Challenging Limiting Frames

Fear of failure often keeps us from experimenting with ideas and expanding options.

In Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull describes many fight-or-flight situations at Pixar, and then at Disney — circumstances when trading imagination for a safe bet were tempting:

Originality is fragile. And in its first moments, it's often far from pretty. This is why I call early mock ups of our films "ugly babies." They are not beautiful miniature versions of the adults they will grow up to be.

In other words, our ideas rarely come out in perfect form. It takes persistence and work to make them that way. And we need to protect those seedlings to help them take form. Further down, he says (emphasis his):

[…] I want to say something about the word protection. I worry that because it has such positive connotation, by implication anything being protected seems, ispo facto, worth protecting. But that's not always the case.

Sometimes within Pixar, for example, production tries to protect processes that are comfortable and familiar but that don't make sense; legal departments are famous for being overly cautious in the name of protecting their companies from possible external threats; people in bureaucracies often seek to protect the status quo. Protection is used, in these contexts, to further a (small-c) conservative agenda: Don't disrupt what already is.

As a business becomes successful, meanwhile, that conservatism gains strength, and inordinate energy is directed toward protecting what has worked so far.

Protecting a new idea, especially during the gestation process when it is kind of ugly, has the opposite function, says Catmull. An original idea is worth protecting because of its newness:

[…] and that is precisely what is most exciting about it.

The solution to helping bring new ideas to life was broadening their view, and by doing so, creating new lenses through which to look at their work. And that is why I like so much the cheeky quote above attributed to Disney. Because it reminds us that we should work on expanding our options, including that we do not have to accept the constraints we are given.


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