The environments in which a creative individual operates in can be very influential in how well they can perform. Environment has many different meanings that can be applied to fostering creativity, such as:
- a biological environment – the incidental surroundings and availability of resources
- a built environment – created with the purpose of serving and encouraging creativity and collaboration
- a social environment – where creative individuals can look to peers for sharing ideas and receiving criticism.
Creative individuals are not all alike, and personal preferences differ greatly between individuals. However an SBS world news study has found that low levels of lighting, ambient background noise, desk clutter and tipsiness can boost creativity and lateral thinking, along with writing by hand and going on walks.While this lifestyle may seem distracting or disorderly, it creates a healthy environment for creative thought and exploring of one’s mind. (Delistraty, 2014)
Some environments can have a negative influence on creative influence, such as one of poverty and oppression, which gave rise to the band The Clash, who joined up and formed a movement against the society that they lived in. They were among the first to establish the English ‘punk’ movement of the 1970s.
There are several companies that recognise the importance of an environment that fosters creativity, from multi-media businesses like Google, to more artistically inclined producers such as Aardman Studios, and our case study for this article – Pixar, the pioneers of computer-animated film.
In order for its employees to work at their best and hardest on their massive productions, Pixar creates an environment both systemically and socially. Edwin Catmull, Co-Founder and President of Pixar, writes:
“Our philosophy is: You get great creative people, you bet big on them, you give them enormous leeway and support, and you provide them with an environment in which they can get honest feed- back from everyone.” (2008, p. 6)
Pixar states that their movies are not the result of just one idea or “high concept” that is successful, but the suggestions of the 200-250 members of the team building on the initial idea until a fully developed film is made (Catmull, 2008, p. 4).
“The high concept… is merely one step in a long, arduous process that takes four to five years.” (Catmull, 2008, p. 4)
This puts importance on the acknowledging of peers, working in a group environment and taking extra special care in the creation progress, making sure that each new step taken is something that the rest of the team can work with.
Pixar recognises the value of creative thinkers and therefore caring for them and putting them in the best environment possible is in their interests. The individuals are placed at a higher level of importance than their ideas, as Catmull writes: “Smart people are more important than good ideas” (2008, p. 4).
To encourage its employees to work together, Pixar seeks to create an environment of mutuality, co-operation, honesty and sharing. At very regular intervals, ideas for new scenes are played out in animatics and shown to the rest of the group, so that feedback and criticism can be offered, so that the ones presenting can get advice on what to change or where to go next. This also helps to dispel their fear of showing their work by exposing them to criticism in an honest environment. Still, a lot of risk taking is involved and encouraged, as Catmull writes: “if we aren’t always at least a little scared, we’re not doing our job”. (2008, p. 4)
After a movie is shown, a post-mortem for the film is held – a retrospective review of the creative process. Catmull writes that:
“Many people dislike project post-mortems. They’d rather talk about what went right than what went wrong. And after extensive time on a the project, they’d like to move on.” (2008, p. 1)
To help alleviate this frustration, Pixar asks the participants to list the top five things they would do again, along with the top five things they wouldn’t do again (Catmull, 2008). This balance of positive and negative feedback encourages the creators and allows them to learn from past experience at the same time without them being overly negative and critical of their work, or overly defensive.
Pixar are averse encourages its employees to explore and modify their ideas to the fullest extent until they become viable, so as to not interrupt the creative flow by discarding ideas or stating what will and will not work right off the bat:
“Instead of coming up with new ideas for movies, our development department’s job is to assemble small incubation teams to help directors refine their own ideas to a point where… those ideas have the potential to be great films.” (Catmull, 2008, p. 7)
To better understand Pixar’s mindset when dealing with creative people and setting up an environment to foster their ideas and encourage creative thinking, John Lasseter, director of Toy Story (1995), the first computer-animated movie, breaks it down into seven core values:
John Lasseter’s Seven Creative Principles
- Never come up with just one idea, as it means having a limited focus. Have three, equally great ones. You will be less focused on these ideas and can think more freely between them, granting new perspectives. Movies are made up of tens of thousands of ideas and suggestions, from character designs, every line of dialogue, the delivery of those lines and so forth are all the result of a huge team of creative, free thinkers. The group dynamic emphasises having lots of malleable thoughts to share around and meld as they are passed along the group.
- Remember the first laugh – write down jokes that are funny the first time and save them, so that they are not discarded when they go stale after being retold so many times in development. Preserving old content is important, especially if it is good enough to make it into the final product, i.e. a joke that gets a good laugh the first time it is told.
- Quality is a great business plan, period. No compromises should be taken with studios, publishers or anyone in a managerial role. The individual creator of the movie, idea or other creative product always has the last word.
- It’s all about the team. A group of people working on a creative project usually produce better results than just one individual. These groups should be honest, direct, and helpful to one another. Everyone should be treated as equals, and nothing that is said should be binding.
- Fun invokes creativity, not competition. It is always better to have people who can get along working together, rather than working against each other, or competing in similar roles. Co-operation goes a much better way in giving confidence to creative individuals and ensuring that the creation process is fun for everyone.
- Creative output always reflects the person on top. Bad tempered managers are no good, as negativity badly impacts the creative process. It is vital that creative individuals are No negative people should disrupt or impair the creative process.
- Surround yourself with creative people you trust. Creative individuals should work in a team of equally talented, or even superiorly talented other people. If they are good-natured and pleasant than that’s even better. Creativity requires a safe and secure environment. Insecurity do not mix. (Reis, 2009)
Catmull, E. (2008). How Pixar Fosters Collaborative Creativity. Harvard Business Review.
Delistraty, C. (2014). How Environment Can Boost Creativity. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/how-environment-can-boost-creativity/379486/
Reis, D. (2009). John Lasseter’s Seven Creative Principles. Animation Magazine.