Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

A book review by: Peggy Barnwell
Buffalo State College


This book presents a non-fictional account of the humble beginnings of Pixar Animation Studios through the lens of it’s creator, and visionary, Ed Catmull. Printed in hardcover, the text is an autobiographical exploration into the barriers that hamper creative expression and the leadership necessary to produce an environment essential for creative output.

This is the riveting story of a partnership between Ed Catmull, John Lasseter and Steve Jobs that stresses the importance of understanding human interaction in order to “foster a creative culture that would continually ask questions … to find, develop, and support good people, (who) in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas.” 

This is a story that emphasizes the key role creative leadership plays in the development of an inspired culture that unleashes creative potential.


A computer scientist, Ed Catmull always dreamed of being a filmmaker and wanted to tell stories through moving cartoon pictures. However, early experimentation with flipbooks made it obvious that his talents did not lie with animated drawing. Undaunted, he was convinced he could make superior 3D animated films and set his efforts upon realizing that dream. There was one paramount concern; there currently wasn’t the technology that made 3D animation possible, he would have to invent it.

Beginning in 1972, Catmull spent 10 weeks making a short film of his left hand in digitalized fashion. In 1974, he was hired to run a start up business known as the New York Institute of Technology, whose mission was to “bring computers into the animation process.” Ed soon realized that funds to buy equipment and hire innovators in the world of computer animation weren’t enough to make good films and tell believable stories. 

In 1977, George Lucas approached Catmull to head up a department at Lucasfilms developing special effects for upcoming projects. It’s during his tenure that he began to realize his hierarchal management model was not the best way to motivate creative individuals. He started to adopt the viewpoint of George Lucas himself and began believing the managerial process should be about “moving toward something – of having not yet arrived”. He began to understand how tolerances for ambiguity and openness to new experiences were necessary for good creative leadership. 

Creativity, Inc. is not a story of innovation in computer animation and story-telling, rather it’s a culmination of experiences and managerial experiments that led Ed Catmull on a path of discovery, to truly understand the effectiveness of creative leadership.

In 1986 Lucasfilms was sold to Steve Jobs and renamed Pixar Image Computer, a software
development company that was allowed to dabble in computer animation. It wasn’t until a 3-picture deal with Disney was negotiated that Pixar realized their true core values. They were a creative company, “a culture of candour and freedom and the kind of constructive self-criticism that allowed our people, and the movies they made, to evolve into their best selves.”

One of the key principles Pixar depended on was, “trust the process…. Pixar was a place that gave artists running room, that gave directors control, that trusted its people to solve problems.” The climate fostered by Catmull, and his team, firmly supported the development of people. He believed that the creation of a safe environment allowed people to make mistakes and from most mistakes came great solutions and better direction. Pixar trusted that giving employees the freedom to make errors helped them interpret failure as “a manifestation of learning and exploration.” 

He encouraged practices such as Braintrusts, Randomness and Notes Days that supported honesty, candour, brainstorming and constructive criticism, bringing Pixar closer to greater insights that would lead to better ideas.

Pixar believed in the creation of spaces that steered employees into “accidental mingling”, random spaces where anyone could run into anyone and share ideas. “Steve understood that creativity wasn’t linear.” He believed that creativity was not a solidary endeavour and he made sure the plan of the new Pixar building of the early 2000’s, “was designed to encourage people to mingle, meet, and communicate…” He realized the importance of the creative climate and planned meeting rooms, theatres, game areas, and eating spaces to stimulate “cross trafficking”, producing better opportunities for improved flow of communication between employees. In addition, employees were urged to decorate their office spaces to reflect their individuality and creative core. 


Catmull takes the reader on a true adventure of creativity summarizing the key principles, and creative language, that has been foremost in our creativity studies. Mindfulness, authenticity, openness, self-awareness, freedom to make mistakes, creative climate, tolerance for ambiguity and complexity are common themes shared throughout the book. The illustrations offered by the author demonstrate how these principles can be woven into the managerial fabric of highly successful corporations, while staying true to the company’s original philosophies and ideals. 

Although the creative product produced by Pixar could be argued as living in the “Arts” world, it’s profits and public shares immortalize it in the world of finance and accountability to shareholders. This book is an excellent illustration of the practicality of creative leadership and how adopting core creative principles can lead to true innovation and profits.


This book reminded me of some of the things I wrote while completing an assignment for one of my Masters Degree courses.  The inclusions below outline some of my key leadership ideologies and the creative values I plan to utilize in my professional environment.  They also mirror some of the strategic managerial philosophies expressed in Creativity, Inc.
  • I will choose my words more carefully.
  • I will always begin with a positive.
  •  I will not pre-judge ideas.
  • I will encourage faculty to do the same in pursuit of creative problem solving.
  • I will listen before I speak.
  • I will continue to encourage a creative climate at all faculty meetings.
  • I will continue to demonstrate my passion for things that are important and relevant to our students and their learning.
  • I will recognize the symptoms time constraints and stress have on productivity and will develop methods to not let these determine my behaviour.
  • I have a responsibility to encourage people to think creatively.
  • I have a responsibility to weave creativity into by lesson plans.
  •  I have a responsibility to create a safe environment where people are able to express their concerns and comments.
  • I have a responsibility to be loyal to the creative vision I have for myself.
Catmull stayed true to his passion and creative leadership principles to build an extraordinarily successful company. He wrote Creativity, Inc. for, “anyone who wants to work in an environment that fosters creativity and problem solving.” His belief, “is that good leadership can help creative people stay on the path to excellence no matter what business they’re in.” I believe that if I stay the course, and adopt the ideals I’ve try to instill in myself since beginning my Masters studies, I will find my path towards creative clarity.


Peggy Barnwell is currently an Advertising Professor with the Pilon School of Business at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario Canada with a strong interest in building creativity into the teaching curriculum, and highlighting CPS in practical business applications. She spent the early part of her career in the advertising industry developing marketing communications campaigns for a variety of private sector and non-profit clients. Peggy is also a member of the National Consumer Response Panel for Advertising Standards Canada and is currently completing her Masters Degree in Creativity at Buffalo State College. 


Catmull, E. (2014). Creativity, inc. Toronto, ON: Random House Canada

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review: Creating Innovators

A book review by: Beverly Zapatka Weihz 
Buffalo State College

In his book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner sets out to tackle the question so many are now asking, “How do we raise and educate the children who will take the United States forward as a viable contender in innovation?” In an age of high stakes testing based primarily on rote memorization, and very little creativity in classroom teaching due to the preparation for such tests, there is good reason to be concerned. Wagner seeks answers through a series of interviews with a variety of sources: established innovator Kirk Phelps, young STEM innovators, social innovators, parents, mentors and teachers of these innovators, and schools that are conscientiously trying to address the factors missing in most curriculums and classrooms. Through these interviews, themes begin to emerge; themes that certainly suggest what is working with the innovators featured and could work in creating new ones. Wagner concludes his findings in his final chapter, The Future of Innovation, followed by a call to action in his Epilogue: Letter to a Young Innovator. Wagner furthers the innovative theme by including video web links with each story. Readers get a deeper connection with the subjects of the book through short clips that help complete the picture through visual and audio technology.

Wagner begins his book by establishing the need for creating innovators in the United States. He cites examples of the decline in producing creative and innovative thinkers and discusses whether innovation can be taught and what elements are believed to strengthen innovative and creative thinking skills. He refers specifically to the work of Teresa Amabile of Harvard University, who lists three crucial elements in expanding the capacity for creativity or innovation: Expertise or knowledge, creative thinking skills and problem solving, and motivation. Wagner breaks motivation down into three parts: play, passion, and purpose, and proposes that it is how parents, teachers, mentors and employers encourage these three factors that make a difference in the lives of young innovators.

The bulk of Creating Innovators is spent on systematically interviewing young innovators, their parents, and their mentors or teachers, whom they named as making a difference. Wagner acknowledges that while most of these young innovators are what one would consider to be “gifted,” there is still much to be learned from their upbringings and experiences. First and foremost, the parents of those highlighted played a key role in their success, but not in the ways that one might expect. These parents did not overschedule their children and did not map out a perfect plan. Instead they acknowledged their children as individuals who have their own ideas and intrinsic interests. They encouraged and helped them to pursue these interests by providing learning opportunities outside of school when the school did not offer it and they were not hung up on grades or end results. They allowed their children to explore, play, and fail. Apple innovator, Kirk Phelps dropped out of school twice, once in high school and once in graduate school, both times with the support of his parents. They found that the schools were getting in the way of his learning: an unfortunate phenomenon that is also common amongst our featured innovators, except when a certain teacher or mentor made a difference.

Many of the featured innovators, in addition to having supportive parents, had a teacher or mentor who made a difference in their education and ultimate success. These teachers are outliers in their own right, both on the secondary high school level and in college, making choices that go against the prescribed way of teaching and focus, sometimes at a cost to the teacher. Like the parents, they understand the importance of allowing students to pursue their passions, to problem solve, to take risks, to experiment, to play, to fail and try again. They allow for students to make choices in their pursuits and to include a multitude of disciplines, making connections across curriculums. On the college level, these teachers acknowledge that because of their choices of student focus over research, they will never receive tenure. The educational systems whose primary purpose should be to produce the problem solvers of tomorrow are failing not only at this task, but also in seeing how some are actually succeeding. The teachers featured here get it: they know that their success and satisfaction is acknowledged through the students whose lives they inspire and change.

Wagner goes onto to discuss schools that are starting to implement change on a bigger level with a specific focus on Olin College in Needham, Massachusetts. Olin College is a small undergraduate engineering school that was created specifically to explore a different style of teaching and learning with a “more hands-on, multi-disciplinary approach that better supports the actual engineering practice.” The school places strong emphasis on collaboration, multi-disciplinary learning, creating things, intellectual risk taking, trial and error and student empowerment through intrinsic motivation and pursuit of passion. Olin College and the other schools mentioned serve as inspiring examples of the kind of teaching and learning we can aspire to.

Wagner ends essentially with a call to action, one that I as a parent and an educator, hear loud and clear. His book and research highlight and validate many of the same elements that I as a graduate student in the Creative Studies program at Buffalo State College have come to see as important in teaching for creativity and innovation. Although the book features essentially the lives and successes of “gifted” individuals, the information translates to teaching students of all abilities with specific attention to the motivation of these students by encouraging the pursuit of play, passion and purpose. The acknowledgement of the teachers, who made a difference in the lives of the featured innovators, as outliers, inspires for me a revolutionary approach; as if I am a member of a secret society of knowledge. And in fact, I am. Until the people who make the decisions see the value in this kind of teaching and learning, we are the revolutionaries and outliers. We must take the risks or we will continue to do things as they have always been done and nothing will, in fact, change.

About Beverly Zapatka Weihz: 
Beverly Zapatka Weihz is currently a student in Buffalo State College’s distance learning program, seeking her graduate degree in Creative Studies and Change Leadership. She lives on a small farm in northwestern New Jersey with her husband and children. She teaches art and media communications at Phillipsburg High School.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Motivation, Creativity & Fulfillment

By: Molly Holinger
Motivation, creativity, and fulfillment are inextricably interwoven phenomena, especially in our "age of abundance" (Pink, A Whole New Mind) where humans have both increasing freedom and demands to be creative. Much of what we know about the relationship between intrinsic motivation and creativity we owe to brilliant creativity researcher Teresa Amabile. Currently a professor of Business Administration and Director of Research at Harvard, Amabile essentially established (or at the very least invigorated) a social psychology of creativity, beginning with The Social Psychology of Creativity (1983), in which she researches the role of motivation in creativity. 

In The Social Psychology of Creativity, Amabile introduces her “intrinsic motivation principle of creativity”:
“Intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity; controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity, but informational enabling extrinsic motivation can be conducive, particularly if initial levels of intrinsic motivation are high."
To put her theory more simply, intrinsic motivation increases creativity and extrinsic motivation decreases creativity. 

It's hard to over-emphasize the importance of this finding: how we motivate ourselves and how others choose to motivate us (our bosses, our family members, etc.) determine how creative our responses will be. Amabile published this theory for the first time in 1983 and later updated her findings in the 1996 The Social Psychology of Creativity, later renamed Creativity in Context. This begs the question, if this theory has been around for more than thirty years, why haven't these ideas translated into our workforce? Daniel Pink, clearly aware of this gap between existing research and current practices, responded with his book Driverevisiting and rechampioning these themes introduced by Amabile decades ago. Pink theorizes that autonomy, purpose, and mastery lead to high intrinsic motivation and, in turn, highly creative and productive employees. 

Both Amabile and Pink specify contexts in which their overarching theories apply and contexts in which they do not. Foremost, these theories only hold true for heuristic (open-ended or creative) tasks. They assert, if not in the same words, that “Rewards do not undermine people’s intrinsic motivation for dull tasks because there is little or no intrinsic motivation to be undermined.” 

Another caveat for motivation is what Amabile calls, "informational enabling extrinsic motivation." According to Amabile, there are certain exceptions when it comes to extrinsic motivators, which is why she differentiates “controlling extrinsic motivation” and “enabling extrinsic motivation.” Here, Amabile identifies the situations that fall under the “enabling extrinsic motivation” category:
"There are a set of conditions under which reward might be expected to have positive (or at least neutral) effects on creativity… (a) the reward is not salient relative to self-perceived intrinsic motivation because the reward is very small, or cognitive distancing techniques are used, or the salience of intrinsic motivation has been increased; or (b) the degree to which the reward is perceived as more enabling than controlling (where enabling refers to the degree to which the reward of contract enables the individual to do something interesting or personally challenging) ; or (c) the reward is perceived as more informational about competence than controlling; or (d) the reward leads to positive affect in the absence of controlling implications (such as a “bonus” reward situation); or (e) the “reward is perceived as equitable compensation for one’s work in general (such as a person being paid a salary for one’s job) rather than as a reward for a particular task.”
Towards the end of her book, Amabile leaves the reader with an all-encompassing lesson. 
"Perhaps the most important point to be made about the intrinsic motivation principle is that it proposes the functional equivalence of many social factors which seem quite disparate. Expecting to be evaluated on task performance functions in the same way as having a choice of task engagement constrained, being watched while performing the task, receiving positive evaluations on previous work, contracting to receive an attractive reward for task performance, and being led to think about the intrinsic value of doing the task. Clearly, despite the superficial differences between these factors, their psychological impact appears to be the same." 
In other words, there is no single perfect combination of factors leading to maximized intrinsic engagement. Rather, these factors can be adjusted and recombined depending on which of the resources one has at their disposal. Lacking an empathetic boss?... Perhaps strive for greater autonomy. Intrinsic engagement is something we can control if we practice the art of combining the factors that produce it. 

Perhaps the strongest impression one receives from The Social Psychology of Creativity is the delicacy and complexity of motivation; the discussion is not intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation (where one type emerges as definitively superior) but rather which is appropriate and effective for the situation at hand.

While Amabile stands clearly in the realm of research, Pink becomes a bit more philosophical, adding fulfillment to the mix of the discussion on motivation.
“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” 
While extrinsic motivation may have its purposes, intrinsic motivation and all that comes with it—challenge, purpose, creativity—clearly leads to a more fulfilling life. Pink leaves us with the following,
“While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it's a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.” 

Amabile, T. (1996). Creativity in context: Update to the social psychology of creativity. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc.

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Penguin Group. 

Bio:  Molly Holinger is a graduate student and Graduate Assistant at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. Before coming to Buffalo, she co-taught Creativity, Innovation and Vision at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. With her colleagues at the University of Illinois, she co-authored the textbook Building Your Creative Toolbox.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Minimalism, Materialism & Creativity

“Money does not buy happiness,” we implicitly agree and explicitly enact to varying degrees. Psychological research has found this claim to be both true and false; a more accurate phrase would be, “Money doesn’t buy happiness... after a certain point.” According to research by Daniel Kahneman, behavioral economist (a term coined by Kahneman himself) and author of the fascinating Thinking Fast and Slow, happiness does increase as income increases but only up to an annual income of $75,000. In other words, below $75,000, income and happiness mutually increase and beyond $75,000 the correlation ceases to exist. 

In a sense, Kahneman’s threshold is a re-expression of Maslow’s seminal hierarchy of needs. Both Kahneman’s research and Maslow’s hierarchy function upon the correlation that as certain strains decrease, other, higher values flourish. In Kahneman’s research, as stress, worry, and feelings of sadness decrease (and income rises), positive affect increases. In Maslow’s theory, similarly, as our biological needs and our need for safety are met, we can then turn to pursuits such as self-actualization and creativity.

As mentioned, creativity sits atop Maslow’s pyramid, and comes into play only after basic needs have been met which, in certain respects, makes total sense. Take our environment, for instance, often the product of financial status. Many of us inherently sense that our environment deeply impacts how we feel and act, and there is plenty of research to support this: Natural settings decrease stress and refresh the mind; color, light and space affect productivity and emotion; clutter can both stimulate inspiration or reduce focus according to different studies. Environment has a huge effect on how and what we create, as well as affecting our emotions overall.

Creative individuals and companies understand the importance of a creative workspace, or a creative “oasis” as John Cleese calls it in his funny yet insightful and informative talk on creativity. Having the resources to cater to one’s creative preferences, whether that means practically or aesthetically, or both, can enhance creative work. Often cultivating ritualistic tendencies within their life structure, the creative person applies the same seriousness to refining an environment that nourishes these rituals. For instance, children’s author Maurice Sendak
“has a... working studio that contains a huge unit with flat pullout drawers in which he keeps sketches, reference materials, notes articles. He works on several projects at a time, and he likes to keep the overlapping materials out of sight when he’s tackling any one of them.”
It might be said, then, that money does buy creativity (or at least enhances it) when one has greater access and freedom in choosing and customizing a work environment.
Having the freedom and the means to secure a pleasing environment may, however, evade our reach regardless of salary. Perhaps we have no choice but to work out of a cubicle daily, or whether we work from home or in the office. On the other hand, those lucky enough to choose where they work can access a pleasing environment regardless of income with the growth of co-op spaces and the existence of wonderful public spaces.

Apart from low-cost creative spaces, financial security and creativity diverge in the case for simplicity and its ability to bolster rather than block one’s creativity. As Tharp states in her lovely book, The Creative Habit,
“Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources."
In other words, limits often help us be creative by providing a framework to innovate within. Without the means to accomplish something in a traditional manner, scarcity often necessitates creativity. Furthermore, a minimalist workspace has been shown to increase focus in certain studies.
“When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.” 
Subscribing to the notion that “money does not buy happiness,” may be virtuous, but also a bit foolish. As demonstrated by Kahneman, money does buy happiness-- at least to an extent. Furthermore, minimalism and materialism are not necessarily exclusive values: after all, the minimalist must first be able to afford a space to assert their minimalist tendencies within.

John Cleese on Creativity

Bio:  Molly Holinger is a graduate student and Graduate Assistant at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. Before coming to Buffalo, she co-taught Creativity, Innovation and Vision at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. With her colleagues at the University of Illinois, she co-authored the textbook Building Your Creative Toolbox.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mind Full of Creativity

By: Jennifer Quarrie

True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of ones self; but the point is not only to get out - you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand.
- Henry James

Being creative can seem like a tremendous task.  Solving the biggest problems in our lives is no small thing.  Generating large volumes of ideas, we can get carried away.  Facing the task of implementing our grand solutions can seem overwhelming.  But is it really creativity that is so massive, or is it the accumulation of all the other things on our minds?

When our minds are full, we are not free to give our creative goals the attention they need.  Creativity needs special types of attention, many of which relate to the practice of being mindful being aware of what we are doing with an attitude of open curiosity and compassionate acceptance.  So how do we transition from being mind full to mindful?  Here are a couple of tips that may bring those preoccupations down to size.

Slow It Down
Nothing brings attention to the present moment like significantly slowing down what we are doing.  Not only does it increase focus and awareness, but it also calms the stress hormones responsible for keeping that endless, urgent to-do list from constantly disrupting productive thought.

Notice the Obvious
We are built to ignore the familiar; it saves incredible mental resources.  Yet as the familiar begins to change, we may fail to notice.  Using mindfulness to perceive what is in front of us helps make the world new while maintaining presence and focus.

Rock the Routine
Stepping out of our own rhythms can bring remarkable perspective.  It also requires significant attention to navigate new terrain.  Inviting circumstances that demand focus can build mental levels of attention.

Embrace Ambiguity
Ambiguous situations can feel disorienting.  When faced with ambiguity we have a tendency to focus on the small details we can control and ignore the big picture.  Mindfulness helps us accept that ambiguity for what it is and use focused attention to face it.  Once the ambiguous feels more comfortable, it becomes easier to keep the big picture in mind and devise true strategy for change.

Balance Acceptance & Hope
Hope is one of the most potent forms of motivation.  Much of creativity relies on hope.  We project potential futures and set out to materialize them.  Yet to do so we must be clear about the present.  Mindfulness helps us recognize the current state of things.  Yet just because we accept the present does not mean we cannot have hope for the future.  Juxtaposing our current and ideal states empowers us to identify and pursue the paths to reach it.

Use Intuition
The better we know ourselves, the better decisions we can make.  Using mindfulness to connect with ourselves increases self-awareness and self-knowledge in a non-judgmental way.  Using intuition to connect with the heart empowers the head.

Make a Choice
We choose how we react to everything in life.  By setting an intention and focusing on it, we are better able to act in accordance with our intentions.  Mindfulness helps to transform our behaviors from unthinking reactions to deliberate responses.

When our minds are overflowing with preoccupations, we can use deliberate actions to change gears.  Opening space to experience the present brings perspective, and those big tasks dont seem so daunting anymore.  By being more mindful we can open space to have a mind full of creativity.

 Honoré, C. (2004). In praise of slowness: Challenging the cult of speed. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
 Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion.
 Puccio, G. J., Mance, M., & Murdock, M. C. (2011). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
 Van Bilsen, H. (2009). Zee Beatty and the Socks of Doom. Herford: IAPT Consulting.  Retrieved from
 Cartoon source:

Bio: Jennifer Quarrie is a dynamic innovation strategist and creativity expert with a visionary outlook and a knack for metacognition, facilitation and listening. With a BA in Cognitive Science from the University of Virginia and an MSc in Creative Studies from the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) at SUNY Buffalo State, she incorporates budding areas of mind and creativity research into all of her work. As a leader and speaker she inspires wellness, fosters transformation and emboldens self-actualization.