Work through the Arc of One’s Life

Pixar team
One specific part in Ed Catmull's Creativity, Inc. — the whole book makes for an interesting, strike that, fascinating learning experience — one part most resonated with me, toward the end.

When Catmull describes his thoughts on Steve Jobs with whom he worked for more than a quarter-century. He says:

Perspective is so hard to capture. I worked with Steve for more than a quarter-century — longer, I believe, than anyone else — and I saw an arc to his life that does not accord with the one-note portraits of relentless perfectionism I've read in magazines, newspapers, and even his own authorized biography.

Relentless Steve — the boorish, brilliant, but emotionally tone-deaf guy we first came to know — changed into a different man during the last two decades of his life. All of us who knew Steve well noticed the transformation. He became more sensitive not only to other people's feelings but also to their value as contributors in the creative process.

His experience with Pixar was part of this change. Steve aspired to create utilitarian things that also brought joy; it was his way to make the world a better place.

The whole book, the stories about the culture and the difficulties Pixar faced and worked through make for a fine journey to the last few pages where Catmull articulates the special bond of friendship and collaboration he had with Steve Jobs.

It is a fine example of how belief in one's work, teams, and ultimately a culture of creativity and excellence, can lead to extraordinary things… and life. There are many lessons in leadership, quality of thought and courage of action in the book. Can you imagine an organization that takes three years to make a product work? This is commitment.

Most remarkable among the many observations about Jobs is his consistent focus on the problem itself vs. the people, and how, over time, he learned to become more articulate and observant of people's feelings… learning to read the room.

Rather than describing it as mellowing with age, letting go, Catmull maintains Steve's transformation was an active one. He continued to engage; he just changed the way he went about it.

I love the core message that out actions change our reality. Our decisions have intended and unintended consequences — and they shape our future. The key is to think through the implications of this belief.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.