Monday, June 23, 2014

Finally: A Business Memoir That Owes More To Nassim Taleb Than To Jack Welch

An article about the book Creativity, Inc., which Michael Mauboussin called (via Twitter) the best business book he’s read in a long time.

In the Uffizi gallery in Florence sit two Rembrandt self-portraits, one of the artist as a young man in his late 20s, the other, drawn when he was nearly sixty.  The contrast between the two images reveals both the passage of time and the evolution of wisdom.  We see before our eyes a young, confident emerging artist become an accomplished, reflective master able to brilliantly capture the essential humanity and humility of his subject.  The mature painting seems to be rendered with less precise detail, yet achieves a far greater emotional impact.

I’ve been similarly struck by the contrast between many of the young doctors I encountered during my training — interns and residents who seemed sure they knew everything, and exuded an almost desperate, preposterous confidence —  and the more experienced clinicians to whom almost everyone turned to for advice, introspective doctors who were far more comfortable acknowledging the limitations of their knowledge, and the uncertainties of their endeavor.

In reading the recently-published Creativity Inc, by Pixar President Ed Catmull (co-authored with business writer Amy Wallace), it’s hard not to recognize the same wisdom and thoughtful self-reflection.  While ostensibly pitched as an instructional business book that might teach you how to run a creative company, it’s apparent that Creativity Inc might more appropriately be understood as a meditation by a serially successful executive about how incredibly difficult, contingent, and ephemeral creative accomplishment can be to achieve, and especially, to sustain.

Sandwiched between a section describing the company’s evolution from a hardware enterprise into a wildly successful film studio and a section capturing the key lessons learned (details reviewed elsewhere, eg here) lies the heart of the book, Catmull’s reflections on the challenge of building and sustaining creative enterprises.

Related link: Ed Catmull interview at the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Seminar