Creativity Inc.

There is so much great stuff in this book that it’s been surprisingly difficult to concisely summarize. I keep putting off writing my little mini review because I keep trying to distill the book down into some key points, but I think I’m finally accepting that can’t be done. So instead of trying to attempt that, I’m just going to say that with this book Ed Catmull puts into words many ideas that feel intuitively correct, but, at least for me, lacked formal definition or demonstrated success. It’s great and you should read it.

That said, if I pull out one big picture idea, it’s that there’s no such thing as a recipe for success. At Pixar, Catmull and the entire Pixar crew built a successful business because they approached every situation without preconceived notions of how to be successful. It’s an incredibly refreshing take and stands in stark contrast to the litany of business reading that basically comes down to, “Do what I did, and you too will have success.” As the world evolves at an ever quickening pace, it’s pretty clear that a winning formula is not a formula at all, but rather success comes from creating an environment where all the conditions for success are present and finding a few ways to tilt luck in your favor. That’s what the book is about: creating the conditions for success.

It’s been about 6 months since I read the book. I think I just need to go read it again.

One last thought: the section of the book about balance has really stuck with me. Catmull observes that our mental model for balance often implies calm, serene and static situations, but that’s not how we should think about balance at all. It’s much more dynamic, more like a multi-directional tug of war. And when you think about “balanced” situations in that way, it becomes clear that choosing a direction or making a decision isn’t ever final and that you must be careful that the “winning” direction doesn’t pull everyone else down.

Just go read it.


Negotiate With Confidence

As much as I am an avid reader of nonfiction, normally I try to steer clear of what appear to be “traditional” business/management books (yes, I sometimes judge books by their covers). Negotiate with Confidence was recommended by a colleague and I have to say, it exceeded my expectations. Isaacs’ perspective, as veteran of the AEC industry, results from firsthand experience dealing with the same type of clients that we work with regularly. His  concrete, easy-to-implement strategies for improving negotiations when pursuing projects resonated with the challenges that we face ourselves. In particular, the discussion of doing anything, i.e. way too much, in the interest of maintaining the client relationship felt especially relevant. I also appreciated that his guidance is not intended to promote a win-at-all-costs negotiation strategy, but rather interest-based negotiation that seeks positive outcomes for all parties.

Overall a quick read and easy to recommend for those in this industry.


The Innovator's Solution

A great follow-on to The Innovator’s Dilemma, the author, Clayton Christensen, explores how the lessons from the first book can be used to create strategies that make starting a growth business practical and reliably successful. The authors form compelling arguments grounded in real world examples, despite, by their own admission, the lack of companies that have been able to reliably execute in the manner laid out in the book (though, at the risk of looking foolish in the near future, I think one could argue that Apple’s success in the last 10 years has been a direct result of their ability to create and recreate growth businesses). The authors’ argument that disruptive products and services compete best against non-consumption, resonated particularly well with my view of the world.