Failure is not a word I would associate with Pixar.
Over the last couple of decades, the animation pioneer has created some of my family's favorite movies, including Up, Finding Nemo and Toy Story. Not a bad track record!
Catmull says early on that wrote the book to reflect on Pixar's success and offer a blueprint for business administrators who manage teams of creative professionals on how to maintain a successful creative company over the long haul.
But I found the book to be so much more than another entry in the business self-help genre. Instead, it was a fascinating peek into a visionary company that put story, creativity and excellence at the center of everything they do...which is what I aspire to do every time I sit down to write.
“To be a truly creative company, you must start things that may fail.”
Catmull believes that one of the things that dooms creative companies (and by extension, creative people) is refusing to risk failure. He spends an entire chapter -- and a significant portion of the book -- talking about the various failures he and his company faced as they reinvented animation for the computer age.
And even though I’m not an animator, it all really resonated with me. Because in my work as a creative strategist and copywriter, I have found that my very best work walks hand in hand with failure.
When I started out, I didn’t feel the same way – at all! I vigorously avoided anything that might lead to failure. I tried to keep my ideas tame, thinking that being too ambitious was a sure road to failure. I copied what others were doing thinking I could replicate their success. I rarely offered original ideas in meetings, even when I had them, hoping someone else would validate what I was thinking first.
But over the years I've learned that when I try an idea that seems too bold, too big for me to handle -- when I risk trying something that might fail -- I usually end up creating something more interesting than I ever thought possible.
“While planning is very important…there is only so much you can control in a creative environment.”
For me, one of the scariest things about taking a creative leap is the fear that I might not be able to pull it off, that I might fail.
As a strategist, I can’t know for sure that the path I’m proposing an organization take will lead to more donors and more funds raised. I can’t know how donors will respond to the asks in my copy. I can’t control the weather, the news or other natural disasters that may interrupt delivery of a mailing, or divert focus from my client’s cause.
In essence, I think welcoming failure into your writing is a letting go of control. And most of us don’t enjoy not being in control.
In CREATIVITY, INC. Catmull has a few suggestions on how to deal with the failure and loss of control that are inherent to the creative process:
- Embrace it. Once you can start to see failure as part of the gig, you'll have an easier time moving past those moments when you inevitably fail to meet your goals.
- Share it. Get feedback at every stage of your work. As Catmull says, "I do not believe creative products should be developed in a vacuum."
- Realize that failure helps you. The bolder and fiercer your work, the closer you walk to failure. If you’re failing, it means you’re pushing yourself.
The bottom line: don’t be afraid of failure. It’s there to help you think and act more creatively.
And if you're interested in Pixar, animation, or how the creative process works and is nurtured at one of the most enduringly creative and successful companies in the country, definitely check out CREATIVITY, INC.