I started reading Creativity, Inc. last night and am blown away so far. It’s written by Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar. Business books tend to be more miss than hit for me, but this is definitely a hit. I’m less enthused by Catmull’s teachings than I am with the story of his life. He found a way to marry his natural abilities to his curiosities and passion… and created something extraordinary.
Catmull was always fascinated by animation and storytelling. In his youth, he made flip books and such but soon enough realized he didn’t have the chops to be a Disney Animator (the gold standard at the time) – or at least didn’t know how he specifically could make it happen. So he studied physics and computer science, all the while keeping his dreams in the back of his mind. He had the opportunity to study collaboratively with some of the best in computer science (under the tutelage of people like Ivan Sutherland, the “father of computer graphics”) and found himself incrementally pushing his way into the intersection of computers and storytelling.
This guy has lived with fierce dedication – he would sleep in the lab to maximize time on the mainframe – like so many of the visionaries he’s worked with over the years (George Lucas, Steve Jobs, etc.). And he seemingly did it while maintaining great humility and trust in others.
So it’s kind of fitting that this morning, I happened to listen to the episode “Counting Other Peoples’ Blessings” of the Hidden Brain podcast about envy. It’s pretty interesting; give it a listen. The episode outlines two general types of envy: benign and malicious, positive and negative. Benign envy results more in admiration, which could then spur motivation. One does not wish the person they benign-envy to fall; one just wants to be more like them. Malicious envy is “she’s doing better than me so I feel better when she doesn’t do well.” Safe to say I have a ton of benign envy for Ed Catmull.
I’ve loved storytelling since I was a kid. One narrative I play in my head often is how I loved playing with Legos. At times, this has made me feel it makes sense to be an engineer because I loved making things. But another, deeper reason I loved playing with Legos was I could create imaginary worlds out of them. I would spend hours creating storylines with Legos and Bionicles. Would also fashion mini people out of tinfoil and create stop motion videos. I loved “Klaymation” (a series of clay stop motion videos) so much my first AIM screenname is klaydude54, and my Facebook / junk email is firstname.lastname@example.org to this day.
I spent much of college fretting about how to address the side of me that wanted to create, but the traditional paths to becoming a writer or producer in Hollywood/ show biz in general just never felt right to me. I’m not entirely sure about anything now, and storytelling isn’t my only interest (I’ve also been cultivating a deep interest in neurology/ everything related to our brains and consciousness). But I do know I am excited by certain things I’m doing, and I feel that I’m getting closer to the experience this artist had when he discovered a way to communicate his life’s art (saw this exhibit in Taiwan and it was spectacular. Check out his story):
Pursuing the sort of singular dedication to something that pushes people to insane heights.