What if I could travel back to my early self with the knowledge I have today? The easy answer is always something like “invest in these companies” or “take back the winning lottery numbers for the biggest pot of the year” and get rich. But this isn’t that. There’s a rich fantasy life in my head that probably spends too many cycles imagining what life would be like if I’d made completely alternative decisions. In a recent blog I wrote, I introduced new music by imagining that I’d chosen a different path in life – though I mentioned many, that one was as a music producer.
The last book of fiction that I read was a mind-bending exploration into time travel through memories. Blake Crouch authored this scenario in truly inspired fashion in his most recent novel, Recursion. I loved it. But that’s not what inspired me to write this today, it is, in fact, another book. A “business” book! The best one I have ever “read”, to date.
I was working for a creative company, The Lightspan Partnersip, at the time Toy Story hit the theaters. A girl named Joy I worked with who gave herself the nom de plume “Pixel Girl” had already seen it and dragged a group of us to see this “masterpiece” she was obsessing over. She was right. It was not merely an animated feature for kids, it was a technological achievement with a heartbeat, imagination run wild, and real emotion in its story. It was for everyone. My first child had not been born yet, but in years to come, I’d tell people that I had kids so I could go see Pixar movies without getting weird looks from other parents.
Now, in the waning days of September 2019, I’ve found myself listening (on Audible) to the book Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, former president and co-founder of Pixar. Published in 2014, I’m late to the party again! As a professional Agile Coach, I’d recently participated in a call / podcast hosted by the Agile Alliance wherein the emcee recommended the book. Ray was the third person I respect to do so, which made it clearly past time that I engaged. I wasn’t far into listening before I was wondering why the hell I hadn’t read it years sooner.
Creativity Inc. has everything I look for. Stories that connect to real events that support points being made. Valuable lessons. Every Agile (Manifesto) Principle in action. Metaphors! Humility and honesty. Mindfulness. A reinforcement of the importance and value of organizational health and empowering culture. Cool technology. Steve Jobs at his best. Every point Ed makes is connected to the Pixar movies, all of which I admire deeply. UP is one of my all-time favorites. I had no idea it had begun so vastly different than it ended UP 😉. All part of the “process.”
So, where’s the time travel? I moved to California from New York in 1994. As a young programmer with the dual-brained creative writer side, I figure that would be the perfect time to alter my course. Instead of San Diego, Emeryville. I wasn’t a third into the book before I found myself on the Pixar career page, imagining. At 52, it’s tough to draw a line between where I am now and where they are now. But in 1994… I would have emptied the garbage to get in the door. Was I ever that “next level” of coder, or writer for that matter? Probably not. But knowing what I know now, at the risk of sounding derivative, I would have gone full Recursion (or Groundhog Day if you prefer) on a barstool next to Ed until I convinced him to hire me.
It’s not hard for me to imagine getting in, making my mark, and rising to the level of a production manager or director. One of those “masterpieces” I take my kids to see now could be the result of leading and working with my team, as part their team. Me and Ed and Brad and John and Pete and Andrew… cohorts. Buds. What an amazing life full of incredible people that could have been. The one thing that’s absolutely true in the real world, is the palpable yearning to be a part of the greatness contained within this work that I felt both during and after completing its consumption.
What has it done for me? It has provided many examples to use in my own practice of espousing the values of organizational health and agility. It has reinforced my beliefs and convictions about the best ways to implement and operate in a positive company culture. I feel included in the “secrets” of Pixar storylines, and how they have changed so much during the execution of their iterative process. And finally, it has not merely set me “on fire and buzzing with possibility”, but caused an explosion stemming from that creative magma chamber I harbor. Not just to write this post, nor just to energize me for my weekly podcast, but “notes” on my novel are filling up with ideas on how to fix and/or make things better – as if I was in one of Pixar’s Brain Trust reviews providing feedback for, myself. <insert crazy old man laugh>
Here’s a first for any business book I have ever read, and I’ve lost count of the total. I actually became emotional during the “Notes Day” chapter. I wanted desperately to hear John’s speech. As Ed “reads” the email summarizing the implementation of their (my name for it) enterprise retrospective, a tsunami of envy washed over me. Perhaps my time travel skill would be better served getting that easy money, and building my own (game) company using all of the wisdom I’ve gathered in my years and my firm belief in Agile principles, all while using Ed’s creative culture points as a guiding star. But how completely awesome would it have been to be a part of Pixar from near the beginning? Did I say it is now my favorite business book of all time? That’s bears repeating.