Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
The president of Pixar Animation Studios describes the making of the creative culture that has produced Toy Story, Finding Nemo and other award-winning movies.
“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,” writes Catmull—with the assistance of Los Angeles Magazine editor at large Wallace—in a superb debut intended for managers in all fields of endeavor. The author grew up idolizing Walt Disney and earned degrees in physics and computer science at the University of Utah, where he encountered the collegial, collaborative approach of interactive computer graphics pioneer Ivan Sutherland. This inspired the community Catmull would build to help create Pixar’s iconic films. While his book recounts Pixar’s rise and his long working relationship with Steve Jobs, it does so in service to the author’s overriding goal of explaining principles he put into place to protect Pixar from forces that ruin many businesses after enormous successes like Toy Story (1995), the first computer-animated feature film. Catmull’s challenge was to develop a sustainable culture that allowed people to do their best work and removed impediments to creativity—“uncertainty, instability, lack of candor, and the things we cannot see.” In time, he learned the importance of putting people first, and getting the team right, in order to get the idea right; and of asking tough questions: Where are we still deluded? How do we think about failures and fears? “We believe ideas—and thus, films—only become great when they are challenged and tested,” he writes. He takes readers inside candid discussions and retreats at which participants, assuming the early versions of movies are bad, explore ways to improve them. Unusually rich in ideas, insights and experiences, the book celebrates the benefits of an open, nurturing work environment.
An immensely readable and rewarding book that will challenge and inspire readers to make their workplaces hotbeds of creativity.
Delicious!: A Novel by Ruth Reichl
Tragedy, war, fairy-tale makeover, trauma resolution, romance and—of course—food are just some of the ingredients in dining critic and celebrated memoirist Reichl’s (Garlic and Sapphires, 2005, etc.) first novel, a bittersweet pudding with some lumps in the batter.
Food metaphors irresistibly suggest themselves when considering this author’s flavor-driven debut, set in the New York offices of Delicious!, a magazine not unlike Gourmet, where Reichl was editor in chief. At the fictional magazine, Billie Breslin, 21 and gifted with a prodigious palate, gets a job as editor’s assistant and encounters a kindly cast of foodies, including travel editor Sammy and cheese shop owner Sal. Billie writes emails to her older, prettier, more popular sister, Genie, with whom, implausibly, she set up a successful cake-baking business in California when they were 10 and 11. But Billie’s mysterious past is merely one strand of Reichl’s tenderly written yet overstuffed story, which shifts focus after the magazine is suddenly closed down. A cache of wartime letters from a child named Lulu to famous chef James Beard, which Billie unearths in a hidden room behind the magazine’s library, is used to pull in some odd, heavyweight issues, including World War II injustices against Italian-Americans and the Underground Railroad. Meanwhile, Sammy has encouraged Billie to open up about the secrets of her past, after which it’s time for contact lenses, a cool haircut and a new wardrobe, converting the ugly duckling into a kooky swan. This helps Billie’s attraction to Mr. Complainer—one of Sal's picky customers and a top-rated architectural historian—take wing. An argument and the search for Lulu prolong the story, but Reichl manages to bring matters comfortingly to rest with a kitchen epiphany and a recipe.
Reichl’s first fictional outing is something of a curate’s egg—good in parts.
Everything to Lose: A Novel by Andrew Gross
Best-selling author Gross’ (No Way Back, 2013, etc.) latest is a hard-driving caper that chronicles the trials of a suburban divorcée seduced by temptation.
Joseph Kelty had $500,000 in his car, but he was texting while driving; he lost control, crashed and died. First at the scene is Hilary Cantor, recently downsized, with a crippling mortgage and an ex-husband behind on alimony and child support. Her son, Brandon—"This is what God gave me to protect, to keep safe"—has Asperger's syndrome, and he attends a specialized school with break-the-bank tuition. Gross does yeoman work in setup, circumstance and motivation—Kelty was a retired transit worker with a pristine past and Hilary is all wavering conscience, focused on need rather than consequences. Hilary throws the money into the woods and later returns to the scene to recover it—but that $500,000 is dirty money, and there are bad guys who will kill to get it. First to die is an innocent pharmacist who was a witness to the crash. Hilary and Brandon are targeted next. The tense, fast-moving narrative takes in Superstorm Sandy, Ukrainian mobsters, a knee-capping political fixer and a psychopathic thrill-killer. Hilary traces the money to storm-ravaged Staten Island and seeks help from Kelty’s police-officer son, Patrick, thinking "[m]aybe I just wanted a partner in this"—but Patrick’s caught in his own financial trap. Hilary and Patrick are well-defined, sympathetic characters, and assorted bad guys are thoroughly believable. Gross sustains momentum while flipping back and forth in time and point of view. Segments following the psychopath are confusing, however, and then indeterminate; only late in the book do they weave into the main narrative. The conclusion is unsentimental though not quite satisfying.
A tightly wound, realistic thriller.