee engagement and buy in, some of the main themes are:

  • Reinvention: Ed’s leadership style wasn’t stagnant. He continually evaluated his leadership, his personal shortcomings, his team and their goals and desires. He wasn’t content with leaving things as is but sought to hire smart people who could push the company to the next level.
  • Empowerment: Ed created a company culture that others would find difficult to replicate. His staff were constantly looking for ways to improve, were open in their communications, and did all of this without micromanagement from the corporate level. Ed developed internal mechanisms to provide honest and direct feedback and used these methods to build up future leaders. He didn’t rest on his own accomplishments but knew the future success of his company depended on growing and nurturing his replacement.
  • Perseverance: It isn’t always easy, but that doesn’t mean you give up. His career path wasn’t smooth or easy, and Pixar struggled at times to make ends meet financially. Despite these hardships, Ed knew he wanted to create an environment where people thrived and could express their creativity and come up with new innovations in the animation world. 

Creativity, Inc. is ideal for leaders and managers who seek ways to: 

  • Develop a creative and innovate culture 
  • Build teams who support and promote a company’s values
  • Overcome internal uncertainty while struggling with self-doubt 

This book review was contributed by Lt. Sam Shorts, SC USN who can be found on LinkedIn at

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