Spark #

Leading for Creativity

In this Spark, you’ll understand how honest feedback, reducing power structures, and having a vested interest in a common goal is critical to driving creativity and innovation. “Building a purpose in a creative group is not about generating a brilliant moment of breakthrough but rather about building systems that can churn through lots of ideas in order to unearth the right choices.”

Spark #
Leading for Creativity
What We're Talking About

The principle we're discussing

What do you imagine when you hear “creative leader”? A whimsical, outspoken artist with magical capabilities for invention? While that’s sometimes the case, the successful creative leaders Coyle encountered most often were quite the opposite. They had a propensity for quiet observation and a predilection for systemic design. In The Culture Code, he refers to these leaders as “creative engineers.”

Ed Catmull

These characteristics are particularly apparent with Pixar’s Ed Catmull, who co-led Walt Disney Animation studios during a string of hits like Frozen and Zootopia. Catmull explains Pixar’s success as a string of initial disasters, from an unlikeable Woody in Toy Story to the entire Up story being scrapped. But Catmull created mechanisms in forums called Braintrusts where teams were able to work together to solve problems—and make blockbusters out of creative disasters. According to Catmull, the job of a Braintrust is to “push towards excellence, and root out mediocrity.”

Learn about the four principles of a Braintrust from Ed Catmull:

Why it Matters

Why this principle is important and matters to you

Companies must evolve or die (that might sound dramatic, but it’s true). This means stagnation and a lack of innovation are non-starters for any successful group. 

Pixar almost started off as “the little engine that could,” and over the course of a few years became a Hollywood powerhouse. 

As a creative leader, Catmull invested in people and gave them room to make mistakes and learn from them. At Pixar, there was virtually no turnover. Catmull describes when “magical” moments happen and what drives it:

How You Can Use It

This provides practical ways to apply learnings from this Spark

Pixar’s success didn’t happen overnight. It took creative teams both surviving failures and learning to support (not blame) each other through each screw-up.

How did they both survive and thrive? Pixar created a BrainTrust where unfiltered feedback and candor paved the way towards better solutions. Not only that, but Catmull gave creative power to directors in lieu of executives, breathing fresh air into a stale system.

Consider how your organization might create more space for mistakes as learning opportunities. Leaders: How can you welcome more candor?


An opportunity to reflect on yourself and/or your team and how you can apply these insights

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