One of the most valuable aspects of stories is that they help us learn from our experiences. Through the stories of what happened, we can make sense of our past and allow others to learn from where we’ve been, without reducing the rich context of experience to simplistic platitudes.
This week I have been reading Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull. Catmull is a computer scientist and president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios. He co-founded Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter.
The book is Catmull’s exploration of what he has learned about creativity in business and leadership. What sets it apart from other business books is that it is told almost entirely as a thoughtful narrative of his experience, and he tells us not only what happened but also how he felt about it -- discouraged, lost, angry, elated, surprised, under pressure, let down, in awe, frightened.
At the end, he does provide a set of principles he holds most dear. An example:“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.” And, “If there is more truth in the hallways than in meetings, you have a problem.” But it’s the stories behind the bullet points that make the principles meaningful.
Do get your hands on a copy of Creativity, Inc. It’s likely to be one of the most informative and most enjoyable business books you’ve ever read, and it’s a storytelling stunner. It’s worth it just for the gems about Steve Jobs from someone who worked closely with him for 26 years.
But you don’t have to breathe the rarified air of Pixar or hang out with luminaries to have experiences worth reflecting on. Talking about small things that happen every day at work can provide enormous value and insights for your team.
Meetings are perfect opportunities for learning from experience. How often are your team meetings a waste of time? How much more valuable could they be if people shared and reflected on their experiences rather than just providing vapid information updates?